Being Black in Snow Sports: The History and The Experience

Photo: Toshi Pander

Hello hello, J here. I'm a skier based in Niseko, Japan and I write about diversity in snow sports for Coalition Snow. This is a personal blog about black history month and my experience as a black person in snow sports. If you are looking to understand, support and represent black people in snow sports, look no further. Here you'll find some awesome people and organizations contributing to black representation in the snow sports community.

 

It’s black history month y’all. A time to celebrate and commemorate black people, their history, and their future. When it comes to the ski and snowboard community and black history there is a lot of awesome history to discuss. However, there is still a lot of silence in the industry during this month and on this topic. Probably because there aren’t that many black people represented within the snow sports world. A goal of mine, and a large reason I work with coalition snow, is to create the representation needed for black people in the mountains. I aim to help create and demand this space for black people who are already in or want to join the snow sports community.

It’s important to realize, that although underrepresented, black people do exist in these spaces. Black people ski and snowboard. The National Brotherhood of Skiers (which includes all genders), a ski community for black people who ride, was established in 1973 and celebrates annually at Palisades Tahoe. You can check out their documentary on our “intersectional lens” blog about snow sports films with a diverse perspective, here. This alliance is one of the largest ski groups in America, with 55 chapters across the country. The goal is to attract and include black people in snow sport. Through sponsorship and fundraising, this alliance allows for many black people to learn and continue in snow sports. It also supports black riders hoping to make the Olympic teams. Though black representation in snow sports is still extremely low, (approximately 1.8% of all skiers, The National Ski Areas Association), it would be much lower without the dedication of the volunteers who run The National Brotherhood of Skiers. 


Here at Coalition Snow, we recently released an amazing project with Elevated Locals: Our Lens. Curated by Coalition Ambassador Liz Toft, which featured members of the Coalition Clubhouse group, “Mountain Top.” A group for POC in the mountains to talk, vent, share and find community. If you want to learn more - we have an entire issue on Mountain Top in our Magazine, Sisu. I was lucky enough to be featured in this project and I spoke about the experience I’ve had being a woman of color, particularly a black woman, on the mountain. That experience being that there's not a lot of people out there that look like me. There’s so much I think about when I’m riding. Will my hair fit under my helmet; will people assume that I can’t ski because I am black; is there space for me within this sport? These experiences are seldom heard and seldom told but they do exist and it’s important to talk about them so the next generation of black skiers and snowboarders can thrive.


Representation for black people in snow sports is minimal, however, that’s starting to change. Until the recent North Face film, The Approach was released I had never seen other black women riding in the mainstream. This film exposed to the world the badass black-girl-magic that does exist in the mountains - and it started making space for it. Riders like Brooklyn Bell and Emilé Zynobia are helping pave the way for women and girls who look like us. It is also super cool to see black women learning to ski. Coalition Ambassador, Mirna Valerio is normalizing the idea that black women can get out and learn to ski and join a community they didn't grow up in.

 

Zeb Powell is making space for black riders in the competition and park sphere. This is slowly, but surely creating more representation. It's pretty rad and it matters so much to the black community. Seeing riders like Zeb would’ve made a world of difference to 10 year old me, and I hope it makes the world of difference to the next generation of black skiers and snowboarders.

 

As a proud black woman in the snow sports community, I feel extremely lucky to have a platform to raise, discuss and promote black riders and people of color on the mountain. Check out some of the people I mentioned above - they are truly doing great things. Further to this? Support black people in snow sports, learn about our history, donate to youth programs like one's at The National Brotherhood of Skiers, shop black-owned and remember to celebrate the black history of snow sports all year round.