It may have been in a smart club in London rather than on a snowy slope, but as a lead-in to the ski season it all felt pretty inspirational. Two youngsters got to their feet and addressed a forum about how skiing and boarding had changed their lives and brought them to a career that would once have seemed unobtainable.
A few years ago, 18-year-old Zulekha Dennis and 19-year-old Hamza Alkebida had barely seen snow except that slushy kind on the streets of London. Now they are heading to the French Alps to spend the winter working in a five-star hotel. It’s all thanks to the Snow-Camp charity, whose purpose in life is to show inner-city youngsters how they can pursue fulfilling careers in snow sports.
Zulekha and Hamza will spend the ski season as ski valets at Le Fitz Roy Hotel in Val Thorens after being selected by Snow-Camp for the prized intern positions. It’s a well-deserved reward for the amazing efforts the pair have made since getting involved with Snow-Camp when they were 13 and a great opportunity to put into practice the skills they’ve learnt on the charity’s programme.
Snow-Camp uses winter sports to help change the job prospects – lives in fact – of young people who would otherwise be unlikely to join the industry. As part of the arrangement between the charity and the hotel group Les Hôtel d’en Haut, ten more youngsters will visit the group’s nearby Hotel Le Val Thorens to see how the hotel and resort operate through winter.
After being taken under Snow-Camp’s wing, Zulekha and Hamza were whisked out to Hemel Hempstead, where they had been promised they would find snow-covered slopes. Hamza recalled his astonishment when he reached the Snow Centre in Hemel with the rest of the Snow-Camp group. ‘My first reaction when I got to the Snow Centre was, ”It’s a massive freezer, what is this all about?”.’
It didn’t take him long to find out. And having a board on his feet and sliding down the slopes was the sort of fun he wanted more of. It also awakened a sense of determination and some aspirations, which he didn’t know he had. He wholeheartedly took on the challenge and channelled all his efforts into the sport – and has qualified as a Level 1 Snowsport England snowboard instructor. ‘I find it amazing that now I’m teaching other people of my own age how to snowboard and helping give them the confidence and motivation that helped me, ‘ Hamza said. ‘Getting my qualification is the best thing I could have done.’
Zulekha joined Snow-Camp through a youth club near her home in Streatham, South London, and was bemused and not a little apprehensive when she first saw the daunting slopes of Hemel. ‘I was amazed when I looked through the glass and saw people skiing and boarding – I thought there’s no way I can try that, that’s not me,’ she said. But try it she did – and it didn’t take her long to become a convert. She too has worked hard to successfully complete her instructor qualifications – as a skier. Since then, Zulekha has worked for Ellis Brigham and is now a qualified ski boot fitter. She is also proud to be a youth ambassador for Snow-Camp.
With passion and eloquence, Hamza and Zulekha told the Snow-Camp forum how they had embraced the Snow-Camp principles of determination, commitment and hard work to open up the exciting prospect of a profession in winter sports — having a huge amount of fun in the process. Snow-Camp ambassadors Graham Bell, five times Olympic downhiller, and Jamie Barrow, Britain’s fastest snowboarder also spoke to promote those values.
Snow-Camp, whose ambassadors and patrons also include Sir Steve Redgrave and Olympic medallist Jenny Jones, was launched in London in 2003, before expanding to Bristol, Scotland, Cardiff, the Midlands and Manchester. It has supported more than 10,000 youngsters across the UK. Its founder, Dan Charlish, told the forum: ‘We aim to inspire young people with the opportunities that the snow sports industries can offer them. And it can show that if they can achieve in this, then they can achieve in other areas of life too.’