The most formative experiences John Dockendorf had as kid, were at summer camp, paddling rivers in canoes for days at a time, backpacking trails, climbing tocks, riding horses, and sailing boats. More than outdoor skills, John made lifetime friends, gained a love and appreciation of nature, and was exposed to powerful role models, many who lived a more vagabond life than his parents.
Perhaps the most important thing he learned at camp was the power of community, and the joy of doing more than your share and reaching out and helping others.
Growing up, he wanted nothing more than to own a summer camp. This was a hard nut to crack as most camps are family owned and passed down over generations. When a camp comes up for sale, it often costs millions of dollars, something far out of a reach of an idealistic young man devoid of financial resources.
Fresh out of graduate school with a master’s in hospitality management from, the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, John started Adventure Treks, a wilderness adventure traveling camp. Without the cost of a facility, the startup costs were not huge and in 1993 with financial help from a former employer, Frank Schell, john put his heart and soul and $25,000 into starting Adventure Treks.
He quickly created indelible experiences for teenagers. The secret to the young companies success was the fact that for the early years he spent his summers in the field with the instructors and students, ensuring that everything was done to his exacting standards, In the process he trained many up-and-coming outdoor professionals, several who still remain in the outdoor industry today.
John ran adventure treks for 28 years, eventually selling it to his director, Dave McGlashan in 2021.
In 2011, John and his wife Jane reopened Camp Pinnacle, a closed and bankrupt summer camp. They worked without pay for five years growing the camp from 89 campers in two, two-week sessions the first summer to a camp of 880 campers during four, two or three week sessions in 2021, when they retired.
“When we started Camp Pinnacle it was decrepit. The camp had been closed for two years. The previous managers had declared bankruptcy, left town in the middle of the night, leaving families who had already paid for the summer ahead, high, and dry with no camp to attend and no refund on their payments.” We knew were walking into a mess. While some people said reopening a seasonal camp was impossible, we saw potential. We knew if we could navigate the first three years, we could make it!
John and jane honored the tuition lost by past campers, invested everything they had into remodeling the facility and generated tremendous word of mouth by delivering incredible camp experiences to the campers. They filled a void in the camp market through the creation of a truly unique two-week outdoor camp model where in a single session, every camper whitewater rafted, climbed a real rock, summited a 6,000 ft plus mountain, camped out overnight and learned to ride mountain bikes on forest trails. This was coupled with great food, a tremendous lake filled with water toys and over 40 exciting in – camp activities. “Because we were initially so small, our campers could do more in two weeks than most camps could offer in four weeks!”
What is your hobby?
Skiing as it turns out, is a fantastic retirement sport. It gets one outside on cold winter days, and immerses you in beautiful scenery. Skiing is fun, active, thrilling and challenging. You can share the thrill and excitement of the sport with friends and lift rides provide a great way to share great conversations. Chairlift rides also create an opportunity to meet others, quickly turning strangers into friends as you learn about different lives, well lived. One can arrive at a ski area by themselves and leave having had a joy filled day enhanced by sharing ski runs and lift rides with new friends. Interestingly enough the percentage of seniors over 60 skiing is growing exponentially amd seniors comprise the group of skiers who ski the most days per ski season. This only makes sense since retirees need to make up for lost time and never sure how many years they will be able to continue to ski.
How did you get started with this hobby?
Thanks to the mother of my best friend, I was lucky enough to begin skiing at age ten. I knew from my first successful descent of an icy Pennsylvania slope that Skiing would be my new favorite sport and something i would do for the rest of my life. Fast forward 42 years, upon retirement with my wife’s blessing, I jumped in the car in Mid February, loaded up the ski rack and followed the snow and friends, family and relatives for two months of skiing
Tell us what you love about your hobby.
Who doesn’t enjoy the ability to get outside and recreate on a cold winter day. And if it’s too cold, the ability to sit by a warm fire becomes even more rewarding. Skiing makes one feel alive, there is the thrill of going fast, the intellectual component of being able to constantly improve in an attempt to perfect pones turn. The challenge of steep slopes, gnarly moguls and narrow tree runs. There is the poetry of making powder turns with the synchronicity of an artist and the joy of being in wilderness immersed in scenery and taking in beautiful views. You can be alone with your thoughts deep in the woods or share conversations and ski with a rat pack of others. You can ski in ways to match your mood and skiing never, ever gets boring. Even people who have skied for years can find way to improve, new ski areas to visit and find new friends with whom you can share the joy of the sport.
What types of things/equipment have you spent money on for your hobby?
