On one of his first days on campus as a University of Colorado at Boulder freshman, Tyler Matlock joined the school’s ski and snowboard club—despite the fact that he had never skied or snowboarded before.
As a Black man who grew up in Denver, Matlock used the mountains as a directional (“that was just west,” he laughs) and hadn’t given much thought to the activities he could do in them. But college is about new experiences, he figured, so he’d start with the Boulder Freeride Club. “I walked in there, and I was the only Black guy,” Matlock recalls. “It was intimidating.”
Good thing he didn’t let that stop him: Matlock, 34, now logs around 40 days a season.
“I love the sport, I love the mountains and being outside,” he says. “And I really want to help make it more normal to see Black people skiing and snowboarding.” Matlock, who’s a student at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, talks candidly about the stares and comments he gets while at the resorts.
“It’s just such a white space,” he explains. “I think mostly people just don’t know what to make of a Black guy who snowboards.”
Every season, Matlock spends a good amount of time and his own money convincing Black friends to join him on the slopes. “They just don’t feel accepted,” he explains when asked if he’s converted anyone. “They don’t want to deal with the stares. True, it’s expensive, but that’s not the problem here. They can afford it, they just don’t feel comfortable in the space.”
At SKI, we are ambassadors for the sport. As readers, you are enthusiasts of the sport. If you are someone who, say, works at the resort, owns a ski shop, or manages an inn in ski country, the sport is your livelihood. So what’s the one thing we all have in common? We all need skiing—and snowsports in general—to grow and thrive.
How do we do that? We make it accessible and welcoming to all comers, not just those with the means to make regular weekend trips. (We’ve been doing that for years and numbers have been flat.) So what else can we do?
Constance Beverley is a former Wall Street lawyer turned nonprofit CEO with big ideas. She’s also a snowboarder who’s experienced her own adversity getting back into snowsports, so she has a unique perspective on the issue.
Beverley is at the helm of the Share Winter Foundation, a grant-giving organization that funds youth snowsports programs across the country with the goal of getting more underprivileged kids into the mountains and hooked on the sports they find there. Beverley agrees that what we’re doing to grow the sport is clearly not working—and it’s not as simple as just hoping that organizations like Share Winter will be able to bridge the gap.
“There are massive barriers to the sport right now, more than ever before,” Beverley tells me during a video chat from her Providence, R.I. home, where Share Winter is based. Some are obvious, she says, like cost. “We know that money is a huge barrier to participation. We’ve been able to sustain ourselves on a core demographic that’s willing to spend it,” Beverley says.
But with the wealth gap continuing to grow and the middle class continuing to shrink, skiing is becoming less and less accessible. “Middle-class families used to be able to take their kids skiing, but I wouldn’t say that’s the case today.”
To be clear, Share Winter isn’t exclusively aimed at bringing a more diverse fan base to mountain sports. That’s certainly part of the equation, and one element that will ultimately grow the industry and enrich more lives in the process. Share Winter is also about, well, sharing: Sharing resources, sharing access, sharing stoke. “As an industry, all of the pieces to this puzzle already exist,” Beverley explains. “If we all worked together, every need could be fulfilled. It’s about reallocating the resources to where they’re most needed.”
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Transportation to the mountains from the cities is certainly a barrier to participation, made even worse during this COVID winter when mass transport options will be more limited. But some obstacles are less obvious, Beverley argues, like the community factor: “If I don’t feel welcome, if no one who looks like me is in the ads, or even works in the restaurants, if they don’t play the music I like, why would I want to come back?”
She wonders, what if we could kick down those barriers?
“We break those things down one by one. Too cold? We partner with organizations who collect warm jackets. No one to go with? We fund programs run through established community centers like the local YMCAs. No people who look like you? We drum up support from mentors throughout the neighborhoods who connect with the kids and provide good role models. We are literally spending the money to solve the problems that we spent the money to find out are problems in the first place.”
Chew on that for a moment. Talking with Beverley is like turning on the lights and finally being able to see what’s been right there the whole time.
So how did a Wall Street lawyer end up on a quest to bring winter to the masses?
