Snowsports Are For Everyone
Snow Sports Appealing to a Diverse Audience
By most historical accounts, skiing came to North America with European immigrants.
While the record varies somewhat, many credit 19th-Century blond, blue-eyed Norwegians with introducing skiing to their new neighbors, establishing the first commercial ski manufacturers and founding the first ski clubs in the U.S.
Next came the Austrians, a cadre of celebrity ski coaches, imported to teach Americans how to slide, turn and stop.
By then a stereotype was in place: skiing was for athletic Nordic types and resorts were retreats for America’s wealthy.
Like many stereotypes there used to be some truth to this. But as with most stereotypes, there’s a lot that is either outdated or just straight up wrong.
Today, in our diverse nation, the actual picture is much broader and significantly more welcoming than some might imagine.
Snow sports are Local
Just like neighborhoods, schools, city parks and swimming pools, local ski areas are community assets. And, the more diverse the community, the more diverse the ski area.
While many famous destination resorts are in remote mountain areas, there are plenty of ski areas in the United States near large cities and in states with ethnically diverse populations.
This doesn’t mean that ski areas have found it easy to attract local non-white skiers and snowboarders.
As Jim Wall, the Director of Services for Pat’s Peak Ski Area in Henniker, New Hampshire puts it, “Perception is everything. It’s totally important. Large segments of our population don’t see themselves as skiers because they have few role models and they don’t necessarily feel welcome.”
“Pay One Price” and Diversity Day at Pat’s Peak
In order to reach out to people in nearby Boston and make the ski experience as affordable and friendly as possible, Pat’s Peak runs a program called POP Saturday Nights.
POP stands for “Pay One Price.” Offering “amusement park” pricing, including rentals, lift tickets, lesson tips and live entertainment, POP Saturday nights run from 3:00 – 10:00 p.m. each week. A bus, sponsored by the ski area, makes it easy for guests to travel the 90 minutes between central Boston and Pat’s Peak.
When POP began the price was just $21. Soon up to 2,800 people were arriving every Saturday.
In order to handle the crowds and ensure a positive experience, Pat’s Peak expanded their base facilities and hired employees who could speak Mandarin, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Years later, POP Saturday night skiing, riding, and now tubing, continues to be quite popular, with around 1200-1500 guests each week, 70-80% of whom are ethnically diverse, says Wall. The price for this season is $49 – still a great deal.
Pat’s Peak has also celebrated Diversity Day since 2001. Held on Martin Luther King Day, Pat’s Peak works with Youth Enrichment Services, a Boston-area non-profit, to bring busloads of kids from inner city Boston for a day of skiing, snowboarding and a ceremony honoring Dr. King.
Since beginning at Pat’s Peak, Diversity Day has spread to other New Hampshire ski areas. For these efforts, Pat’s Peak as awarded the first ever Diversity Leadership Award from Ski Area Management in 2006.
Ride the Mountain and the City with Winter Park Resort
About 90 minutes from downtown Denver (and nearly 7000 feet higher), Winter Park Resort offers learn to ski packages for Denver children and teenagers through Denver Parks and Recreation. Last year, Winter Park hosted 2,319 kids over 51 winter days. The Parks Department provides transportation and the resort provides tickets, rentals and lessons for the day.
Since 1997, over 30,000 urban children and teenagers have learned to ski and snowboard at Winter Park. “It’s an awesome program and we’re super proud to offer this opportunity to kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to ski,” shares resort Communications Director Steve Hurlbert.
So that participants can continue honing their new skills, Winter Park operates the Ruby Hill Rail Yard, a free terrain park in Denver. Open in January, as conditions and snowmaking permit, over 6000 children and adults rode at Ruby Hill in 2016. In addition to Winter Park, Christy Sports, Denver Parks and Recreation and numerous dedicated volunteers support Ruby Hill Rail Yard.
Welcoming Newcomers at Liberty Mountain Resort
Located in southern Pennsylvania, Liberty Mountain Resort is a favorite with winter sports newcomers and first-timers, many from nearby Baltimore and Washington, DC.
“First-time visits to any resort can be confusing and overwhelming,” explains Anne Weimer from the resort. “We try to make the steps of our ‘Learn-To’ programs easy, and all of our staff, from ticketing to rentals to food service to lifts, are invested in catering to 'never-evers'.”
In addition to hands-on help at the ski area, Liberty Mountain Resort offers an online First Timers Guide that walks new skiers and snowboarders through what to expect.
