Mount Hood Snowboard Camp
words and images courtesy charles arnell
As a young man, I Charles Arnell founded Mount Hood Snowboard Camp, known as “MHSC” in 1991. I was eager to make my mark in the business world. I had been working my way into the snowboarding industry since 1988, in college I was business partner in a small startup snowboard clothing brand called Rad Rags, and I taught snowboarding in Vail Colorado and became one of the first PSIA certified snowboard instructors. In 1989 started competing in the Rocky Mountain regional snowboarding contests and I did pretty well in professional events like the OP Pro and PSTA contests.
I went to New Zealand in the summer of 1990 where I had some international competition success and I made snowboarding friends there, but New Zealand was so far away from the nucleus of the sport. I was from California, but most of my snowboard time and experience was while I was living and riding in Vail Colorado. In the summer in 1991 wanted to try something new and I decided try and work for High Cascade Snowboard Camp. I had never been to Oregon before and I had never been to Mt. Hood. I had no idea about the huge snowboarding scene that was happening in Oregon at the time. In my first summer on the mountain I witnessed the incredible demand for summer snowboarding camps. During this first summer I met some of the west coast pros that I had only seen in the videos and magazines. This was the first time I had seen the huge Japanese presence coming to Mt Hood in the summers. I also met my future camp business partner Julian Ritchie all during that first summer on Mt. Hood. I had spent my time from 18 years old to 21 in college earning a degree in business and I always believed that I was more capable as a snowboarding entrepreneur, than a competitive snowboarder. I had a passion for the sports business and a love for the snowboarding after graduation. I saw the summer scene at Mt Hood as a perfect opportunity to start my first business.
As history tells it was Karol’s camp started it all on Mt. Hood, but at the time, High Cascade was the new king of the mountain. While working at High Cascade, I noticed that they had more business than they could handle. I had met Tim Windell in Colorado and I saw that Windell’s camp was doing great located down the mountain in Welches. The snowboarding market was red hot and on fire. At the time it looked like snowboarding was set to take over the entire ski industry.
I believe that initially the success of the camp was due the big hole left my Karol’s camp. MHSC literally took over the half pipe that we shared and inherited when Chris Karol’s camp did not return to Mt Hood in the summer of 1993. As they say in life and business, timing is everting! I must say that my timing was perfect on this snowboard camp venture. Together with my business partner Julian, we rolled out our first camp in June of 1992 and for the next 5 years I worked extremely hard and set in place the DNA for running a professional and polished summer snowboard camp. We grew our camp from an idea on paper in the summer of 1991 to a top tier camp on the mountain from 1992 to 1997.
Mount Hood Snowboard Camp “MHSC” became well known and liked by the snowboarders and their parents. We were a closed campus facility close to Government Camp. We had secured a lease of the beautiful Mazama Lodge. We catered to the “nervous parents” by selling our safe camp environment chaperoned transportation, housing, and supervision of our summer camps. Prior to our fist summer of business I had met with a large group of parents in California. I could see that ultimately the parents made the buying decision on the summer camps and it was important that the parents wanted to feel safety was a priority when making their decision on sending their children to camp. This was an easy sell for MHSC as the Government Camp scene was out of hand by 1991. The word was out in the snowboard scene in Government Camp was overrun with young snowboarding kids with very limited supervision. MHSC was far removed from Government Camp party scene and that was a good thing at the time.
MHSC focused on the selling the parents of the campers and budding and lucrative Japanese snowboard market. We had met a young Japanese snowboarding entrepreneur who had a similar vision for summers at Mt. Hood. He helped us fill each session up with his loyal following of Japanese snowboarders. We had a long a prosperous relationship with the Japanese. In time, MHSC started to host some small winter camps in Japan due to our summer camps popularity.
Ultimately Mount Hood Snowboard Camp became even more famous for our on snow half pipes! The secret to our success here was our phenomenal pipe boss Frank Wells. In the beginning Frank was just some young guy I had met while I was living in Breckenridge Colorado in 1991. Frank started working at our camp early on. Frank took on a thankless job and made the half pipes his works of art. As history goes, Frank went on to become quite well known and respected for building some of the best half pipes in the world. Frank is still building world class half pipes for the X games and Olympic snowboard competitions all over the world. I am super stoked to say that Frank Wells got his start at MHSC! Way to go Frank Wells!!
