By Sadie Maeda
For the past six years, The Progression Sessions has been organizing weekend-long snowboard camps for women looking to improve their skills and challenge their comfort zones. But now with success across North America under their belt, TPS is heading into the unfamiliar for a brand new adventure, right to the beautiful and rugged mountains of Chile.
It’s a camp for women, by women and it started with just one location in 2005. The Progression Sessions has since flourished to include resorts on both the east and west coasts, and even Canada. It’s a camp known for not only its one-on-one coaching from professional athletes but also creating an environment that empowers and inspires lady shredders from all over to push boundaries and aim higher. Now it’s time for TPS to take its own progression, by heading straight into the unknown: the Southern Hemisphere.
So if you’re into riding fresh powder, park laps, venturing into backcountry, exploring new terrain and culture, all while hanging with a rad group of women, this might just be camp for you. But don’t just take our word for it, hear it straight from the head coaches themselves! Take a look at our exclusive interview with The Progression Sessions head coaches Mary Walsh and Christine Savage as they talk TPS, Chile, and favorite memories.
How did you guys originally come up with the idea for Progression Sessions?
Mary Walsh- The Progression Sessions was born from Loon Mountain’s Droppin’ In women’s snowboard camp. Twelve years ago, Loon’s Brian Norton and Jay Scambio and crew recognized the need to get more women into their amazing Loon parks and Droppin’ In was born. I was brought on as a coach the second year, when the camp was in its infancy and much smaller than it is now. There are few places like Loon where the male community is so hyped on getting women involved. The guys there are incredible (and some who have moved onto other jobs but were incredibly supportive and instrumental in the event’s success). Norton, Scambio, Kevin Bell, Jordan and Joe, Jon, Jay V, J-Rad, Noah, Nick–the whole marketing crew and Loon Mountain Park staff are amazing and they have fostered the event and helped to grow it so much. The local Oakley crew, Mark Wakeling, Nelson Wormstead, Dan Hartman, Scotty Morton, Reid Pikul, Matt Cunha–they’re amazing, too. So we had all of these great guys making it happen and they gave me and Christine the opportunity to fully create the curriculum for the weekend and design the program we feel is best. It was a perfect collaborative storm with a bunch of passionate individuals who all came in and started working toward a common goal of creating a massive army of park-shredding women. There’s a lot of heart, experience and intelligence in this crew and when Wakeling got Jenny Messing and Oakley involved, our resources grew and allowed Droppin’ In to expand into Oakley Progression Sessions, which has flourished for the past six years as a multi-stop, North American camp. So much of this is due to Jenny. Jenny has been the overarching voice for the camp and has carried the flag for TPS during her tenure at Oakley and beyond. It would never be as big as it is today without her hard work and belief in the project. Now, we’re really excited to be taking further ownership of the camp, re-branding it as The Progression Sessions and adding more stops this season both in new areas and returning to mountains we have wanted to go back to for years. We will still have stops of Oakley Progression Sessions this winter, too. We’re really hyped on being able to expand the program.
Why did you decide to take the Progression Sessions international? Why Chile?
Christine Savage- Mary, Jenny, and I have been talking for years about how awesome it would be to take The Progression Sessions international. In the beginning, it was more like a far-fetched dream but ultimately we also knew that this program was one that we could take anywhere and the response would be the same. The thrill of trying new things, the sense of accomplishment from facing fears, and the camaraderie that builds when doing those things together and cheering one another on… those are all universal feelings that transcend any culture or location.
How did you get connected with Steep-n-Deep down in Chile?
CS- I’ve known Ian, the owner of Steep-n-Deep, for quite a while now. We both grew up in New Jersey (although Ian was born in Chile), and had the same home mountain of Mountain Creek. We became friends through snowboarding and eventually, we both ended up living in Lake Tahoe. Every summer Ian would go down to Chile to run Steep-N-Deep tours. I’ve known quite a few people who’ve done Chile trips with him, and everyone has always come back raving about what an awesome time they had. Ian really knows Chile.. He knows where to go and he knows what to do. A couple of years ago, Ian brought up how amazing it would be if we were able to partner up and bring a group of women to Chile with The Progression Sessions. Since then, we’ve been talking about how sick it would be to create an event together, and then finally this year we took the plunge and made the idea a reality. We are SO excited to put this idea in motion and really can’t wait to see what the future holds!
What made you guys decide to include activities off the mountain, such as surfing?
