National Brotherhood of Skiers hosts Black Summit at Steamboat Resort
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Peggie Allen had a reoccurring dream that she couldn’t shake.
In the dream, she sees herself coming to a hockey stop. She thought that maybe it was a sign that she needed to return to ice skating, a hobby she had as a child.
Instead, her vision came to life on the ski slopes of Sugarbush Resort in Warren, Vermont.
“Now, I don’t have that dream anymore,” Allen said. “I swear to God, it was like, ‘This is what you’ve been dreaming about. This is what you’re supposed to be doing.'”
As a native of Albany, New York, Allen was shocked that she had never been skiing. She loved the beauty of the mountains and taking in the cold, crisp air. But, she admits she doesn’t think she would’ve tried it without the support of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, an organization founded in 1973 that brings people of color together to ski.
“I went there and somebody said, ‘You’re going to put on these boots, and you’re going to say what the heck is this all about,'” Allen said. “You’ll walk funny, and afterwards, we went skiing with everybody. If you fall down, everybody stops to make sure you are ok. We open up our arms and embrace each other, and I just wanted to be a part of it.”
Allen started her own ski club in upstate New York called the Nubian Empire Ski Club and quickly advanced through the ranks to become president of NBS.
The NBS has an estimated 3,500 registered members in 55 ski clubs nationwide split into Eastern, Midwestern, Rocky Mountain and Western regions. Clubs and regions plan their own ski trips throughout the season, but all come together for the Black Summit, an annual week-long ski trip complete with comedy, music shows and skiing.
This year, the NBS brings its Black Summit to Steamboat Resort for the seventh time. It first visited Steamboat Springs in 1978 and last visited in 2011.
“It’s important organization for our industry,” Steamboat Resort senior communications manager Loryn Kasten said. “They band together, and we like to see them come visit. It’s important to engage minorities in skiing, make sure they feel welcome at our mountain.”
Steamboat holds a special place in NBS public relations director Lawanda Joseph’s heart. It was the place where she first fell in love with skiing and where she met Allen.
“My first trip was in 1995,” Joseph said. “There were over 6,000 here in Steamboat. I’m from Detroit. My uncles were expert skiers, and so, being that I was from Detroit, we would go out to the mountain and ski, and I never took it seriously. I was scared as a child. I was afraid of falling — until I came out to the Summit in 1995. I saw all my people out here skiing and thought, ‘I’m going to learn how to ski.'”
The organization not only wants to encourage people of color to start skiing but to also, hopefully, fund the first African American skier to podium at the Olympics. Money raised from the Black Summit will go towards the Olympic scholarship fund.
The NBS has funded a number of athletes in the past who have broken ground in the world of ski racing and currently funds eight competitive skiers.
Suki and Andre Horton were both the first African American skiers to be named to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Alpine development teams in the early 2000s. Andre was first to win an International Ski Federation race in Europe while Suki also made several appearances. The NBS also funded Errol Kerr’s career as a member of the U.S. and Jamaican ski cross teams, competing in the 2009 world championships and 2010 Winter Olympics.
Ralph Green also became the first African American to be named to the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing National Team, making appearances at the 2006 Torino and 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Winter Games.
While the NBS has only been around for 46 years, ski clubs for people of color were around long before that. The Jim Dandy Ski Club in Detroit, Michigan, is the oldest ski club at 61 years old.
But the stereotype that black people don’t ski still persists. Joseph notes that people used to think the same about tennis and golf until recent years.
“It’s the level of recognition it takes like Tiger Woods or Serena [Williams] to validate the fact that we do these sports,” Joseph said. “We’ve been doing this for over 46 years. It’s not one of the last black sports that we’re going to break into.”
It’s this belief that garners the strange looks that Allen and Joseph receive when they go to ski resorts. When the organization held its first Black Summit in 1973 at Aspen, the National Guard was called on them.
“As Black Americans, we always make those extra steps to make sure that we’re being nice and make sure that we’re being respectful,” Allen said. “Because we don’t want, especially the NBS folks, we don’t want to leave a bad taste in everybody’s mouth.”
Ski towns tend to attract a homogenous crowd, where racism can be a byproduct. Allen and Joseph said that they receive mixed reactions wherever they visit.
“Ski people are overall good people, and you have folks who will be on the chairlifts who will be very comfortable, and they’ll be like, ‘What’s going on with all the black folks around here,’ and we’ll tell them our story about the NBS and why we love it,” Allen said. “Some sit there pretty uptight.”
Each ski club also has its own specially-designed jacket, often monogrammed with phrases that combat the stereotype. The Nubian Empire Ski Club’s motto reads, “Who says we don’t?” Joseph belongs to one of Florida’s three ski clubs, the Sunshine Slopers Ski & Travel Club.
“I get this question like, ‘Where do you ski in Florida?'” Joseph said. “I’m like, if you’re gonna stereotype that black folks don’t ski, but you should know that we’re definitely not skiing in Florida. There’s no snow in Florida. We’re skiing everywhere.”
Over 1,000 NBS skiers are expected to hit the slopes this week, not including a contingent of followers that are not registered officially with the organization. The opening ceremony will take place today at 3:30 p.m., where founders Art Clay and Ben Finley will give a welcoming speech as skiers parade in their ski club jackets.
Last year, 82 inches of snow blew into Squaw Valley just in time for the Black Summit’s arrival. During Saturday’s registration, Allen looked out the window at the white overcast skies and blankets of fresh powder lining the streets.
“We always like to say that we bring the snow,” Allen said.
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