Windells puts the board in boarding school
MOUNT HOOD, Ore. – While it may be a tough sell for parents, Windells Academy is a dream for every kid who aspires to be the next Shaun White: a boarding school for boarders.
For more than two decades, Windells has staged summer camps for skateboarders, snowboarders and skiers on Oregon’s Mount Hood, which is blessed with snow year-round. Founder Tim Windell, a former professional boarder, brags that all of the American Olympic medalists – including White – have either spent time at the camp or used its facilities.
So it wasn’t that big of a stretch to go to a full-time high school.
“I came here just to have fun and I’ve progressed so much I can’t even believe it,” said Jamison Skinner, 17, of Toronto, who starts his second semester at the academy this fall. “It’s just such an awesome place.”
From the outside, it may look as if the academy might be embracing the same training philosophy that elite gymnasts and figure skaters have long followed: taking young athletes and sending them off to train full time – with school on the side. Kind of the Russian model of building an athlete.
Windell laughs at the notion. That would be way too traditional.
“We’re not going to make guys go out there and jog 10 or 15 miles a day before they go up on this hill and ride. That’s just not what we’re about and that’s just not what action sports are about,” Windell said.
The full-time academy started last year with 14 students, with the focus on snowboarding and skiing. This fall they’ll have doubled that – with skateboarding added to the curriculum.
It’s pricey. Tuition – which includes room and board – is $35,000 for a full academic year, and $20,000 for a semester session.
And it’s not for everyone. The days are long, and while the overriding theme is becoming a better athlete, academy president Mike Hanley said, Windells is more than a “sports school.”
“We’re not encouraging kids to drop out of school and cross their fingers they can retire on this because that’s just not going to happen,” Hanley said. “We want our kids to go to a good college – and the X Games.”
Skinner, who was one of 14 students taking part in the academy’s summer session, says it took some persuading to convince his parents.
“That’s the question everyone asks. No one takes it seriously, like ‘Snowboarding 101,”‘ he said. “But the school system is completely separate from the snowboarding. It’s completely detached. … I think it’s harder than regular school.”
Windells is located at the base of 11,239-foot Mount Hood, Oregon’s highest peak, about 50 miles east of Portland. It is Disneyland for action sports nuts, with a dirt BMX track, a 25,000-square-foot skate park, a ski jump covered in a plastic mesh to simulate snow, and the ever-popular BOB (an acronym for Building out Back), an indoor facility that is stuffed with ramps and foam pits for perfecting tricks.
And that’s not to mention the halfpipe, rails and snow up on the mountain.
Olympians Hannah Teter and Louie Vito came through over the summer. Indeed, the pros often visit Windells to use the facilities, an added benefit for campers and students.
White has been coming to Mount Hood to ride during the summer since he was 6 years old. Last season he trained on the mountain in preparation for the Vancouver Olympics, where he won his second gold medal in the halfpipe.
“Just being around people that are better than you makes you a better rider,” White said. “It’s like playing music. If you play guitar and your friend’s better than you, you’re going to get to his level faster. I remember coming up here when I was younger and I’d just get so amped up that I’d learn new tricks every day. That was my childhood – I would freak out if I didn’t get to come here in the summer.”
The kids live in comfortable cabins – complete with flat-screen TVs – at a converted motel. All the rooms have kitchens even though there’s a cafeteria. The students don’t have classrooms, but are schooled through an accredited online program with several teachers on staff. That way they can work at their own pace and at their individual grade level, Hanley said.
The school’s slogan, appropriately enough, is “Live. Learn. Ride.”
The idea, Windell said, is to bring a balance between the “real” world and the at-times unconventional realm of action sports.
About a third of the students at the academy are there to become competitive snowboarders, while the other two-thirds are there to either consider the possibility or they’re just doing it for fun, he said.
“The platform is to build them up to be the best they can,” Windell said. “It’s OK to have the middle-of-the road kids who just want to have the experience.”
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