This is Part 1 of a two-part series on the ELITEAM Girls Power Camp. Why? Because the more I learned about this camp, the more I realized that this is the stuff I wish I knew as a teenager of the sporty persuasion. Part 1 is about what the camp involves and how it came into being. Part 2 goes into the goods, with direct advice to girls from World Cup athletes as well as reflections from campers and their parents.
When my kids were younger, part of our late January routine was to make sure we had the enrollment materials together for ELITEAM summer camps. (Ahem, time to get on it!) That was the one camp that, no matter what else was on the agenda, they did not want to miss. Ever since USST alums Doug Lewis and Kraig Sourbeer first launched the camp 26 years ago, ELITEAM has been an institution amongst ski racers, the only camp that brought all the elements of sport together. The camp involves tough workouts, but also formally takes on the other aspects of sports that are critical not only to peak performance but also to creating a fun, enriching experience. These are things like nutrition, teamwork, goal-setting, recovery, injury prevention, sports psychology, etc…, all of which play a role in becoming what Doug describes as the “complete athlete.”
As a parent, ELITEAM was a no-brainer. I could nag my kids all day to clean up after themselves, eat properly, treat each other with respect, try new things, turn off their electronics, get off the couch and exercise OR I could send them to ELITEAM where they would do all those things and be grateful for the opportunity. Like I said, no-brainer. Every year it blew me away how much those kids looked forward to a week of pure physical exhaustion, and it is only in the years since (“yeah, I know mom, we did that at ELITEAM) that I realize all the valuable things beyond physical training that they learned along the way.
ELITEAM, like youth ski racing, has always been coed, and Doug’s wife Kelley—who herself grew up ski racing and tasted World Cup competition—has been integral to the camp’s success. She has been the moving force behind the scenes, and quietly ever-present on the scene: snapping pictures; tending emergencies large and small; buoying spirits; chasing and capturing every loose end; and always, always watching and listening. Over the years, Kelley became acutely aware of some unique needs for girls, from the campers, their parents and her own experience as a young ski racer. At the same time, she saw that the girls’ spots at ELITEAM filled up most quickly, typically creating a huge waiting list. Clearly, there was an unmet need.
With all that in mind, last August Kelley launched Girls Power Camp at Burke Mountain Academy. The three-day camp, for girls age 11-14, was such a success that this year she and her crew will run two four-day sessions. I talked to Kelley about why she started the camp, how it went, and what’s up for this year:
How did you get the idea for Girls Power Camp?
It was on my mind for five or more years. I kept hearing little anecdotes from parents: the mom who was driving home with her young, athletic daughter and heard her say, “My thighs are fat!”; the 10-year-old putting on makeup to even out her skin tone; girls bullying their teammates; an entire girls team crying in the locker room because there was so much talking behind each others’ backs. These bits and pieces were driving me crazy. The tipping point came when we had 50 girls on the waiting list. I knew I had to do something.
What did you expect and how did it go?
I was prepared for an intimate group, but it filled to our capacity of 38 (and beyond) on Day 1 of registration. I worried that it might be too big, but it turned out to be a perfect number.
How is Girls Power Camp different from ELITEAM?
It’s the same philosophy but through the lens of female athletes. We dig a little deeper on some topics. I love this age because they are still very open. It is the perfect time to plant the seeds, which are like preventative medicine for bigger challenges.
What are the topics you focus on at GPC and how did you come up with them?
There are six main topics, based on what we do at ELITEAM but also based on feedback from parents and the priorities for their kids. I thought about what I needed when I was at a ski academy, and was on the phone crying to my mom all the time; and later when I was with the Canadian national team and didn’t have the confidence to communicate. I wanted to provide tools that, if I had them earlier, could have made those situations easier.
The six topics are:
- Self Awareness
- Stress Management
- Women’s Nutrition
- Female Athlete’s Body
- Support Network
- Positive Mindset
There are a lot of workouts and activities in the camp. I’m seeing agility workouts, leg routines, obstacle courses, relays, slacklining, yoga, slalom, a sunrise hike… How do you fit these topics in with everything else you are doing at camp?
We take them on in “Power Hour” workshops between workouts. It’s a lot of information, so we’ve added a day to the camp this year, which will allow us to absorb as we go. As in ELITEAM each girl has a notebook with questions and worksheets we go through. It also has a lot of information that they can use after camp.
Were you surprised by anything?
I was a little concerned that there might be a lot of girl drama, but it was the exact opposite. It felt so much more calm. Relaxed, positive, supportive and peaceful are all words I would use to describe it. Also, the coaches all wrote me afterwards and said it was life-changing for them. THEY were inspired by the girls. Everybody walked away feeling good.
You said the number of campers ended up being just right. Why?
It was enough to start amazing conversations. We would introduce a topic then break out in to smaller groups then come back to gather and share. When people heard each other’s thoughts they opened up more.
Did you break up the group by age? With body image groups we did break it into more specific age groups. The rest were random groupings. Some topics are more pertinent for some ages. For example, stress management may be more useful right now to a 14-year-old than an 11-year-old, but it’s good for the younger ones to have an understanding of what it is and to have the tools necessary before they need them.
The ELITEAM way is to have an ecosystem of former campers at the camp as counselors. Will you be doing that at GPC as well?
Yes! That is the plan. Counselors play an important role as they act as a liaison between the coaches and campers. Not only are they excellent role models, they are also another great resource and are able to support and inspire the campers to reach their goals. As with last year, Doug will be in the background, but other than that it is all girls and women doing the heavy lifting.
Looking at my kids’ ELITEAM notebooks I see interviews with Ted Ligety, Daron Rahlves, Aksel Lund Svindal, Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin, and so many more athletes across all ski disciplines. You did the same with the GPC. Is there a lot of arm-twisting to get them involved?
No! Everybody was excited to help and to share their thoughts. Last year for GPC we interviewed Mikaela Shiffrin, Lila Lapanja, Jackie Wiles, Laurenne Ross, and Liz Stephen. Every year I will try to mix it up and go to some different athletes.
Next week: Highlights from interviews with Mikaela Shiffrin, Lila Lapanja, Jackie Wiles, Laurenne Ross, and Liz Stephen on the six topics at Girls Power Camp, as well as impressions from parents and campers. Learn more now at Girls Power Camp.