Words: Tom Copsey
Mt Hood, Oregon, is one of those places that has cemented itself a reputation as a cornerstone of snowboarding. In winters, the flanks of the dormant volcano can be ripped a couple of notable resorts, but it’s come summertime when the world’s eye has been magnetically drawn to its inclines, as the twin pillars of summer shred – High Cascade and Windells – host their annual camps in the Timberline area.
Throughout the long months of summer, there’s a relentless dripping of footage coming out of this place, as it has for the best part of two decades. Remember Solberg’s bunny suit section in Transcendence? Hood. Peter Line boosting out of a big old quarter in Decade? Hood. All those edits that litter the internet all summer long? Yep, you got it.
We were to stay in Government Camp – aka Govy – which is home to High Cascade, a couple of bars, restaurants, a general store… and not a great deal else. It’s always weird when you have a pre-conceived mental image of what a place is like, only to have it shattered by reality. Govy was like this. I was under the impression that it was a sizeable resort town, but as we drove in and through it for the first time, I couldn’t help say “Is that IT?” A 500m strip with a few houses extending back into the forest, but nothing more.
Despite its size, though, in Govy you have plenty to occupy your time. If you’re on the High Cascade programme, there’s a sick street setup and, tucked behind Charlie’s Pub, a killer wooden bowl. If you’re looped into the Windell’s camp, you stay 30 minutes down the road which might seem a ballache until you roll into the campus – it’s basically one giant, concrete skatepark with transitions everywhere. And then there’s the indoor street setup and spined mini. And a small dryslope. And BMX track. And more. It’s frankly insane.
Then, within a quick drive there’s some sick lakes to chill at, woods to wander in and, although Govy is hardly a party town like us Euros might be accustomed to, we did have a messy night or two in Charlie’s guzzling craft ale and necking Fireballs. There’s also the infamous Cobra Dogs hotdog stand, which swiftly became our post-shred eatery of choice and the place where you’d bump into pretty much every professional snowboarder on the planet, or so it seemed.
The first thing you notice as you fly into Portland is Mt Hood; all of a sudden it’s right there out the window, almost at eye level. For a Euro making his first trip there it was pretty insane. Over here we’re used to having mountains, plural, but the Cascade Range, of which Hood is a part of, is a succession of lonely volcanic cones molehilling out of an otherwise rolling landscape.
Of course, the prime reason for paying Hood a visit is its summer slushboarding. Wandering past the iconic Timberline Lodge (which every snowboard magazine is contractually obliged to remind people was the exterior set for Kubrick’s epic, The Shining) you load up on the Magic Mile chair and are dropped off at 2134m, from where you can either ride the public park (which has a Superpipe, and then an assortment of decent jumps and jibs) or then negotiate a bit of a queue to hop on the Palmer lift to take you to the top of Hood and access an epic mini snake run to work on your edge control in, the minishred-tastic Lap Park and the private parks. Both Windell’s and High Cascade are where most of the magic happens, but if you want access to these playgrounds you will need to camp it up.
The first thought, stood atop this geological monument, is that it feels like being in a film. You’ve seen countless photos and videos of the mindblowing backdrop, so when you set eyes on all blue rolling hills and Mt Jefferson beyond, it’s a little unreal. Arriving in the parks is equally so, with all the rails, kickers and features you’ve had burned into your memory right there in front of you.It’s a little serious – turns out you can’t just rock up and chill; you have to sign waivers for everything, check in with the shape crew and can’t be as laissez-faire as we’re accustomed to being – but once you accept that then you’re in for an orgy of snowboarding. Everywhere you look there’s campers and pros sessioning on the ever-evolving features.
In contrast to many places in Europe, pretty much every snowboarder you encounter on Hood could be described ‘real’, and the campers’ stoke is infectious. And with the on- and off hill activities laid on by the camps, it’s no wonder they’re hyped. It’s like snowboarding Nirvana, or as Nicolas Müller described it: “Action sports Disneyland.” Halldor Helgason put it concisely: “It’s the sickest conditions you could ever have. Three different, sick snow parks, and skateparks all over the place as well.”
We were there with the pre-peaced out Nike team, who’d bounce from High Cascade to Windells to stoke out the campers by judging their style, signing their boards and generally bro-ing down. But wherever you looked you’d spy another star of the silver screen ripping it up – there’s Arthur Longo tackling an imaginatively gnarly transfer, Pat Moore giving a handplant clinic, Ayumu Hirano soaring out the slushy semi-tube, or Spencer Schubert bossing some imaginative rail line.
After a long day of riding we’d mob-shred down through the public park and along a slushy trail tucked between the moraine to the carpark, where it was warmer than most beaches I’ve been to. Then, after the obligatory Cobra Dog or fish taco it would be time to skate, play intense games of dodgeball or chill in the Oregon sunshine. One evening we even managed to tag along for a sunset shoot – in the words of veteran photog Andy Wright it was the best he’s ever seen.
We’d managed to fluke it so that our last day on the hill coincided with the infamous Drink Water Rat Race. If we had the impression that every snowboarder on the planet was there in the regular week, come Rat Race it really was EVERYONE – you couldn’t move for the swarm of snowboarding’s great and good who’d rocked up to rip the banked assault course, trade high fives and raise a bunch of cash for water.org. Blauvelt, Walsh, Paradis, Jackson, Merrill, Dirksen, Davis… the start gate was stacked with bosses shoulder to shoulder with regular riders, the stoke was all time and there wasn’t a kicker bigger than 5m to be seen. Snowboarding needs more of this.
The course was accessible enough for anyone to ride, but that said only select few could ride it well. Much to the awe of many onlookers, Nicolas Müller had rocked up and blitzed the course, speed snaking his way through the berms, spines and bumps to pip Curtic Ciszek to the post by a mere two hundredths of a second. His edge control is on another level.
The day, and trip, wrapped up chilling by the nearby Clear Lake, chowing down at a BBQ put on by Drink Water chiefs Austin Smith and Bryan Fox’s parents and taking in the prizegiving. The whole international family of snowboarding showed up to see Nico crowned fastest guy, Spencer O’Brien quickest chica, and Dustin Anderson speediest unsponsored, along with some more shit-talking awards – Pat Moore awkwardly handing out The Biggest Name With The Biggest Time (take a bow, Devun Walsh) springs to mind.
The lasting impression from our time at Hood was just how down for the shred everyone was, regardless of how good they were – grommet to pro to old fart… everyone was amped. Camps, wherever they go down, always serve to bring the like-minded together and at Hood you have the ultimate example.
High Cascade claims to be the ‘Funnest Place on Earth.’ There’s a good chance that they’re right on the money. The beating heart of snowboarding lives on in Hood.