Mammoth athlete Steven Thompson in the foam pit at Woodward West.
I’ve been to Tehachapi only once before. I had to drive to this isolated locale to pick up my new puppy, Hot Dog, three years ago. I never knew that much about Tehachapi other than I’d heard there’s a wind farm there and a Sonic fast food joint. Other than that, there was really no reason for me to ever go there.
But a couple weeks ago, MMSA head snowboard coach Ben Wisner called me up and asked me if I wanted to go to the skate park/ gymnastics training facility called Woodward.
“Pennsylvania?” I asked. “No Woodward West…in Tehachapi.” I responded with a giddiness usually reserved for kids and water parks.
“Do I want to go to Woodward?” I asked?
I asked not out of disbelief but because I can never understand an Australian over the phone.
“Do I want to go to Woodward?” I repeated.
“Yes, do you want to go to Woodward?” said Wisner in perfect dialect.
“Did the voters of California forget to vote for prop 19 because they were to high to go to the polls?,” I replied.
“Yes, I want to go to Woodward.”
You see I’ve wanted to go to Woodward since I was 12-years-old. That was back when rollerblading was really cool, people wore Jnco jeans and skate parks barely existed. Woodward first started out as a BMX and gymnastics complex in Pennsylvania and eventually expanded to multiple locations in Copper Mountain, Colo., San Diego and Tehachapi, Calif.
The Woodward complexes are havens for skateboarders, BMXers and rollerbladers looking to train in a relatively safe environment. For skiers and snowboarders the skate parks are beneficial but the trampolines and foam pits are truly where the training goes off.
In layman’s terms, the Tehachapi location is bananas. Located in the middle of nowhere (under the shadow of a colossal mega ramp), it features multiple indoor and outdoor skate parks, a dirt bike course and a football field-sized indoor gymnastics center (complete with trampolines, foam pits and every other thing you would ever want to abuse your body on).
Also, there are dorms, a pool, a movie theatre and even a miniature town (restaurants, shops, etc., that are generally used for the summer camps). The only thing this place is lacking is an onsite masseuse.
We were there for three days. The group consisted of three coaches including myself, Wisner and Mike Ramirez along with 25 athletes from the ski and snowboard teams and a parent chaperone. The purpose of the trip was so that the athletes could get some preseason training time on the trampolines and ramps. But (I believe) the real purpose was to see if it was scientifically possible for 25 athletes to train for 3\three days on a steady diet of Mexican food and Red Bull. Mission accomplished.
One of the subliminal reasons I was pumped on visiting Woodward was to see if I could still blade. That’s right, Aggressive Inline. I hadn’t rollerbladed since Daily Bread magazine folded in the mid to late 90s and everyone who was once part of the inline sensation disappeared like the Jedi in the Clone Wars.
The day I left for Tehachapi, I posted on my Facebook wall that I would be rollerblading at Woodward. At first, I got made fun of…a lot. But then something strange happened, ex-bladers were coming out of the fold to express their jealousy. Apparently there’s a lot of closet bladers out there and I’m not the only one in Mammoth that used to used do x-grinds.
Anyway, I soon came to the realization that I sucked. I figured that I would be soul grinding all over the place. But the truth of the matter was I couldn’t do squat. I think maybe I needed new grind plates. Also my back felt like it had been power slammed by Terry Tate, Offensive Linebacker. But it was all good. I was there to coach kids, not relive any adolescent fantasies of being Randy “Roadhouse” Spizer?… right?
Rollerblading issues aside, to say that progression happens at Woodward is an understatement. In three days, every athlete on the trip had, at the least, learned to do a flip from a trampoline into a foam pit. Kids who could do back flips before, were now doing back misty 1200s and double corks. And every kid made substantial progress at half pipe and mini pipe.
As predicted, the kids were destroyed on the last day (constantly landing in a foam pit for three days can hurt more than you think). I just wish I had the opportunity to go to a place like Woodward before the ripe and unextreme age of 28. I kept thinking to myself that if I was here when I was 12-years-old I would probably feel like an 8-year-old in a Chucky Cheese. Remember the slogan, “Where a kid can be a kid,” and also where an adult can sit down for an hour and half?
But the thing that jogged through my head the most was one simple question; what would happen if Mammoth Mtn. had a training facility similar to Woodward? MMSA has already made visible statements that it supports safety and progression. Be it, CEO Rusty Gregory’s heavy campaign for the California helmet law or the recent purchase of two Acro airbags, Mammoth is making progress toward revolutionizing safety standards. Currently, MMSA is working toward the construction of the Mammoth Center for Excellence, which holds its fundraiser every April (The Mammoth Invitational).
The idea is to have a slopeside training facility for the use of snowboarders, racers, Nordic skiers, freeride skiers (even summer athletes), complete with trampolines, mini ramp, lockers, seminar rooms, video rooms and gym equipment. Essentially a mini Woodward right next to Main Lodge.
The project is being funded through a non-profit organization called the Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation. The aim for this foundation is not only to fund the Center for Excellence, but also provide scholarships and financial assistance for student athletes.
“The Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation has been in existence for about two years, with a focus of moving toward this goal thanks to the last to Invitational events we have some money to move toward the conceptual planning and drawing phase,” stated John Armstrong, Executive Director of the MMCF.
“It probably won’t really make any more money for [MMSA] but overall it will help us get to the elite level, and provide a quality service for the community,” Armstrong went on, “You can’t beat the playground we have, but if we can help get more kids into sports and provide these extra services it will help us get to the next level.”
I always thought that the idea for the Center for Excellence was a great one. It makes sense. Why should athletes have to travel four and half hours and pay a bunch of money just to use some trampolines and vert ramps?
Don’t get me wrong, Woodward will always be a destination for athletes looking to progress in their respective sports but so will Mammoth Mountain. World class resorts, like MMSA, should take note of facilities like Woodward and apply what they do to the outstanding environment they already have.
I guess Woodward had a profound effect on me. After visiting Woodward West and seeing how fast an athlete can progress when put in the proper environment, I now firmly believe the need for a facility of this caliber should not be considered a luxury for MMSA but a necessity.
For more information about the Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation and the Mammoth ski and snowboard teams contact Pam at firstname.lastname@example.org