The Outsider: So long, Camp of Champions. Hang in there, Horstman Glacier

This week the news broke that after 28 glorious years, the Camp of Champions (COC) will no longer grace the Horstman Glacier.

It was a sad day for founder Ken Achenbach, a man instrumental in the birth of snowboarding who has described himself as “a perpetual 15-year-old.” Achenbach decided to leave with his head held high by declaring bankruptcy for the camp in order to refund all his booked 2017 campers. Kudos to Ken for that honourable decision.

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The decline of the Horstman Glacier has been one of the hot climate change topics over the last couple years. Whistler Blackcomb (WB) had to shift the Showcase T-Bar to the middle of the slope in order to keep it running. The Horstman T-Bar can now only open in the winter after consistent snowfall and extensive road-building by skilled cat drivers. WB took matters into its own hands in 2015 and dedicated some of its snowmaking resources in an attempt to stem the rate of the glacier’s recession. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. The winds at the top of the glacier didn’t allow for effective distribution of the artificial snow, so WB turned its attention to reinforcing the entry and exit areas of the Horstman. That would at least help keep the winter (and summer) operations on track.

If you’ve ever spent time up on the summer glacier (or seen the many photos that circulate), you probably noticed that the COC park had some big-ass jumps. This is where the next generation of pro skiers and snowboarders train their freestyle skills in the summer, and Achenbach knew that building smaller jumps would be doing freestyle campers a disservice.

In a way, the Horstman Glacier has been Whistler Blackcomb’s canary in the coalmine over the last couple decades of summer operation. It’s been receding at an alarming rate, with Achenbach himself stating that in 1989 he could do up his bindings 40 metres higher on the glacier than he can now. Glaciologists have investigated whether the copious amounts of salt applied to the jumps had any effect on the rate of recession, but their findings all came down the slow but steady increase in temperature. Despite an awesome winter of snow and mostly cool start to the spring and summer, the Horstman continues to bleed.

That doesn’t mean that the glacier is closed — far from it. Momentum Ski Camps continues to operate and has still been able to build an impressively sized park in its designated lane for 2017 camps. Several race camps will also operate, requiring much less snow to build their courses. Camp of Champions (as well as neighbouring Treeline Summer Camp) ceasing operations is by no means a death knell for summer glacier skiing in Whistler. But just like the hundreds of businesses relying on the tourism attraction of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef — which is dying — there will come a time when all the remaining glacier operators will have to adapt their business models to the changing climate. WB knows that better than anyone.

Vince Shuley is hopeful the Horstman T-Bar will continue to operate. For questions, comments or suggestions to The Outsider email or Twitter @vinceshuley.

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