A Fresh Approach | How Snow Camp Are Using Snow Centres For Good

We speak to Snow Camp to learn why the UK’s snow domes are more than just a quick snow fix

With what has now been a year without skiing for many of us around the UK (those living north of Hadrian’s Wall have had it somewhat lucky), things have really brought home how essential the UK’s dome scene is for snow lovers around the UK. An instant snow fix only a few miles from our front door. For a nation of snow lovers who are (relatively) lacking in snow-capped peaks, there’s a lot to love about our glorified freezers.

However, one inherent problem with the UK’s dome scene is how expensive and, for that reason, exclusive an indoor skiing and snowboarding day out is for the UK. On average, an hour in a UK dome costs around £25, making it unimaginable for many, without even taking into account the sometimes eye watering price of buying or renting all the kit.

“There’s a lot to love about our glorified freezers”

This exclusivity puts up an instant barrier for many before they’ve had the chance to step foot in a resort.

This is where Snow Camp comes in. A youth snowsport charity that uses the UK’s snow domes as an engagement tool for young people – those who would never normally get an opportunity to try skiing and snowboarding. Snow Camp takes young people from having never clicked into a pair of skis, or strapped into a snowboard, all the way up to becoming qualified Level 1 ski and snowboard instructors, with a week long trip to the Alps towards the end of the course for good measure.

And, while opening up the sometimes life changing experience of skiing and snowboarding to unprivileged young people is a fantastic tool in itself, Snow Camp looks to give young people the opportunity to gain qualifications, vocational training, and present them with opportunities that wouldn’t normally have been available. Kind of like a youth work project in disguise, Snow Camp uses the extremely engaging (and quite frankly, fun) activity of snowsports to upskill young people and give them qualifications and direction in life.

This unique approach was first thought up by Dan Charlish, who took a group of seven young people to Les Deux Alpes and saw the impact mountains, and snowsports as a whole, could have on young people.

“When Dan saw the change in those young people he was like ‘ok there’s something here’”

Gavin Hanmer, Snow Camp Programme Director caught up with me and highlighted the reasons why snowsports, and the use of the domes make for such a critical youth work tool. “When Dan saw the change in those young people [in Les Deux Alpes] he was like ‘ok there’s something here we need to grow this and make this not just a residential but something far, far more.’ So when we started to develop these programmes that we now have in place, the natural pull was more towards snow domes because of that real/fake snow feeling.”

When quizzed on what exactly it was that makes snowsports so effective over, say, football or rugby, Gavin put it down to the “enjoyment that young people get in the middle of summer going into a giant freezer really adding that extra punch for those youth projects.” He claimed snowsports had the ability to encourage the young people to take accountability for themselves. “Yes they are all in it together …  but ultimately they’re the only person that can get themself back up, dust themselves back off and keep going. Or they can throw in the towel.”

“The domes have made it possible … to get feet on snow and take on an entirely fresh challenge”

The feeling of sub zero temperatures and sliding on snow – right in the middle of summer – is usually reserved for those lucky enough to live near a European glacier, or spending seasons down in the Southern Hemi. Now the domes have made it possible for young people who may never have touched snow before to get feet on snow and take on an entirely fresh challenge.

Gavin claimed that the domes have a “power that always draws young people back. If they have quit once you might be able to have a quick conversation with that young person and say ‘look I know it’s difficult but you only have to do it once. Once you’ve got past that you’re actually going to really enjoy it. Look at your friend now.’ Because there’s nowhere else to go when you are in the snow centre!”

Targeting young people through NEET Programmes (the term NEET representing those ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’) in inner cities Snow Camp aim their course towards those who would benefit the most from on-snow therapy.

“We are quite open to anyone who wants to get involved that might not have that chance to have ever gotten involved in something like this”

Also working closely with youth offending services give Snow Camp the chance to offer young people a new opportunity to try something from mainstream education, which may not necessarily have been the best path for them. “We have quite a broad scope where we target young people and we are quite open to anyone who wants to get involved that might not have that chance to have ever gotten involved in something like this.”

But why specifically target underprivileged young people? Why not target all young people? Well, the root of that lies in the disadvantage many young people living in cities are faced with, before they’ve even left their front door. As Gavin put it, “Many young people [from disadvantaged backgrounds] are forced to grow up way too quickly due to life in a city. They are exposed to so many things living in a city whether that’s oversexualisation, drinking, drugs whatever that might be and it’s all readily available and it’s constantly around them.”

“Snow Camp, like many other charities, have looked to take their work online”

“I think they are forced to grow up very quickly and they don’t necessarily have that play aspect to what I was like at thirteen. That kind of play aspect is almost taken away from them a little bit.”

“A lot of young people choose to carry weapons because they are afraid of what’s around them so there’s that as well. From my experience they seem to be the main ones you know, this forces them to be older than maybe they are too quickly.”

On top of the day-to-day stress faced by many young people, the prison-like pressures of Covid and the subsequent lockdowns heaped yet more weight on young people’s shoulders. Gavin told me how young people have lost out on qualifications, opportunities that may have presented themselves and, of course, 12 months in a on-and-off relationship with lockdowns – time that’ll never be given back to them.

“Covid and the subsequent lockdowns heaped yet more weight on young people’s shoulders”

With all this in mind, Snow Camp, like many other charities, have looked to take their work online to still be able to provide an impact on young people’s lives while the domes were slowly defrosting. “We’ve had various mini-projects within the lockdowns … We have been doing counselling stuff which is great, we have offered counselling to anyone who wants it as well because I do feel like there’s been a bit of a shock to the system as we come out of it [lockdown] and slowly start to make our way back to some sort of hopefully normality.”

This counselling came in the form of Snow Camp’s crucial ‘Stop. Breath. Think’ programme – a mental health support service for any young person, anywhere in the UK that provides almost instant responses from requests for support and help.

Given how well the service took off during the third (it’s too early to say final, right?) lockdown, Gavin’s now looking at ways to bring them into the main Snow Camp programmes, when they’re able to resume. “We’re looking at ways in which we can contact young people who have used the service at Stop. Breathe. Think and get them involved with Snow Camp programmes to give them the opportunity to learn skiing and snowboarding.”

“There arguably hasn’t been a more essential time to get young people back in the domes”

With snow domes having survived the bumpy road of the consecutive lockdowns, there arguably hasn’t been a more essential time to get young people back in the domes with that feeling of snow under their feet again, and all the opportunities that come with that.

But, as like many things in this strange little world of ours, this is all down to the fluctuations of the Big C, with Gavin referencing the new regulations and rules that they’ll need to adhere to, to be able to keep providing young people with their essential programmes.

Having said that, there doesn’t seem like a bigger supporter of what Snow Camp does, than the domes themselves. “They are behind what we do and once we get there and we work together on providing these young people this opportunity it’s incredible and everyone gets behind it … we just wouldn’t be able to do what we do without their support.”

Find out more about Snow Camp here

A big thanks to the following snow centres that have been supporting Snow Camp: The Snow Centre, Snow Factor, Chill Factore, Bearsden Ski and Board and the Snow Dome.


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