Sierra Surroundings

Camp Snapshot

Mountain Camp

Pollock Pines, Calif.

www.mountaincamp.com

Est. 1966

Ages: 8-16

Price: $800 per week

Session length. One- and two-week sessions

Mountain Camp, located in California’s Sierra Mountains near Lake Tahoe, is a technologically-savvy anti-technology camp. These two worlds are effectively compartmentalized and utilized to the camp’s advantage.

The kids benefit from a camp atmosphere free from the noise and buzz of the city and their family rooms. The camp benefits by having back-office technology that solves problems and streamlines administration.

In turn, this frees the camp to concentrate on what it does best, which is to give its campers a real woodsy, back country experience.

“We stay away from any motorized, machine-oriented or computer-oriented activities. The kids do all self-propelled, wind-propelled and self-created things,” says Mountain Camp’s owner and director Scott Whipple. “At the waterfront we use canoes, sailboats, kayaks and wind-surfers. At main camp we’ll never get into ATVs or go-carts, but we ride mountain bikes and do the ropes course, for instance.”

Stay the Course

Chuck Taylor, who was Stanford’s athletic director at the time, founded Mountain Camp as a day-camp sports program. The camp soon morphed into an overnight camp when Taylor built facilities in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Whipple says that Taylor, who passed away eight years ago, told him that of all the jobs he had, his favorite was running camps. Taylor played football at Stanford and subsequently for the San Francisco 49ers, and was Stanford’s football coach before he became athletic director and started the camp.

The camp moved to its current location when Taylor sold the camp to a Stanford professor. Whipple entered the picture about 11 years ago when he bought the camp.

Whipple was a commercial real estate broker and found a unique opportunity during a two-month sabbatical. He had worked as a camp counselor for three years — two years at Riverway Day Camp in San Antonio and another year at an overnight camp in the Northeast. His initial plan was to work at camp again, but found a great camp for sale.

“I didn’t know much 11 years ago. The best lesson I learned early on was not to panic; it will all work out,” says Whipple. “Every season it seemed like there was some new emergency, and as a young camp person you worry, you can’t sleep, but then after you’ve done it awhile you realize that it will work out… so don’t stress.”

It helps when you also realize that great staff alleviates the worries. Whipple says he made the decision early on to pay well for the right staff.

“I was amazed at how low the salary structure at camp was when I got into it. You have these absolutely incredible people making this huge sacrifice to work at camp and they don’t get paid well,” says Whipple. “So we’re trying to structure our pay scale to be at the top of the pay scale for camps. As people come back, we try to reward them for continued service.”

Whipple seeks out talented and qualified people who have the traits and background that make them qualified to lead and teach kids. Mountain Camp looks for people that have a strong education background and who actively participate in athletics or outdoor activities.

“Somebody who works, plays sports and gets good grades is someone who’s used to managing their time, working hard and applying themselves. It shows good discipline,” says Whipple. “When you’re working with kids who are 19-22, some of them are still home with their parents getting them out of bed, and the idea of getting up and going to work is a whole new concept to them. We get a handful of those and they’re pretty shell-shocked that first week. They either pick it up or go home.”

Mountain Camp also relies on international staff, particularly from Australia. Whipple was able to establish a relationship with Australia’s Aquatics Schools to find competent and certified waterfront instructors.

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