CS- For the Chile camp, it just made so much sense to include more off mountain activities. This camp is really a combination of a snowboard camp and a Chilean tour, and we want the ladies to experience as much of Chile as possible! Of course the epic mountains and pow, but also the food, the history, the culture, and really just as much of what Chile has to offer (which is a lot) that time will allow! So, why not include surfing?! Chile’s unique geography allows you to be at the ocean just a few hours after ripping powder turns, so we felt like we had to take advantage of that. The Progression Sessions is all about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and that doesn’t need to be exclusive to snowboarding.
Camps in the past usually last a few days or the weekend, what is the benefit of having a week-long camp?
MW – The Chile trip is kind of like the older sibling of the existing weekend-long camps. The two-day camps are fully park-focused, but the Chile camp builds on that by working on freestyle skills and taking them to gnarlier terrain all over the mountain and in the backcountry. We are also really excited to welcome Kimmy Fasani onboard as a coach and mentor in Chile; her experience riding technical terrain, as well as her exuberance and passion for promoting and contributing to women’s snowboarding is monumental. So stoked to have her be a part of the trip! While we love the format of the two-day camps, and they will continue, the week-long format is perfect for making sure we have enough time to really experience the terrain, learn about and get into the backcountry, and of course take park laps, all while being able to form a rad group dynamic, since this camp is much smaller than the existing North American stops. We will be riding for four days, immersing ourselves in the culture of Chile’s cities for two days, and heading to coast to surf for a day, too! The Chile trip takes all of the things we are stoked on about the two-day TPS and gives us more time to pack more in!
What can I expect to get out of camp? What do you guys teach that is different from taking a lesson at my local resort or learning from my friends?
MW – The biggest thing is that we do our best to instill a way of looking at the mountain in a creative, playful way–doing weird things on your snowboard doesn’t exist only within the park. We also strive to provide a strong base of various park skills, whether it be hitting jumps, riding on transition, jibbing, etc. for new-to-the-park riders and emphasize a variety of features for more advanced riders, too. It’s easy to get comfortable in certain areas of the park and we want to push people out of their comfort zone in a supportive way. There’s been many women who have said they disliked riding one thing, like pipe, for example, who leave and tell us how they can’t believe they’re so hyped to ride it now. Ideally, because the weekend camps are only two days, we want to give all of the riders, whether beginner or advanced, things that they can work on the rest of the season and if needed, confidence to push themselves when they come to the mountain next. Taking a lesson and learning from friends is great–I think TPS fits in between those two things: TPS is more structured than taking laps with friends, yet has a more dedicated sense of community than a traditional lesson. Having a distinct coach/participant relationship is valuable, especially when the coaches are experienced and professional snowboarders. And as a crew, we provide a supportive community that is built on trust, not taking yourself too seriously, and the willingness to be totally OK with falling and making mistakes. All three can be great ways to learn–at TPS we want to be a big group of friends that has experienced coaches to act as mentors and catalysts for learning.
What is a typical day at camp like?
CS- Each stop of the series is unique, but they all follow a similar general timeline. For our weekend-long camps, Saturday starts out with breakfast and yoga, and then we divide up into ability-level groups and hit the snow. We spend the morning working in these small crews and then break for lunch and then the girls rotate to a new coach for the afternoon. Saturday afternoon or evening, we have an apres celebration. Sunday we start with yoga again and then work with a different coach for the morning session. Sunday afternoon is an open-style format where we have coaches stationed at all areas of our private park and the girls can work on whatever trick they are still trying to dial in. Afterwards, we have an awards session.
MW – We do our best to expose all of the women to as many different coaching styles and riding styles as possible. Snowboarding and skiing are very individual pursuits, which is why we do our best to make sure everyone has time to work on individual goals and tricks, but the group dynamic is such a valuable and important part of riding, so we try to balance both things. We also try to expose everyone to as many different aspects of park riding as possible before letting them loose to pick what they would like to focus more on.
What has the feedback been from women who attend and how has it grown over the years?
CS- The feedback from past year’s attendees has been insane! Not to sound too sappy, but there are usually some tears shed when the weekend ends (mine and Mary’s included). The ladies will often keep in touch and connect with us and other women from camp via our Facebook page. The ladies who’ve attended The Progression Sessions in the past are really our biggest cheerleaders and marketers. A woman comes one year by herself and has an awesome time and then next year she’s recruited three or four friends to come back with her. It’s this grassroots word of mouth marketing that’s really helped TPS to grow to where it is today in an organic way. We’ve never really done all that much marketing. We just try to make sure that everyone has an epic time and then hopefully they want to tell their friends about it, and luckily, that’s been the case.