MHSC had our own skate ramps and a respectable outdoor skate park. I believe MHSC had the first full 16 foot vert ramp in Government Camp. My friend’s from New Zealand, John Malcom-Smith designed and built the vert ramp and later Olly Brunton ultimately led the efforts with the mini skate ramps. The ramps were a great draw for many of the pro’s visiting Gov’ey and ultimately brought a lot of star power to our facility. Our campers were impressed with the talent arriving daily at our skate ramps. I really enjoyed meeting many of the pros and other camp coaches as they would come to our camp and skate. Having the skate ramps really helped with our coach recruiting and gave the campers tons of afternoon entertainment. I must applaud Tim Windell for taking this summer camp multi-sport concept to the next level and beyond with his own camp. Tim Windell did it right and he should be acknowledged for harnessing the power of Mt. Hood snowboard scene and combining it with the power of the Woodward skate camps in Pennsylvania. That was a brilliant move for the snowboard camp business! You can bring the skate parks to Mt. Hood, but you could not bring Mt. Hood to Pennsylvania!! MHSC had attempted to do the same multi-sport facility in our 4th year, but unfortunately we hit road blocks with property zoning and the people in the small city of Rhodendron. We purchased the Snowline Motel down the mountain in Rhododendron and moved our camp operations there in 1995.
Like all great ideas, they are only as good as the people involved and the problems that they face. MHSC was on a brilliant course towards long term success, but after buying the Snowline Motel in an effort to expand and control our own destiny, MHSC hit a wall. The city of Rhododendron and the local cabin owners had a terrible bias against snowboarders. The reputation of Government Camp had scared the town’s people and they rallied hard against any type of snowboard camp coming down the mountain to their town. MHSC had a terrible time with city leaders, county codes and zoning enforcement. This lead to legal battles, partnership strife, and ultimately I sold my interest out to my business partner Julian Ritchie. Unfortunately, Julian did not share the same passion for the business as I once had, and Julian closed the MHSC summer camp 2 years later.
I moved on with my life in snowboarding, I started several small brands of snowboards including the Arnell brand. We had success in Japan and in the USA. I sold the snowboard brand, with a mulit-year worldwide snowboard clothing licensing deal to the Yoshida Corp in Portland. Afterwards I spent some time developing and patenting a “step-in” snowboard binding with a true soft boot. The concept was truly brilliant and it works with a real soft boot, but it was too late to get any market traction. I also helped write the book called “The Complete Snowboarder”.
By 1996 I was a new father. I was married to my wife whom I had met at the snowboard camp. My wife was an adult attendee of MHSC during our first year of summer camp business. I often joke that my magmatism towards “entrepreneurism’’ was so strong, that it literally attracted my wife to me. As a diehard entrepreneur, I eventually set my sites on some bigger business ideas and markets and I went into the mortgage banking business. I had great success in the banking industry. I quickly became one of Portland’s top mortgage brokerage firms, bought real estate and started other business ventures.
Now at 51 years old I’m still a competitive athlete. I snowboard fairly regularly and I have volunteered as a Sherpa for SOS, the Snowboard Outreach Society for many years. I’m am an accomplished wake surfer and I am running my 7th full marathon in 2019. I am still in the mortgage business, develop real estate, mobile home parks, and I am in the agriculture business as well.
I love it here in Oregon, I have made Oregon my home. Life is good and I am always working on some new business idea that stems from things I learned with my first business, MHSC, the Mount Hood Snowboard Camp. I always look back fondly at the summer camp days. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Chris Karol, Tim Windell, and John Ingersoll of High Cascade. I also am grateful for all of our staff. We had several “All Star” staff members, each one helped make MHSC a great snowboard camp! Thank you all for doing what you did. Together we pushed the summer camps onward and upward. May the summer snowboarding camps on Mt Hood live on forever!