It’s become as reliable on the North Shore as the return of students from winter break. Each year, on one chilly weekend near the end of January, the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU) and lots of volunteers bring a piece of the local ski scene to the university library’s courtyard.
This is the Uncapped Rail Jam: a student-created, student-run, urban skiing and snowboarding exhibition that has raised thousands of dollars for local charities over the last three years.
The 2015 edition of the event, held on January 22, drew hundreds of spectators, and the organizers say the experience has given them valuable experience for their future careers. “I want to do community development through event planning,” says Kate Phifer, a third-year Bachelor of Tourism Management student who has organized the event for the last two years. “It’s been great to get an opportunity to do it in this way.”
The first Uncapped Rail Jam was the brainchild of Conor Halliwell, who organized it to meet the requirements of a course called Project Change—an elective for students in both the Outdoor Recreation Management diploma program and the Bachelor of Tourism Management program.
Project Change asks students to design and implement a project that will benefit their community. For Conor, snowboarding was a natural fit. “Snowboarding has been one of my main sports for most of my life,” Conor says. “I had held a bunch of similar events at UVic when I went there before I transferred into Capilano, I thought it would be a fun, active community event.”
These days, Conor works at Tyax Lodge, a backcountry skiing and snowboarding lodge northeast of Pemberton. He says that while the experience of organizing the rail jam doesn’t have much to do with his current job, it’s the type of experience he’s committed to using in the future. “I learned a lot during the process about how to hold a successful event,” Conor says of the rail jam experience. Conor also continues to be involved with Beyond Boarding, an organization through which snowboarders can use their sport to further environmental and social causes.
The Uncapped Rail Jam has been Kate’s “baby” ever since Conor came into her Project Change class looking for someone to take over the event. “When there’s a successful project like that on campus, I think whoever starts it just wants to see it continue,” Kate says. “A group of us decided that we would give it our best shot.”
With the help of the CSU and many student volunteers, Kate says the event has grown tremendously. Each of the last two editions of the rail jam has featured more rails, more participation by other student groups, and more spectators than the previous year.
At the 2015 event, there were roughly $4,000 worth of prizes—many of them donated by local ski areas—available for event participants. There were also dance-offs, rap battles, and a giant jenga contest, among other activities.
“This year, all three local mountains actually contacted me to ask me how they could be involved,” Kate says. “I see that as huge growth, because the first year we had to reach out and ask.”
Truckloads of inspiration
The charitable beneficiary of the rail jam has changed each year since the event started. This year, the event raised money and awareness for North Shore Rescue, in honour of the one-year anniversary of the death of its team leader and Capilano University honorary degree recipient Tim Jones.
Kate says the response of the whole North Shore community to the rail jam has been “inspiring.”
“Anyone who was on campus that day stayed for the entire event because it was about way more than just skiing or snowboarding,” she says. “It was about the whole community being together.”
That sense of togetherness extends to the volunteers who helped put on the rail jam, who rented a U-Haul truck to gather snow for the event from local ice rinks. Kate estimated they gathered as many as six truckloads of ice shavings that day.
Kate sees a lesson for all Capilano University students in the success of the rail jam: if you have an idea for a campus event, just try it and see what happens! “You don’t know the possibilities until you try,” she says. “Simply taking initiative, having a goal and seeing what can happen, and then just asking questions and seeing who will help out, it’s amazing what can come from that.”
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Learn more about Capilano’s Tourism and Outdoor Recreation programs at a Program Information Night on Tuesday, May 12 at 7 p.m.