It's a story every Canadian has heard through their lifetime: An American family plans their summer vacation in Canada, looking forward to getting away from the sweltering heat. They pack up their skis and boards on their roof rack and head to the border. As they cross, they tell the border guy that the purpose of their trip is to go skiing/riding. The border guy laughs and laughs, but waves them through anyways, wishing them a great trip
It turns out this isn't a myth. Skiing in July is real!
AKAMP is a special sort of unicorn, born 11 years ago by some guy in Saint-Sauveur who thought it would be a great idea to run a summer ski/ride camp. The first few years, I'm told, he put in thousands of dollars out of his own pocket to make this event happen. Over time, the word has spread, bringing skiers and riders from all over to participate in this oasis of a snowpark. Currently organized by David of Axis Boutique and his dedicated crew, the camp schedule includes daytime, evening, and full day sessions, with the snowpark changing form every day with new jumps, pipes, boxes and rails for people to ski/ride over. Located on the Mont Avila side next to the L'Express lift, which serves as the bike park lift in the summer, the snow from the season's big jumps is preserved by mountains of hay covering it from May until the snowcamp opened on Friday June 29th. The preservation is remarkable.
I heard about AKAMP in summer 2017 after it had already passed, and it wasn't really on my radar because I don't do park, and assumed most of the participants were well skilled park skiers/riders with a goal to keep up their technique. Earlier in the season, I'd seen the women-only "Pineapple Jam" event promotion and thought to myself that skiing in July would be a pretty unique experience. So I dropped AKAMP a message asking about whether it would be acceptable for a non-park skier to participate while being mindful of other participants using the park features. I was delighted to hear that participation was welcome (naturally, helmet is required and safety gear is recommended). So I rented a car and planned to attend an evening session (I am not a morning person and the extra fees would have been a waste). AKAMP pricing offers an early bird rate which I'd missed out on back in April as I wasn't committed to attending at that time. The pricing for last minute arrivals is $100 for a full day, or $70 for an evening. I happened to have some cash on hand, but for sure anyone with a tighter budget would be well advised to plan their participation early and take advantage of the early bird offer or volunteer opportunities.
My first evening at AKAMP was on Saturday June 30th. As you'll recall, that particular week was near 40 C with humidex, and I couldn't have been happier to get up to the mountain and be in the cool refreshing air as the mist poured off the glacier. I wore a super comfortable dress and my usual ski wig getup. What I hadn't anticipated was the need for gloves with good grip. The reason for this is that the mechanical lift running is a rope tow, and thin or slick gloves will surely give you rope burn, as I learned the first night. Also, I've used t-bars and pomo lifts, but rope tow is entirely new to me. To catch the rope tow, you climb to the top of a platform and drop in off of a skate ramp style plywood board. The drop actually *looks* pretty steep even though it is a short drop, and for someone who doesn't do well on the high diving board, negotiating the ramp took a bit of practice for me until I got the swing of it. I totally bailed on my first try with my weight too far back, and graciously accepted some coaching on the part of the rope tow operator. The guys running it were super helpful and supportive, and I managed to catch it on my second try -- this is the point I understood the need for gloves with good grip. I managed to hold on til about halfway up the rope, before deciding to let go and not give myself rope burn. Still, I was stoked and ready to ride down and try it again! The quality of snow by that time of the day was pretty slick and spring scrapeyness - having edges and wax from my last spring trip was a huge asset. I headed back to my car to grab my crash pants (that first fall was a little hard on my right hip), and my snowboarding wrist guards. The operator felt they weren't ideal, but it was the best option I felt I had to work with. On that run, I managed to get 2/3 of the way to the top before my wrist guards started sliding a bit. After that, I decided to just hike up, which I did about three times. And that actually helped a lot as a warmup technique! Here is where things become magical: as the sun was setting, there were fireflies flickering all over the field, and flashes of light from the storm to the south. It was an ethereal experience. I decided to do another evening the following day, which was the pineapple jam - this time with the correct gloves.