Beverley grew up skiing thanks to passionate parents who had the means to expose her to the sport, until her father died suddenly when she was 10 years old. “With my mom becoming a single working parent basically overnight, skiing was off the table,” says Beverley.
But she never lost her love for the mountains. At 15, she clipped a coupon from the local paper offering free snowboard rental and bunny hill access at Boston Mills Brandywine. She eavesdropped on a snowboard lesson to learn the basics.
“It was really hard when I decided I wanted to get back on the mountain,” Beverley recalls. “I didn’t want to ski, the culture around skiing—the clothes, the cars, the vibe—told me that skiing wasn’t for me. But snowboarding was a little gritty, a little counterculture, the baggy clothes, the music. I could slip in and not stick out so much.”
Beverley snowboarded a handful of times each winter and fell in love with the sport, the confidence it gave her, and the ability to see herself as someone other than the person she was scripted to be. “I was a very Type A kid,” she laughs. “Teaching myself to snowboard was the first time I ever thought I could be someone different. That’s why none of our grantees ever have to preach to me. It’s deep in my soul. I can only imagine how many kids are inspired because they got to be on snow, and how many of those kids will forever see themselves differently. It’s very powerful. It’s why we do this.”
Share Winter gets requests for roughly $3 million in grantee applications every winter and gave out about $1 million last year. As for what she looks for in a program, Beverley says that the foundation has pretty stringent criteria, including that the grantee offers a minimum of four visits to the slopes, that the kids are taught by professional instructors and accompanied by trained, background-checked volunteers from the community, and, most important, that the grantee can show established relationships with their local partners, such as ski resorts, ski shops, or after-school programs.
“We are facilitators,” Beverley says of Share Winter. “We do not do for, we do with. We help find resources, we allocate money, but the grantees are the ones really moving things forward.”
The three grantees profiled in these pages are merely a few of the programs Share Winter is funding this season, and, as Beverley emphasizes, they’re not the answer to the problem of skiing’s lack of diversity, but merely one cog in the wheel.
The industry has to step up, she says. “If we keep sending these kids into the mountains and they don’t feel welcome there, then it’s all for naught.” The media has to do its part, too, Beverley says, letting me know pointedly that she means SKI.
“I see a lot of these stories relegated to a feel-good moment in the mainstream media,” Beverley explains. “I want to see diversity stories as part of the regular conversation, part of the marketing materials, part of the business model—not just in response to a national incident. Open Instagram and search #skiing. How long do you have to scroll until you find a person of color, or someone who doesn’t look like the rest?”
Ouch. She’s right. This publication needs to do its part to move the needle. As Beverley reminds me, it’s not like we don’t know that these stories exist.
If we, the snowsports media, want to be true ambassadors for the sport, we need to be ambassadors to everyone, not just the people who are already in the mountains. We need to tell all of the stories, not just the loudest and most visible ones.
I ask what else SKI, as a member of the mainstream media, can do, and the conversation turns back to access—although not in the way I was expecting.
“Our videos aren’t the prettiest or the flashiest,” Beverley says. “Our photos aren’t the highest quality or the most professional. That’s because we give all of our money away to these amazing programs. It’s hard to get eyes on our cause sometimes. We don’t have a media production house, we don’t have film companies to produce our videos.
“But you do,” she says quietly. “Share Winter is about everybody sharing. Share your resources. Help organizations that don’t have what you do, and we can truly open up this sport to everyone.”
“There are a lot of Black people out there who have the mindset but not the means,” Matlock says. “I’d love to see resorts putting on more Black Ski Week-type of events, making it a regular thing, something people can count on happening and can plan for.”
Tyler Matlock has no intention of hanging up his board anytime soon. He does, however, have some advice for resorts to attract more people who look like him. “There are a lot of Black people out there who have the mindset but not the means,” Matlock says. “I’d love to see resorts putting on more Black Ski Week-type of events, making it a regular thing, something people can count on happening and can plan for.”
Until that day comes, Matlock will keep bringing friends up, continue to take his nieces and nephews into the mountains, and try his best to normalize skiing and snowboarding among people in his community. At the end of the day, he says, there’s only one message that matters.
“You belong wherever you want to belong.”