The charity keeping children off the streets by teaching them to ski

Rebecca Speare-Cole
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The charity keeping children off the streets by teaching them to ski

A charity which teaches inner city youngsters from deprived communities how to ski is aiming to recruit a record number of teenagers onto this year’s snow sports programme.

Snow-Camp, a London-based organisation, is opening up the sport to teenagers living in areas rife with knife crime, drugs and gang violence.

One participant, Hamza Alkebida, 19, told the Standard how the charity had drawn him away from violence on London’s streets towards a completely unexpected career path.

The charity is now hoping to recruit a record 350 teenagers in London this year as well as 1,000 youths nationally - up from 875.

At least 300 teenagers will join the programme this year. (Snow-Camp)

Starting in July, participants will begin a two-day introduction to snow sports with life skills sessions at artificial and indoor snow domes across the UK.

Throughout the year, weekend training programmes take place at indoor slopes where the team garner several qualifications from a Snow Life Award to ASDAN Level 1 in Sports and Fitness.

A trip to the Alps is due in February for those who want to become instructors. They can then return as apprentices to teach the next generation of recruits.

The programme aims to introduce crucial life skills beyond skiing. (Snow-Camp)

Speaking to the Standard, Mr Alkebida said he knew he wanted to be an instructor from the moment he first clipped into his snowboard at Hemel Hempstead.

“When I walked in it was like a massive freezer,” he said. “I was completely in shock there was snow in the UK.”

“I didn’t really know what I was signing up to. I didn’t know what skiing and snowboarding was, but from that day I was banging on to all my friends about snowboarding.

"They were like "what is that?" so we would look up YouTube videos and everything.”

The programmes take place in snow domes and indoor slopes across the country. (Snow-Camp)

Mr Alkebida was put up for Snow-Camp when he was 13 by St Andrew’s Youth Club in Pimlico where he grew up, adding that people usually assume it’s “nice and posh”.

“But there’s another side to it,” he said. “There is a log of gangs, drugs, knife crime. It’s quite easy to get caught up in it by association.”

He came back to the camp every year until he could go on the ski trip to Pila in Italy, which was only open to those aged over 16.

On first seeing the mountains in Italy, the group were “totally taken aback," he said. "It was so crazy. We had never gone to the mountains before.

Hamza, 19, joined the programme in late 2013 and has found a new career path as an instructor. (Snow-Camp)

“Snowboarding with the really good friends we had all made by that point and learning new tricks in the mountains - it was absolutely just such a great experience."

Now Mr Alkebida has done his first season in Val Thorens in France, which he described as “paradise”, before landing a full-time instructing job at ChelSki in Chelsea.

Snow-Camp helped him find apprenticeships at places like the Ski Club of Great Britain, selling holidays and honing his knowledge about the industry.

He said: "A lot of people in the inner city would never get the opportunity to ski because, one, it is very expensive, and two, a lot of people do not even know about it.”

Many of the participants go on to forge careers in the industry. (Snow-Camp)

“Without that initial boost at Snow Camp and work afterwards, it would have been really easy to get caught up with the wrong group of friends, selling drugs or working a dead end job. It could have led to a lot of trouble.

“So it has 100% changed my life in a direction I never would have expected. It gave me a goal out of school and a job at the end of it, and a career I’m working on now."

The charity, set up by youth worker and passionate snowboarder Dan Charlish in 2003, has expanded nationally to cities including Cardiff, Manchester and Bristol.

Snow-Camp are currently recruiting young people on to First Tracks, their 2-day programme taking place throughout the summer holidays.

This year's trip in February to Montgenevre in France will be hosted in partnership with Equity, a schools ski tour operator who ask each pupil to donate £1 to Snow-Camp.