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Native Kids Hit the Slopes

The first ever Intertribal Winter Sports Summit brings Native students and elders to Wyoming's Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to learn skiing and snowboarding.

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By Sonia Amodeo

A unique snowsports gathering and cultural exchange is set for next weekend in Jackson, Wyoming, and at nearby Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, bringing skiing and snowboarding to Great Plains youth. A fundraiser for the event will take place tonight at the Jackson Hole Playhouse.

The Intertribal Winter Sports Summit, slated for March 25–29, is the result of collaboration between Jackson’s snowsports community and several Great Plains nations—the Oglala Lakota of the Pine Ridge Reservation (located within South Dakota) and the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho of the Wind River Reservation (located within Wyoming).

More than 30 kids aged 11 through 17 will get a chance to learn skiing and snowboarding at Jackson Hole from a group of volunteer instructors. Participants will stay at the Teton Science School’s Journey School campus. Elders, medicine men, drummers, cultural performers, and chaperones will also attend.

In addition to skiing and snowboarding, participants will have time to explore the town and engage in other activities in the area such as soaking in local hot springs or taking wildlife tours of nearby Grand Teton National Park.

“One of my visions for the summit is that it will be an opportunity for people to meet, mingle, and learn new things from people in other tribes,” says Julie Zell, an event organizer. “Ski culture is its own tribe, too,”

The event has been in the works since November, but has been imbued with an even deeper significance after an ugly incident in early January in Rapid City, South Dakota, involving some of the students planning to attend IWSS.

Those students, from American Horse School on the Pine Ridge Reservation, had earned a trip to a minor-league hockey game as a reward for academic achievement, but were forced to leave before the event was over. In the third period, chaperones ushered the students out after fans in the corporate box above began yelling racial slurs at the kids and pouring beer on them, according to media reports. Rapid City police recently charged Trace O’Connell of Philip, South Dakota, with disorderly conduct, despite demands from protesters that the incident be investigated as a hate crime.

“That trip to Rapid City last month was going to be these kids’ reward for good grades,” says Cody Hall, another IWSS event organizer. “This is going to be their reward now. My main goal and objective is that they are getting their reward.”

The Summit’s opening ceremony will take place at the top of the gondola on Thursday morning, followed by a social mixer with cultural performances at the Jackson Hole Cultural Arts Center Saturday evening. Both are open to the public.

“When you come from a reservation you’re limited to certain resources, and they’re not abundant,” Hall says. “This is about these kids enjoying something that they’ve never been exposed to ever before and never thought that they could.”

The Summit is relying on donations to succeed, and organizers have gone to great lengths to ensure that attendance for the children is free. Brands like Skullcandy, Burton, Volcom, Giro, and Stance Socks have all donated gear, but Zell says more donations are still welcome. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is providing lift tickets and equipment rentals. The fundraiser tonight will feature live music and raffles.

Pro Snowboarder Travis Rice donated a signed Lib Tech snowboard for auction (now closed), and other pros like snowboarder Rob Kingwill and skiers Jess McMillan and Max Hammer will also be involved.

According to Hall, “the vision is that these kids are exposed to a different sport or atmosphere through skiing and snowboarding. The greater vision is that these kids become future skiers and snowboarders. The inner tribal part is to spread their culture.”

“Jackson Hole has stepped up and rolled out a red carpet for these kids,” Hall continues. “Somebody’s thinking outside the box and wants them to have a good experience. It’s a feel-good story.”

To donate, visit

Gear brands wishing to provide apparel, equipment, or accessories should contact Julie Zell directly.

For more, visit the following:

General info on the 2015 Intertribal Winter Sports Summit
3/28 Cultural Exchange
3/20 Fundraiser (also see poster below)