I´ve strapped on my snowboard for the first time in two years, and I’m standing at the top of a man-made jump staring downwards at an intimidating 42-degree slope. I’ve snowboarded for 12 years — I traded last year’s snow season for a two-month jaunt around South America — but I’ve always preferred going down a hill to soaring above it. What the hell am I doing at the top of this 35-foot hill?
Of course, it’s mid-October and unseasonably warm outside the Woodward at Copper Barn, Copper Mountain’s 20,000-square-feet aerial training facility, and I’m not standing on snow but rather a rough, snow-like substance called “Snowflex.” Instead of a foreboding landing of solid ice, thousands of welcoming blue foam blocks wait in a pit below. I realize it’s not the most intimidating scenario, but still, as I stare down at the coarse, welcome-mat-like strings of fake snow beneath me, I can’t help but notice how much gentler the slope looked from the bottom.
The instructor urges me just to sideslip down the surface of the material, to get better acquainted with how to ride it. Easy, right? The most basic snowboarding move. I take a deep breath and dig my heels into the slope as I go down the hill, making jarring screeching noises as my board passes through the Snowflex. I fall on my ass almost immediately and zoom down the hill, the thorny shards of Snowflex poking through my thin bike gloves. It’s humbling, especially after seeing kids barely half my age nail the slope with ease. But I try again — and again — and I finally make it. While I can’t say I was the quickest learner, it seems pretty clear that spending a few weekends in The Barn would be the easiest and safest way to build the confidence needed to start progressing and landing some sweet tricks outside when the snow starts to fall.
Woodward at Copper opened in February 2009, the first indoor facility in the country dedicated to aerial training for snow sports. Within its 20,000 square feet are jumps into the foam pit; a separate hill hitting a few rails and leveling off into a quarter pipe; a soft, springy floor for tumbling, reminiscent of what they use for floor routines in Olympic gymnastics; a small half pipe and a 6- to 8-foot pool for skating; and various trampolines for practicing tumbling in the air.
The facility is the result of a partnership between Copper Mountain and Camp Woodward, a company that operates training facilities for mountain biking, gymnastics, surfing, skating, in-line skating and other sports at five locations — four in the U.S. and one in Beijing. Woodward at Copper is the first winter sports facility connected to Camp Woodward, and it claims to be the first training facility of its kind to open anywhere in the world.
Woodward at Copper offers a slew of day-long and week-long camps aimed at all ages, though Program Director Phoebe Mills says most people using the “barn,” as the building is called, are 8 to 25 years old. (Fun fact: Mills won bronze on the balance beam in South Korea in 1988.) The bread and butter of Woodward, though, are the one-hour, 45-minute “drop-in” sessions for $29.99, when guests have unlimited access to the facilities and can spend all the time they’d like perfecting tricks and tumbling techniques in the safety of the foam pits. But before you get access to the dropin sessions, you have to take an introductory class, which you can get through any of the camps or through a $59.99, two-hour “one-hit wonder” session.
I start out one of these one-hit wonder sessions in a small group. Our instructor leads the group onto a springy, soft mat that gives slightly underneath your heels as you walk. All of us in the class — two elementary-aged kids and their dad, a few teens and I — instantly start jumping up and down on our toes, familiarizing ourselves with the new surface. We practice a safety move called a candlestick roll, to practice cushioning falls on our rounded backs instead of our wrists and elbows. Then we practice a cowboy tuck, a method to maximize rotation speed while airborne, not to mention avoiding taking a knee to the chin. Then we attempt to do cartwheels. After an agonizing five minutes of that, our instructor mercifully has us move on to the fun stuff — tumbling and trampolines.
It’s like elementary school gym class all over again, with all the somersaulting and cheese wedges. The instructor handles the kids with grace and patience. We take turns rolling forward and backward, and then we’re told we’ll have to swim across the foam pits in an activity called a “pit race.”
“Pit race!” whoops a nearby instructor, excited by the prospect.
The vibe is very much summer-day-camp cheesy, but I can indulge this, because there are some tykes in the class, as well as the fact that it’s actually pretty difficult to swim across a foam pit.
Plus, on the other side are the springiest trampolines I’ve ever felt, and it’s incredibly easy to get 10 or 12 feet of air. More experienced jumpers are pulling some hard-to-believe spins and jumps on the trampolines, and there is a “transfer station” where one can jump from a tramp to a pad to another tramp to a padded wall, pulling all types of tricks on the way.
The one-hit wonder class is a solid introduction to the equipment, and there are coaches stationed around the facility to keep everyone safe during the drop-in sessions. During winter, Woodward at Copper offers a day-long class designed to train you for tricks in the Barn and then on the snow for $169.99, which includes lunch and a lift ticket ($129.99 without the lift ticket). Private sessions with coaches are available as well, starting with $59.99 for a one-hour session in the barn to $99.99 for an hour-and-45-minute session. Longer camps are also available. For more information, visit www. woodwardatcopper.com.