Ski equipment is not inexpensive and die hard skiers often have a quiver of skis – there are powder skis which are fatter than others, often as much as 110 MM wide. There are all mountain skis, mogul skis, park skis, rock skis, race skis, you name it. Most of us on a budget can get by with one good pair of all mountain skis. Shopping in late spring or summer often affords the best deals. Purchasing used demo skis from a rental shop is one way to beat the cost but expect to pay at least $1,000 for a good pair of skis, boots, binding and poles. Then of course there is the clothing. Ski Jackets and pants that will keep you warm on a cold winter’s day are also not inexpensive. Try thrift stores or consignment stores near skia areas for the best ways to get functional clothing at affordable prices.
What are some of your favorite places to shop for your hobby?
The Northeast is a great training ground to build technique since slopes are narrower and conditions tend to be more variable than western ski areas which offer wider slopes and deeper and more consistent snow. A typical eastern area receives about 250 inches of snow a year and are more frequently subject to freeze thaw cycles and occasional rain. Western ski areas may get as much as 400 inches of snow a year and are less likely to receive rain during winter months.
Unfortunately there is massive consolidation in the ski industry and three companies, Vail Associates, Powdr and Alterra now own many of the major resorts. I love visiting the smaller independently owned resorts that have their own unique flavor and cater to a more local clientele. More and more the larger chain owned resorts feel more like Disne, offering more of a vacation experience and feel less like a place to passionately pursue sport.
If I had to list my favorite ski areas it’s: Palisades at Tahoe in California, Alta in Utah, Steamboat, Snowmass and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado, Crystal in Washington, Mt Bachelor in Oregon, Jay Peak, Sugarbush and Mad River Glen in Vermont, Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee in Wyoming, Big Sky in Montana, Sugarloaf in Maine, Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire and Schweitzer in Idaho.
How much money have you invested into this? How much would a beginner have to invest to get started?
A day of skiing can be outrageously expensive though many ski resorts often offer beginner packages designed to introduce you to the sport at an affordable rate. The best way to afford the sport is to purchase your own gear and buy a season pass. At a time when day tickets at top ski areas can cost over $200 per person per day, you can often pay for a pass for the entire season with just five or six visits. You can purchase a season pass at an area near your home and the best pricing often happens in the spring. Often a new passholder, purchasing a pass in March can ski for the remainder of the season and all of next season with the early bird pass purchase.
Perhaps the only good thing about the corporate consolidation of ski areas is the ability to purchase an Ikon or Epic Pass or a Mountain Collective. These passes give you the opportunity to spend between two and seven days each at a variety of ski areas (often 30 to 40 different resorts) across the country all for less than $1,000. There is also the Indy Pass which allows you two days each at 72 smaller, independent resorts for less than $500. This is a great way to rediscover the spirit of skiing at smaller, out of the way places. They don’t have the name recognition of Vail, Steamboat or Park City but still offer great and lower key skiing. It’s harder to get lost in a massive trai network and confusing base area layout at these smaller mountains. Often the powder skis deeper and longer at these areas and you rarely have to pay for parking or struggle to find a parking spot.
Are there any good books for beginners?
Skiing is something much better learned in person than through books and for a non skier the investment in professional lessons will return your investment by helping you improve quickly and have fun faster. Learning to ski or snowboard can be a steep learning curve for some and professional ski instruction is a way to shorten your curve.
Two fun books on the subject of skiing are:
The National Geographic: 100 Slopes of a Lifetime by Gordy Megroz
The Man behind the Maps by James Niehues
Are there any online videos you recommend to help beginners?
There are always great ski movies to get one excited about the sport , especially in the off season Teton Gravity Research (https://www.tetongravity.com/) tends to have the best current collection of ski films.
Warren Miller, with over fifty skis films to his legacy has a rich history of making classic ski flicks. His films are often more of a travelog, often visiting a variety of exciting and exotoc ski destinations (https://warrenmiller.com/)
But if you want to watch the greatest ski film of all time, though dated, it’s The Blizzard of Ahhhs by Greg Stump (https://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/Greg-Stump-s-Foursome-Blizzard-of-Ahhhs/70029262)
How has your hobby changed your life?
Skiing is a passion which drives my life in the winter! I am fundamentally a better and more passionate person when I know I will ghetto ski frequbetly. The fresh air, immersion in scenery, time for friends, exercise and constant adventure make skiing an incomparable lifetime sport. It is amazing that i can be as passionate about skiing in my sixties as I was in my teens and twenties.
What advice do you have for others starting out with this hobby?
The sport can be expensive, logistically complicated and dependent on weather but there is a reason that skiers are so passionate about their sport. Ignore early challenges and commit to this sport and it will reward you with a lifetime of happiness.