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Diversity on the slopes: National Brotherhood of Skiers reboots its summit after a tough couple of years

Feb. 12, 2022
6 min read
Portrait of a skier. (Photo by Johannes Kroemer/Getty Images)
Diversity on the slopes: National Brotherhood of Skiers reboots its summit after a tough couple of years
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In 2021 it was a virtual event with 700 attendees. In 2020, the winter festival for Black skiers hosted by the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS) had terrible timing, turning into what the Wall Street Journal called a “Coronavirus nightmare.”

But this year, the NBS Summit, a gathering that has taken place in a U.S. ski resort almost every winter since 1973, is taking place in real life again through Feb. 12; this year back at Snowmass, Colorado. In attendance are more than 1,000 skiers and snowboarders from Black ski clubs around the country.

Portrait of a skier. (Photo by Johannes Kroemer/Getty Images)

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Activities during this week’s Summit, which runs through today, include a parade as well as game nights, entertainment, skiing, snowboarding, races and other competitions. Registration fees go toward providing financial support for scholarships to support athletes of color who, NBS says, “will win Olympic and International winter sports competitions, representing the United States.”

Beyond the comradery the group has built over time for its members, the NBS also helps foster inclusion and diversity in a sport that has historically been inaccessible and unwelcoming to Black and brown people.

According to data from Snowsports Industries America (SIA), out of 13.6 million total ski participants in the 2020-2021 season, 69% were white and just 7% were Black, with most (62%) Black skiers taking to the slopes just one time. Among 8 million snowboarders, about 62% were white and 7.6% were Black, with 41% of Black snowboarders on the slopes just once in the season. Data from the National Ski Areas Association, another industry trade group, puts the number of Black skiers during the 2020-2021 season lower, at just 1.5% of all skiers.

(Screenshot courtesy Snowsports Industries America)

In an effort to be more welcoming and inclusive, especially considering the recent nationwide focus on systematic racism, ski resorts and industry organizations have been reexamining or creating diversity, equity and inclusion plans, often with input from local and national Black ski groups.

(Screenshot courtesy Snowsports Industries America)

SIA, for example, consulted with the National Brotherhood of Skiers “to make our own inclusion efforts more impactful,” SIA president Nick Sargent told TPG. “We applaud their efforts in working to make the winter industry more inclusive and look forward to working with them in the future."

Back at Snowmass, which is hosting the NBS Summit for the sixth time since 1973, NBS president Henri Rivers told the Aspen Times that while the organization was founded mainly as a social organization, it takes it advocacy role seriously. “It’s not just jumping out there saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to be social justice heroes,' ” Rivers said, “No, we’re just everyday people that ski, but are affected by the inequities that exist.” But, he adds, “I believe that we need to stand up and use our platform to help promote equality.”

Toward that goal, on its website the National Brotherhood of Skiers states that it will continue to partner with industry organizations and be a resource “to help guide extremely critical questions and decisions that bring about equity in the outdoors and throughout a closed, non-inclusive industry.” But while the organization says it believes “we are on the precipice of change” it adds "that the change must start and be implemented by the snowsports industry.”

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
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