On Canada Day, I headed up for the evening session, this time armed with about five pairs of gloves as I wasn't sure which would have the best grip. I brought my partner Scott, a non-skier who enjoyed himself just hanging out with some beers and a good book, while sitting in the cooling mist flowing off the park. My snowboarding buddy Ilana also joined that evening. The Pineapple Jam is a women only evening, and it was really something special to be in an environment with women of all ages and kids as well, sharing knowledge and information. Highlights of the night, a young girl skier went off a jump and did a backflip, followed by a woman from Killington's Darkside Boards doing a 360 cork! It was as amazing to watch as it was fun to ski (around the features for me, lol). Towards the end of the day I brought my wings up the rope tow, and flapped down the hill. I can't do park, but I sure can do costume! The plan had been after 9pm to open the wave pool to all AKAMP participants for surfing lessons, but unfortunately with so many people escaping the heat in the pool that day, they had to shut it down to clean it at night. In lieu of that, they opened the waterslide and the t-bar on the Saint-Sauveur side for us instead! Many pina coladas were had.
On July 2nd, I decided I hadn't had enough and headed back up for another evening session. On this evening, there was a huge and fast rainstorm about a half an hour before I got there. While AKAMP operates rain or shine, of course they do pause for potentially dangerous conditions with high winds, lightning, and fast falling rain. We arrived just after the storm as the evening was getting back into swing, and the rain benefitted the snow giving it a top layer of corn! That evening, I met a snowboarder from Portsmouth, NH, who had attended the previous year, and a guy and his two teenage son skiers from Toronto. Some of the women from the previous day were still in attendance as well. Once again, it was a great vibe with fantastic weather and people. And, the cool air and mist was a welcome relief from the heat of the city.
On the 3rd, I unfortunately wasn't able to attend due to looming deadlines at work, and I had a few appointments in Ottawa -- but that didn't stop me from returning on the 4th! I arrived much later than I would have liked, but was still glad for the opportunity to participate once again. Having taken a day off, I had to renegotiate with the rope tow, falling once again on my first try (I gotta keep my weight forward!), but getting back into the swing of things afterwards. Many of the same participants were still there, and we celebrated the end of the AKAMP with a bbq hot dog feast afterwards. I spent a few moments chatting with the organizer who gave me a brief history of AKAMP (noted above), and also discussed how next year he was going to aim to go a few days longer, by investing more in the hay to preserve conditions -- the snow had held up and would even be good to go for the next few days! For insurance reasons though, they planned to bulldoze the park features so that no one doing a rogue session could injure themselves. Nevertheless, my friend and a few others made it up that day and reported back that on the night of the 5th, conditions were still great. I am told it had all melted into a patch by the 8th.
The camp format is highly participatory and offers informal coaching and not formal workshops. T I think this is to a huge advantage of the event, because it builds up the community and allows people to demonstrate supportiveness to their fellow skier/riders and share knowledge. (Apparently some pros are on hand to share information and offer technique advice in a convivial environment, but I'm not up on the who's who and wouldn't have recognized these highly skilled folks). The camp is open to skiers and riders of all ages and skill levels and definitely encourages families. It was great to see kids of all ages and families out there! here are a few vendors and I think a few contests (not competitions) during the daytime to win gear. There aren't food/drink vendors, but the great thing about that is you can bring your own. Next year, I anticipate spending the weekend up there and bringing along picnics for daytime participation.
I have to offer massive respect to all the organizers of AKAMP who put so much work and investment into making it happen, and high fives to all the participants I met who were super good vibe. Also a special shoutout to the volunteers who worked to rebuild the snowpark into new features each day - they really did an incredible job. It was recommended to me by one guy to always bring a shovel, although I'm told some instruction in how to build a snowpark is essential to do it right. Skiing in July in 40 degree heat was a hell of a trip and one I can't wait to participate in next season. This year had the benefit of spectacular weather, sunny days and warmth, with little rain...maybe they got lucky. But AKAMP will run whether it is rain or shine, so I look forward to what the next year brings!
June 30th, the mist rises off the park!
June 30th looking up the hill.
June 30th view down the hill!
Evidence of fireflies (my camera doesn't do well in low light).
My skis on the spring quality snow.
Getting ready to fly down the hill!
During the Pineapple Jam, I met Ria from Ottawa who rides in the winter, surfs and skates in the summer!
July 1st pano from the top of the park!
Ilana catching a ride uphill.
Ilana getting ready to drop in.
View of the park from the base, with mist rising off it, around 7:30PM July 2nd
Me walking through basecamp.
The drop in tower and ramp!
I just missed this kid's jump!
Stoked !!! on July 4th!
A shoutout to all my American ski buddies and their love of diet bud!
Photo shamelessly stolen from the Sommet Sauveur facebook page, from June 29, 2018! From my perspective, it looks like 1/3 of the hill has coverage!