If you had to name your favorite thing about OPS, what would it be and why?
CS- There are so many amazing elements that make The Progression Sessions what it is, but if I had to choose just one, it would be the overall vibe of the camp. No matter where we’ve taken this event, the vibe it creates remains consistent. It is honestly one of the most positive events I’ve ever experienced… the camaraderie is insane. I always say that I think this may be the only event where everyone is as hyped when the girl next to them learns a trick as they are when they learn it themself. The ladies’ positivity is absolutely contagious and really lends itself to the amount of progression that we see happen during the course of these camps.
What has been one of your favorite memories from past camps?
MW – Oh my gosh, not to sound cliche, but there are so many it is hard to pick one. Ha. There are so many things that we love about the camps, but all of the best parts all boil down to the incredible people who make TPS what it is–both the women that come ride with us at every stop and the crew (both women and men) that make the camps happen behind the scenes. There’s an incredible community that is created at each stop because the women trust us when we ask them to step outside of their comfort zone–I think it helps that none of the coaching and support staff take ourselves too seriously, we’re goofy humans–and the vibe that is created by this is so supportive, made up of laughing and being stoked even when the riding is challenging. Holding the camps in winter, of course, can make for some gnarly weather conditions and sometimes it’s the most challenging meteorological days that are really memorable because the whole group has so much fun despite challenging snow, rain, or fog. One year in Mammoth we got four feet of snow overnight and it just kept dumping. There was no visibility, the park was buried and we ripped park laps and built little backflip booters together. We had a rainy weekend at Loon one year and all the ladies put on ponchos and trash bags and rode open-to-close. Everyone is just so psyched, Christine and I often think back on the days we woke up worried about how rough the weather was and then the day was fully epic. When the girls are having a blast, it makes all of us have a blast.
CS- Oh man! There are so many, it really is hard to pick just one! One of my favorites would have to be a couple of years ago when we finished awards at Loon, and then all of a sudden Team Fun Loon came up in front of the crowd and announced that they had made awards for the coaches. It was just so thoughtful. I don’t know how it’s possible, but somehow we always get the absolute RADDEST chicks that sign up for The Progression Sessions. We’re really lucky to get to meet and ride with all these amazing women. Another one of my favorites was two years ago in Mammoth when one of the girls, Shelby, had her bachelorette weekend at The Progression Sessions! I mean, how rad is that?! What an awesome idea for a bachelorette party, so much sicker than the traditional one. But really, there are a million memories that come to mind when I think about these weekends, and a lot of them are kinda small things, like someone encouraging someone else, or the hugs that are given after a fear is faced, or the girls just hiking and hiking and never giving up until they are literally kicked off the mountain by ski patrol sometimes… all those smaller things are really big things when it comes to why this event is so special.
What is the ultimate vision with the Progression Sessions? Where would you like to see the program in 5 years?
CS- I really feel like the sky’s the limit with this one! I know that Mary, Jenny and myself both want to see this program continue to grow and reach as many women as possible. We talk all the time about the possibilities, and where
we’d like to go. In a perfect world, if there’s snow somewhere, we’ll eventually get there… but we want to be sure to grow the camp at a pace that allows us to keep it consistent and true to its roots. We never want to sacrifice the quality of the experience the girls get just so that we can have more stops. But, that being said, in five years, I’d love to see a few more US and Canada stops. I’d love to hit the midwest and areas where I feel like women’s snowboarding events don’t always seem to reach. In addition to that, hopefully by then we’ve expanded our summer program to a few Southern Hemisphere stops. I’d also really like to see us get up to Mt. Hood, because that place is very near and dear to Mary and I, and is just so insanely fun in the summer.
Any advice/words of wisdom to anyone on the fence of attending?
CS- Come! I promise that you’ll be hyped that you did. You’ll meet new, rad chicks who share the same love for snowboarding that you do, have so much fun, and also learn some new tricks as well.
MW – The TPS community is amazing and all of the girls welcome new members to the tribe with excitement. As for Chile, we’re so excited to introduce a group of women to the backcountry and get to work on all-mountain snowboarding in a whole new way and get to experience the culture, the food, and the cities! It’s going to be amazing.
So what are YOU waiting for?
All of this could be a reality in less than a month! Besides, we know you’ll be kicking yourself later when you’re drooling over their pictures. Need more convincing?
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