The numbers tell the story of Black skiers and snowboarders, where they have gone, and where they are headed.
Skiing, and its unruly younger cousin snowboarding, have been enjoyed by humans in the United States since the 1800s at least, and this enjoyment continues to grow, reaching more and more people each year. Some 9.2 million people skied or snowboarded in the U.S. in 2018, down slightly from a peak of 9.7 million in 2010. And while downhill snow sports are still dominated by white people today, Black folks have been slaloming, McTwisting, curving, carving, and otherwise tossing their bodies down long, cold chutes of joy all over the country for decades.
Black people accounted for 9% of all people who participated in winter sports in 2016-17 (up from about 5% in 2003), and 5% of all skiers, according to participation studies conducted by Snowsports Industries America (SIA). White people comprised 75% of all skiers. The high cost of equipment, lift tickets, lessons, gear, and transportation may make skiing and snowboarding materially inaccessible to many Black people and Black families. Meanwhile, the lack of racial diversity in the sport may simply make it unappealing.
The average net worth of a Black family in 2016, according to Brookings Institute (brookings.edu). The average net worth of a white family in 2016 was $ 171,000. The enslavement of Black people in the U.S. for over 200 years, followed by Black Codes and segregation laws that limited employment and migration, and widespread redlining that inhibited Black people’s access to property have all contributed to a wealth gap that has compounded over centuries. Black families do not have the same generational wealth that can be passed down to their children and grandchildren as white families. Looking at median income and net worth across race can give a more complete picture of the wealth differences in the U.S., that can impact everything from access to education, housing, and employment to leisure activities, like skiing and snowboarding.
Members of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, a national organization of Black skiers and snowboarders that connects 55 ski clubs across the country. The NBS has hosted an annual Black Ski Summit each year since 1973, drawing thousands of skiers and snowboarders together for a week to enjoy the slopes, and to raise funds for the NBS Olympic Scholarship fund, which provides financial support to young people of color who are training for international or Olympic competition in winter sports. nbs.org
Number of medals (one silver and two bronze) won by Bonnie St. John at the 1984 Winter Paralympic competition. Bonnie became the first Black woman to medal at a Winter Olympic or Paralympic game.
The percentage of the population that is Black in Jackson, Wyoming. Popular ski resort towns often lack racial diversity, making living a ski bum life more challenging and less appealing for Black people and other people of color. Other ski towns’ demographic breakdowns? Breckenridge, Colorado, is .53% Black; Vail, Colorado, is .4% Black; Aspen, Colorado, is 2.8% Black; Salt Lake City, Utah, is 2.3% Black; and Olympic Valley, California, is .35% Black.
The year 14-year-old Seba Johnson competed in the Winter Olympics for the U.S. Virgin Islands, becoming the first Black woman, and youngest alpine skier, to compete.
The year Andre Horton became the first Black skier on the US Alpine Ski Team.
The year the Jim Dandy Ski Club, the first and oldest Black ski club in the U.S., was formed in Detroit. Frank Blount, William Morgan, and Reginald Wilson founded the club in order to create an environment that was friendlier for Black skiers than what was available in the college ski clubs in the area. jimdandyskiclub.com
The percentage of skiers and snowboarders in 2016-17 who had incomes of at least $ 100,000, up 50% the previous year.
A position of honor and precarity; the position many relatively young Black pro skiers and snowboarders hold today. Zeb Powell became the first Black snowboarder to win gold at the X Games in 2019; Ben Hinckley was the first Black snowboarder to win silver twice. Gabby Maiden was the first Black woman to become a professional snowboarder in 2006; Russell Winfield became the first Black pro snowboarder in 1991.
The year that the first non-white skiers were inducted into the Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame: NBS founders Arthur “Art” Clay and Benjamin “Ben” Finley.
Cover Photo: Beaver creek’s Zachary Varón competes in the Freeride world tour.
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