A mountain haven 

Snowboard camp teaches abused children to get back up


By Andrew Mitchell

When you're learning to snowboard, the ground is never very far away.

Although an instructor can walk and talk you through the art of linking turns, in the end it is you and you alone who has to gather up the courage to let go of your edge and point the board downhill. When you fall, it is you alone who has to get back up again.

And when you succeed — carving one arc after another down the slope — the sense of accomplishment, of empowerment, and of exhilaration is all yours as well.

For a teenager who was born into an abusive family and displaced into protective group homes, this quintessential snowboarding experience is a step into a larger, kinder world where "anything is possible if you're willing to work for it," says Heidi Landau, executive director and founder of camp CARE Snowboard Camps.

"These are kids who live in group homes, who don't feel they have a lot to look forward to," says Landau. "They get good grades, they are non-youth offenders — they're basically good kids who have had no real chances in life."

In the U.S., 15 out of every 1,000 children are removed from abusive homes. Another 300,000 will take to the streets each year to escape. According to Child Protection Services, some 3 million people suffer from the damaging effects of abusive relationships.

Although no national or provincial statistics are available for Canada, Landau believes that this is going to become an increasing problem in Canada, following the pattern of the United States.

With a large number of those children developing into juvenile and adult offenders, Landau believes that programs like camp CARE can make a real difference. Some of the older campers have even been offered Level I courses and jobs at ski resorts when they complete high school — many abused children lose the protection of group homes and treatment centres when they turn 18. "Where do you go from there?" asks Landau.

Founded in 1997, camp CARE is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that takes 75 kids, aged 12 to 18, into the mountains every year. Each camper is given snowboard equipment and clothing, which is theirs to keep, and lessons by volunteer instructors. As they progress over the following few days, they are paired off with pro riders who can help them crank things up a notch.

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