And as many visitors to Liberty Mountain may not speak English as a first language, the staff is trained to recognize anyone who looks even a little lost or confused and offer assistance and direction.
A 16-Year Partnership: Vail Resorts and SOS Outreach
Since 1993, Vail Resorts has partnered with a national nonprofit called SOS Outreach. SOS Outreach focuses on helping underserved youth experience outdoor adventure, providing positive adult mentors and creating opportunities for leadership development.
So far, over 27,000 children and teenagers have participated in 100,000 program days on Vail Resorts’ mountains. This season youth from communities near Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek Resort, Keystone Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado; Park City Mountain in Utah; Heavenly Ski Resort, Kirkwood Resort and Northstar-California in California; and Mt. Brighton Ski Area near Detroit, Michigan will participate in SOS Outreach events.
Vail Resorts supports SOS Outreach financially as well as through donated lift tickets, rental equipment, and ski and snowboard instruction.
Because mentorship and leadership are important components of this effort, Vail Resorts also supports SOS Outreach Industry Day.
This summer, for the second consecutive year, Vail Resorts hosted 40 SOS Outreach youth at the corporate office for a panel discussion with Vail Resorts employees about career options in the outdoor industry.
Cultural Cooperation at Taos Ski Valley
Located near the town of Taos, New Mexico, Taos Ski Valley has a unique relationship with neighboring Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site continuously inhabited for over 1000 years.
The people of Taos Pueblo believe that the entire earth is sacred and must be protected. Twice a year, Taos Ski Valley management meets with the Pueblo War Council to discuss summer and winter operations and the resort’s long-term plans and impacts.
In addition to working with TSV to protect the local environment, Taos Pueblo elementary school students participate in a five week learn to ski and snowboard program with students from other elementary, middle and high schools in Taos, and the nearby communities of Espanola, Questa and Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Last season, 700 kids completed five weeks of lessons and the program is set to grow larger this year.
Snowsports are For Friends and Family
Taos Ski Valley is far from the only ski area that works closely with local school districts to help kids learn to ski and ride.
In part, this is because resort managers and ski industry experts recognize what every ski mom already knows: kids are social and they like learning to ski and snowboard with other kids.
Currently, 10 states and regions offer discounted or free passes for grade school kids.
Targeting kids with free and discounted skiing makes good sense for ski areas. Kids are excited and eager to learn, and if they’re having fun, parents and siblings are likely to tag along and have fun, too.
Calling All 4 th Graders at Sunlight, Colorado
Since 1998, Colorado’s Sunlight Mountain Resort has provided a free season pass to every local 4th grader.
Each fall, resort representatives coordinate with teachers and visit area classrooms to build excitement for skiing and snowboarding and to provide basic information such as what to wear, how a chairlift works and what to expect in a lesson. Then, Sunlight schedules a day for each class to come up and ski.
“Never-evers” get a free lesson and rental to get them started off right. Everyone gets a good time.
By giving a pass to 4th graders, Sunlight sets these kids up for up to three years of free and discounted ski tickets, as the resort’s pass program dovetails perfectly with the Colorado Ski Country USA 5th and 6th grade passes.
In an interview last winter, Sunlight General Manager Tom Jankovsky indicated that one of the benefits of the program has been an increase in Latino families at the ski area. Although snow sports haven’t been a traditional part of local Latino culture, once parents they see their children having fun on snow, the rest of the family gets involved.
National Brotherhood of Skiers Bring Adults Together
While many resort-based programs focus on younger generations, the National Brotherhood of Skiers brings together adult friends and family at their annual Black Summit.
The first Black Summit was held at the summit of Ajax Mountain in Aspen in 1973. The Members of 13 black ski clubs were invited to Aspen to “identify and discuss problems and subjects which were unique to the black skiing population, ski and socialize,” according to Ben Finley, an NBS founder, as quoted on the NBS website.
In the years since, the National Brotherhood of Skiers has grown to 60 ski clubs, representing 43 cities with an individual membership of 3,000. The Black Summit, which will be held at Keystone, Colorado in 2017, is the largest annual gathering of skiers and riders in North America.
Snow sports Are For Everyone
By working with local and national nonprofits, parks departments and school districts, ski resorts across the U.S. are reaching children and teenagers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to try snow sports.
Additionally, by reducing the barriers and cost for first-time skiers and snowboarders, resorts are also making it easier and more enjoyable for newcomers to enter the sport.
While we’ve only been able to highlight a few significant efforts and organizations, more information about getting started in skiing and snowboarding can be found right here at Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month and on individual resort websites.