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Not quite there

Minorities still rare on U.S. ski slopes

Sarah Willis enjoyed a week of skiing with her family during the National Brotherhood of Skiers summit in Steamboat Springs.

Last week

The National Brotherhood of Skiers brings 1,846 participants to Steamboat Springs for a weeklong summit of 77 black ski clubs across the United States, bringing diversity and vitality to a city with a black population of less than 20.


Colorado ski resorts and outdoors clubs are expanding their outreach to black and Hispanic communities, hoping to change the industry and impact how urban youth experience winter sports and the Rocky Mountain wilderness.

On the 'Net

Read about the National Brotherhood of Skiers on the Web at:, or call the organization's Chicago headquarters at (773) 955-4100.

Read about Alpino, a Denver-based group working to "change the social context of mountain recreation in America," at:, or call (303) 534-8800.

— The outreach is growing, but so far, the impact is not.

Despite an increasing focus by Alpine resorts on attracting minorities to ski and snowboard slopes – and despite impressions from a festive, energetic weeklong event that drew nearly 2,000 black skiers and snowboarders to Steamboat Springs two weeks ago – statistics show the percentage of resort visitors who are minorities remains stagnant. The National Ski Area Association, or NSAA, estimates that of the nearly 59 million visitors to Alpine resorts in the United States last winter, only about 13 percent, or about 7.7 million visitors, were ethnic minorities.

The NSAA is a trade organization that represents 326 resorts nationwide. Troy Hawks, editor of the NSAA Journal, said the 13 percent rate “has been steady for the last six (winter) seasons.”

The low rate of minorities is especially true in the Rocky Mountain region, which Hawks said joins the Northeast with a minority-visit rate of about 8 percent – the lowest percentage in the country.

But that’s not for a lack of effort.

“There are a lot of programs that resorts are doing to try and attract more minorities,” Hawks said. “We’re seeing more public outreach to inner cities. Vail and Eldora have such a program, there’s the Alpino project in Denver, and the Boston area has YES.”

Youth Enrichment Services is a Boston-area nonprofit organization that takes more than 2,500 youths, primarily from low-income families, on year-round trips to the outdoors, including ski trips every weekend this month.

Denver-based Alpino, a similar program that focuses on the Hispanic community, offers scholarships and strives to create “youth and minority mountain recreation enthusiasts and leaders.”

From Feb. 24 to March 3, Steamboat Springs hosted the annual summit of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, or NBS, an umbrella organization for 77 winter sports clubs totaling more than 8,000 members. The summit drew 1,846 registered entrants to Steamboat for a week of social events, skiing and snowboarding.

NBS President Rose Thomas Pickrum said the organization is marketing in cities with high black populations such as Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

Reaching urban youths could provide a new market for Alpine resorts, which Hawks said was a $5 billion industry in 2005-06.

Bringing urban youths to the mountains also can provide completely new experiences for kids used to skyscrapers and car horns.

“When the kids get outside, it’s really interesting – that’s one of the rare places they can go in life where they don’t have to look at manmade constructions,” said University of Colorado professor Kirby Moss, a cultural anthropologist who volunteers with Denver youth and has authored a book, “The Color of Class,” which explores race issues. “It takes the kids out of that narrow environment, out of their blackness, and they start to expand in ways that they haven’t before.”

Moss volunteers with the James P. Beckwourth Mountain Club of Denver, one of several Denver groups that lead winter and year-round outdoor activity trips for urban youth. On March 21, Denver’s Slippers-N-Sliders Ski Club begins its “WinterFest 2007” trip to Crested Butte Ski Resort.

Such trips could go a long way toward changing the face of Alpine resorts in the United States. Hawks said of the 13 percent of resort visitors who were minorities last year, only about 2 percent were black. For the past three winters, that number was about 1 percent.

Nationally in 2005-06, Asians accounted for about 5 percent of resort visits, Hispanics for about 3 percent, and a category Hawks described as “other” accounted for 3 percent.

In February, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. donated a weekend of lessons and equipment rentals to 10 students from Denver’s Lincoln High School.

“Resorts recognize the changing demographics in the country,” Hawks said. “In doing that, they recognize that it’s important to reach out to different cultures, and also I think they feel a larger sense of responsibility toward providing opportunities to people who might not otherwise have a chance to visit a ski area.”

– To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail

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