Who is an "unlikely rider?" A person you wouldn’t expect to see riding on the mountain, which makes us ask, Why not?
Unlikely Riders are a collective that has named themselves after who they represent. Namely, the people who are unlikely to be riding on the mountain, due to various reasons and boundaries.
At least statistically, unlikely riders are women, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, people with disabilities, low-income, refugees, and many times an intersection of these. Unlikely riders are, simply put, the people who are unlikely to be seen on the mountain. Historically, this is because there have been many boundaries to the snow sport community that have left them out. However, a lot of these boundaries can be broken down if enough of the community supports this change. And slowly, it is changing. Slowly, more people are pushing to create space for “unlikely riders” on the mountain.
Coalition Snow and Unlikely Riders teamed up to help break down some of the barriers that prevent unlikely people from getting out on the mountain, barriers like access to gear. So, this year Coalition snow partnered with Unlikely Riders and provided their crew with skis and boards to shred, learn, and improve with!
If you are curious about Unlikely Riders goals, experiences, and purpose look no further. We caught up with Hana and Abby from Unlikely Riders and did a Q&A about who they are and what they do. They are a truly awesome community you should check out and support!
What is Unlikely Riders?
"We are a BIPOC/PGM (Black, Indigenous, POC / People of the Global Majority) led non-profit organization with a mission to mobilize our collective ‘Vermont’ BIPOC community to find joy and healing on snow. Our current leadership is also all part of the LGBTQ+ community and underrepresented genders (trans-masc, women, non-binary, and gender non-conforming). Through our programs we eliminate or reduce the barriers of entry to snow sports for BIPOC while also creating a safe and supportive community for any BIPOC ‘Vermonter’ who wants to slide on snow. Our largest program, The Winter Gear Closet, has distributed over 650 pieces of quality winter gear this season to our community this season alone at no cost. We also provide no-cost BIPOC led community instruction for alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross-country, and backcountry and uphill. We’ve distributed over 320 one-day lift tickets/trail access vouchers to over 16 different mountains and XC centers in ‘Vermont’. This year we also had multiple skill sharing events about layering, waxing, and repairing and altering soft goods. To celebrate the upcoming end of snow sliding season, we are partnering with Pride Center of Vermont for a LGBTQIA2S+ day at Bolton Valley and having a Unlikely Riders community day at Jay Peak. Our community is currently made up of over 200 BIPOC folks residing in so-called ‘Vermont,’ which is occupied Wabanaki Confederacy land. We are made up of folks who are just starting snow sports to industry professionals and sponsored athletes."
Why is Unlikely Riders necessary in the industry?
"Because the current ski/snow industry is built on stolen land with appropriated culture from Black, Indigenous, and PGM peoples, and centered on elitism, ableism, white supremacy, and toxic cis-heteropatriarchy. Trying to reform it from within resulted in us moving to a place of choosing to grow and build our own collective place that centers us, validates us, genuinely cares about our joy, rest, and well-being, without only wanting us present if labor is being required/demanded of us. The white people are largely not committed to doing this work nor should they be leading it. Simultaneously, we’re often here in isolation, feeling the similar feelings of “being the only one” and having to adapt to exist in these overwhelmingly white spaces. And the reality is that we are not alone. Unlikely Riders breaks down those silos and provides a community for BIPOC to exist on snow without the bullshit. And for those BIPOC who are new to the sport and want to try it out, they can join our community and not have their introduction to snow sliding include unaddressed white violence because they are starting their snow-sliding adventure surrounded by other BIPOC folks in our continually aligning community."
How was this partnership with Coalition helpful to the "unlikely riders"?
"Coalition Snow has been an incredible supporter. Seriously y’all. Being able to partner with a ski and snowboard brand that does not require us in the coordination/organizational process to endure trauma to bring about an offering to our larger community is hecking wonderful. We are so grateful for Coalition Snow’s support in connecting our community with 20 pairs of skis, snowboards, and split boards. We’re grateful that their ‘work’ doesn’t end there and that this kind of support is part of their regular action as a company. We also recognize that it’s rad to partner with a small women-owned business. When brands are able to extend BIPOC orgs like Unlikely Riders deals on equipment that are often already being regularly offered to ambassadors, industry insiders, and shops, it makes a huge difference in breaking down barriers to snow sports."
What are your goals for the future?
"We really want to keep growing our programs sustainably while supporting our community on snow. We’re not in the business of growing and expanding for the sake of growth - it needs to be intentional and not exhaust the folks who are supporting the growth. This year we’ve expanded our programs to serve the migrant farmworker community and we’ve begun to create offerings for Vermont BIPOC youth - this has been a real joy. Also, developing our community leadership from within with clinics, skill shares, and a reciprocal ‘mentorship’ program has been joyful. This will continue in the coming years, along with joyful growth in our backcountry and uphill programming. Backcountry is a powerful way to move on snow and be in relationship/reconnect with the land. We are seeking to have a full fleet of backcountry skis/ boots/ split boards/ poles/ packs, etc. so that we can source our own rentals to our community for our various backcountry events. And because education is important when adventuring in the woods, we are planning to offer a Wilderness First Aid class and an AIARE Level 1 class next year, along with other ‘standardized’ course offerings. We recognize that education extends beyond these often westernized course offerings. A longer term dream of ours is to grow a BIPOC non-profit stewarded and operated ski area and lodge where we can run our programming, and host events and retreats."
What is your message to all the 'Unlikely Riders' on the Mountain?
"Being with a community on snow is literally life changing. If you reside in so-called ‘Vermont’ you are welcome to join Unlikely Riders by filling out our membership form (no cost) at unlikelyriders.org. If you are elsewhere on Turtle Island, check out the amazing orgs doing parallel work like Edge Outdoors, Brown Girl Outdoor World, Colour the Trails, Brown Girls Climb, Outdoor Afro, Trail Mixed Collective, Inclu-SKI-vity, Climbers of Color, and so many others. We are here, have been here, and with orgs like ours creating intentional communities on snow across this land we can continue to exist in these spaces more freely and fully."