By Jon Bell
Two prominent threads have run through John Ingersoll’s life and helped shape who he is today.
The first: summer camp. A Pennsylvania native, Ingersoll has fond memories of summer stints at Camp Kon-O-Kwee, a small, traditional summer camp along the banks of Connoquenessing Creek in western Pennsylvania.
The second: Mount Hood.
Ingersoll first came upon Oregon’s signature mountain during a work sabbatical in 1983. Smitten, he stayed in Oregon, became a certified ski instructor and in 1985 wove those two main threads together by helping to start the National Alpine Ski Camp, a summer ski camp that still operates on Mount Hood today. He took it a step farther in 1989 when he co-founded one of the mountain’s premier summer snowboard camps, High Cascade Snowboard Camp in Government Camp. Since then — and despite a four-season break from the camp after he sold it to footwear giant Vans Inc. — Ingersoll has primarily made his living on Mount Hood.
“It’s just good work,” says Ingersoll, 57, who along with several partners bought High Cascade back from Vans in 2005. “We do good work up here, as most of the camps do. The kids love being up here. It’s pretty rewarding to be around it.”
Today, Hood’s handful of renowned snowboard camps — unique from others across the country because they offer winter terrain in the middle of summer — are big business around the mountain. Windells Camp near Brightwood draws about 1,400 campers every summer and thousands more throughout the year; High Cascade’s six summer sessions bring in close to 1,400 as well. Throw in Mt. Hood Summer Ski Camp and a few other smaller operations, and Ingersoll estimates the yearly revenue from the camps, including tuition and money spent by campers locally, probably ranges from $15 million to $20 million.
“The summer camps are the bread and butter,” Ingersoll says. “It’s a big economic boom.”
The camps are also just one piece of the larger economy that has risen on and around the mountain in the 150 years or so since Samuel Barlow began charging wagons $5 for passage along his namesake road over the mountain and Nathanial Coe planted the first fruit trees in the Hood River Valley. Today, Hood and its surrounding forest is a massive magnet for tourism and recreation; more than 4.5 million people visit the Mount Hood National Forest every year to ski, climb, camp or even just grab a bite to eat at Timberline Lodge.