COPPER MOUNTAIN — A 10-minute, bumpy van ride over a rocky mountain road brings you to what feels like the equivalent of Neverland for skiers and snowboarders.
Here, above 10,000 feet, is a place where kids can mingle with their snowboarding idols while those same Olympic-level stars can channel their inner-camper once again on slushy, summer snow.
To paint the picture in a different way: If Peter Pan was a shredder, this summer’s scene at Woodward Copper’s Pipeline Park is precisely what the boy-who-never-grew-up would build with a snowcat. It’s an expanded, summer-camp snow park that towers over the school buses that drop campers off at its top. Once those campers strap into their snowboard or ski boots at this snow sports Neverland, Never Summer’s pro riders play the role of The Lost Boys.
The oldest of the group, Dylan Alito, 28, of Lakewood, knows the snowboarding soul of the summer camp well. Once he was able to drive at the age of 16, he drove to a snowboard camp in Oregon to take part in their dig-to-ride program, meaning he’d help dig out the summertime park to ride it for free. But these days, Alito says Woodward Copper is where it’s at. The camp is one giant hangout session where riders can casually come up to a pro like him and ask to tag a long from one jump and rail to the next, hopefully learning a bit more about a new trick along the way.
“The kids just want someone to have fun with,” Alito said. “We are like big friends to them.”
Alito’s fellow Never Summer pro rider, U.S. Halfpipe Pro Team member Chase Blackwell, 20, of Dillon, played the part of big friend to many young snowboarders this week. The way it works at Woodward Copper is each group of skiers and snowboarders has their own group coaches they learn directly from. But, when a kid feels like approaching Never Summer pros such as Alito, Blackwell, Olympian and world champion Chris Corning and street-specialist Sam Klein, it’s as chill a feel as there can be.
Earlier this week Blackwell found himself messing around on the quarter-pipe at the base of Pipeline Park, smitten with how well the pipe rode with all of this winter’s excess snow compared to last summer. While at the pipe, Blackwell said he noticed a young camper, maybe 12 years old, throw down a nice front-side air on the pipe.
“I said, ‘Dude, you so got a crippler,’” Blackwell said, referring to an inverted trick. “And he was like, ‘I wanted to learn a McTwist.’ And I was like, ‘Well we can do a McTwist if you want to, but if you can backflip all three jumps you can so easily do a crippler in this quarter pipe.’ And we actually got him to try some yesterday. I think he will get it by the end of this week.”
It’s scenes like that atop the snow and under the summer sun that speak to Never Summer week at Woodward Copper. Blackwell’s donned in all-black helping kids out on the quarter-pipe. Alito’s dressed in what he described as a Hulk Hogan-like outfit, complete with a bandana and eccentric glasses, acting his goofy self while leading creative lines through the park. And then there’s the Summit County local Corning. The 19-year-old two-time defending FIS snowboard season World Cup champion most always carries a quiet, serious energy to him. As Never Summer’s self-described “positive-vibe guy” and marketing manager Joey Herman put it, Corning is the kind of personality who does what he wants to do.
That said, Herman also makes it clear that you may never meet another person in your life who loves snowboarding as much as Corning. Sure, Corning may give off a much more austere energy than the goofy Alito. But once Corning is ready to strap into his board and ride with the kids, he too is a kid again.
Heck, just five years ago Corning was in the same spot as many of the kids he rides with. He began attending Woodward Copper as a camper a decade ago before he transitioned to visiting pro in the past couple of years. And, even if he is the more quiet type, the Team USA slopestyle and big air star hasn’t forgotten that.
“I just want to hang out with the kids,” Corning said. “I’m not trying to film a video part here or nothing. I’m just trying to hang out with them. That’s super important and that gets missed a lot is when people come to summer camps — a lot of guys ride for themselves. But we ride for the kids. And they ask what it’s like to be a pro snowboarder and all stuff like that. And I tell them, ‘You’ve got to have fun. You got to enjoy your time before you become really good at it. You learn when you’re having fun.’”
One of those little shredders having fun this week is August Radding of Durango. The pint-sized 9-year-old had spent some time through the week riding around with Blackwell. On those laps, the youngster said Blackwell and his Woodward coaches were helping him to learn back flips on the air bag at the base of the park next to the pipe. The air bag is an ideal spot for kids to improve their aerial awareness and confidence with new tricks.
Three and a half years after Radding first learned to snowboard, he’s having fun while progressing his skills.
“We bring fun,” Herman said. “And if you are not having fun on skis or a snowboard, then you may be in the wrong place.”