Posted by editor 26/09/2013 0 Comment 3485 views


Jenny McBain speaks to the founder of Snow-Camp – a charity which offers young people from the inner-cities a chance to progress through participation in snow sports.

Some sports have an association with money and privilege but a thriving London based charity has proven that social barriers can be surmounted for the good of all.  Dan Charlish, who is the founder of a charity called Snow-Camp, first got the opportunity to go snowboarding when he was 21 years old and he loved it so much he wanted to extend the opportunity to others.

He says, “There is just something uniquely special about being away from everything on the top of a mountain on a blue-sky day with your friends and a snowboard or a pair of skis.  I wanted to offer that experience to young people who would not normally have that sort of opportunity.”

Dan’s belief that participation in snow sports could benefit young people in inner cities was put on hold as he followed a career in overseas development.  However, when he returned to the UK to work in a community centre in Stockwell in South London, he was able to road test his idea.

He says: “On the first year we took 10 kids from 10 to 19 years old.  We had a lot of experienced youth workers with us and there was just something profound about the mountains and the way that snow sports impacted on the young people. We just thought knew we had something really special. There was something about the shift in environment from where the young people were living day to day to somewhere  beautiful that had a real impact.  There was nothing else out there that was offering young people that kind of opportunity.”

That was in 2003.  Since those early days, around 3,500 young people have benefited from a Snow-Camp experience and it is now possible to become a snow sports professional.  However, even just a few days on the slopes can act as a catalyst for  positive growth.

Dan says, “A lot of our kids have a low opinion of themselves.  They’ve been told their hoodies and don’t have much to offer.  After just a few days instruction, you are coming down a run, you’re linking your turns and you’ve achieved something amazing despite the challenge at the start.  The message is quite easily transmitted to young people that they can apply this to other areas of their lives.  We see a lot of increased confidence and self esteem, hope and aspiration that kind of stuff.”

Expanding horizons through exploration of a whole new environment is a key component of the programme’s success.  However a direct line is drawn between progress on the slopes and important life lessons.

Dan says, “Snow sports deliver quick rewards if you put in the initial effort.  Success requires determination, commitment, listening skills, focus and the ability to overcome fear and challenge.  These are all transferrable attributes.”

Around 75% of Snow- Camp participants are from ethnic minorities, so they can look conspicuous in the predominately white world of winter sports.  Dan says, “We tell our young people that they are pioneers and that they should be proud that they are there representing their communities.”

Gang culture is a major, negative force which can entrap young people living in inner-city areas.  Snow-Camp seems to successfully breakdown barriers and facilitate new friendships.

Dan says, “One of the real positives is that you see a lot of young people who would traditionally not associate with each other because of their gang culture being put in situations where they can’t retain those values because they are all living and learning together.  Bringing different groups of people together on the slopes seems to homogenise them as an inner-city group of kids.  They are all together surrounded by positive role models and mentors, having lots of fun”

There are solid, measureable outcomes too.  It is possible to start as a complete beginner and progress towards becoming a qualified instructor who then comes back to teach a new group of beginners.  Such tangible possibilities are exciting.

Dan says, “A lot of the attraction of what we do is that snows sports are seen as cool and there is a path to progression which leads to jobs and an exciting lifestyle.”

Snow-Camp is now expanding into other major cities and the charity has just forged a link with Sir Richard Branson for an annual kite-surfing fundraising event.  Dan feels positive about the charity’s future.

He says, “I hope we can expand this programme so that within the next five years we are working with five times as many young people each year in five different cities. That would be a fantastic thing.”


Young Londoner Ava is at university studying criminology and journalism.  She attributes much of her success so far to her involvement with Snow-Camp.  From beginnings as a complete novice, Ava has progressed to becoming an expert boarder.

She says, “The excel programme was the hardest programme up until now.  I had to teach and be taught and now I am a snowboard instructor.  Without Snow-Camp teaching me everything that is achievable, I would never have dreamt of being a snowboard instructor.  It was unthinkable and people don’t believe it when I tell them.”

So how did those positive life changes come about?  Ava puts it this way.  “All the experiences I have undergone have changed me as a person.  The skills I have learnt and now possess, I have used in my life outside of snowboarding and Snow-Camp.  The main characteristics that I now possess because of Snow-Camp are ambition and determination.  And able to help and teach youths that are in a position I was once in makes it all worthwhile.”


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