As summer turns to fall, many of our thoughts turn to the rituals and norms of the approaching season.
The leaves turn, the kids go back to school, it’s football season. For many of us, the fall is the most
exciting time of the year because it brings anticipation of the coming ski season. That’s right, I said ski season.
The future of African American involvement in winter sports is exploding. Millennials are completely destroying the traditional “blacks don’t do winter sports” stereotypes. They are out in the world doing their thing their way. They are skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, ice climbing, winter camping, and even sled dog racing. Long gone are the days where you might find yourself as the only black face on the mountain.
My introduction to skiing came by way of Youth Enrichment Services in Boston. Y.E.S. was [and still is] a program that took kids from the inner city to the mountains of New Hampshire to (try to) teach us how to ski. I remember how much I loved falling down the hill as a kid. After college, I decided to pick it up again, and it has become one of my life’s passions. After a while, I got pretty good at skiing but still noticed that most of the time I was the lone black face on the mountain. Someone told me about the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS), and that’s when my passion for skiing and my natural love for my people formed the perfect marriage.
The National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS)
At a time when African Americans on the ski slopes were a rarity, and black ski clubs were the exception,
Ben Finley and Art Clay had the vision to create a national Black Ski Summit. The inaugural event took place in Aspen, Colorado in 1973. There were more than 350 beautiful black, brown, and beige skiers in attendance. The event lead to the organization and creation of The National Brotherhood of Skiers a 501(C3) non-profit organization committed to serving the African American skier and snowboard community.
Since its formation in 1974, the National Brotherhood of Skier has introduced tens of thousands of African Americans to skiing through its youth programs, and adult learn -to- ski initiatives. The organization has worked tirelessly on its primary mission to place a black skier on the U.S. Ski Team. The NBS today has 60 clubs across the country and more than 3,000 members. The NBS is recognized by the ski industry as one of the largest ski organizations in the country. The annual Black Ski Summit is the largest gathering of skiers and riders, more than any other ski convention in the country. The camaraderie, energy, and sense of family that pervaded the first Black Ski Summit in 1973 lives on today at the annual NBS Summit.
The Renegade Kings Ski club is the largest single African American ski club in the country with more than 800 members. The Renegade Kings and other so-called Renegade ski and snowboarder groups, such as the Black Ski Summit Renegades and the Summit Experience Group, have established themselves as the unofficial hosts for folks who are not affiliated with the NBS to attend and have a great experience at the Black Ski Summit.
Over the past 10-15 years, I have made some of my most meaningful and lifelong friendships as a result
of the weeks spent at the Black Ski Summit. Most attendees of the ski Summit will agree that it is one of
the most fulfilling vacation experiences they have ever had.
Travel groups like Black Travel Movement are also raising the bar and connecting black folks with winter
sports experiences. BTM hosts an annual snowmobile outing that has upwards of 150 attendees every year. This year, Black Travel Movement is hosting three winter sports trip including the 2018 Black Ski
Summit at Squaw Valley Ski Resort and the Sundance Film Festival in Park City Utah.
There are tons of other stories of Black skiers and snowboarders trekking around the world in search of
amazing mountain experiences. An article by Hakim Farjado Root (Feb. 2016), highlights one such story. The Japan Powder Party has been getting together yearly since 2012 to hit the slopes of Japan, and they are off again in February 2018 to do it again. Farjado states:
“For the past four years, more than 200 black ski and snowboard enthusiasts have descended on the beautiful, powder-snow- covered mountains of Hokkaido, Japan, thanks to one snowboard-loving African-American professor who lives and works in Japan. Fanon Wilkins is an associate professor of African-American and African Diaspora studies at Doshisha University in Kyoto. Wilkins’ love for snowboarding and the outdoors motivated him to host a weeklong snow adventure in Niseko, located on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. He wanted to encourage and expose his friends and other black skiers and snowboarders to Hokkaido’s unique powder snow. In 2013 he teamed up with his friend—Akron, Ohio, native Leon Henderson, a firefighter, snowboarder and certified thrill seeker—to host the event.”
There are Black ski and winter sports groups and events across the world. Start with the larger groups and dig in until you find your tribe. In the meantime, make a plan and go alone, just make sure to get out and hit the slopes this season.
*Thank you to Hakim Farjado, for allowing the writer to republish a portion of his words.*