Culture

From Getting There to Gearing Up, This Instructor is Getting—and Keeping—BIPOC Skiers On the Slopes

For Annette Diggs, a love of skiing turned into a personal mission to help more women of color feel welcome on the mountain.

This article is part of SKI’s series, “Why I Ski,” highlighting a diverse roundup of passionate skiers and what inspires them to pursue the ski lifestyle. 

Annette Diggs was in her 30s when she first learned to ski. She quickly fell in love with the sport, but it bothered her that she couldn’t find anyone else that looked like her.

As a Black woman on the ski hill, Diggs expressed that her presence was and continues to be questioned and scrutinized. Harmful language and belittling comments from other skiers motivated her to work towards change and to create more BIPOC representation in snow sports. So in 2018, Diggs decided to become a ski instructor. 

From being an instructor at Stevens Pass, to traveling to Jackson Hole for the first Ski Divas BIPOC Camp, to finally starting her own nonprofit for women of color, EDGE Outdoors, Diggs shares the reasons why she stays passionate, engaged, and dedicated to diversifying the sport.

Annette Diggs instructing
Annette Diggs became a ski instructor at Washington’s Steven Pass so she could become part of the solution when it comes to getting more non-white people hooked on skiing. Photo: Parker Tikson

Because the status quo is not inclusive.

The ski industry is rooted in Whiteness and the lack of representation is clearly obvious. I walked into the lodge when I first learned to ski and I heard someone say, ‘Hey, a unicorn.” I turned and looked for the unicorn and I couldn’t find it. Then I realized they were talking about me, that I was the unicorn and my Blackness was being identified through the use of coded racist language. Throughout the years, I have noticed the lack of diversity on ski hills and harmful language and behavior coupled with stereotypes being directed towards me and members of the BIPOC community. I saw enough to know that I wanted to dismantle and change the narrative. Becoming a ski instructor at Stevens Pass, Wash., was my next step towards that. 

Related: How Skiing Whiteness Has Affected Me and How We Can Change It

As a ski instructor, she discovered that representation works both ways.

I remember this cute little kid with his little blue eyes who walked into ski school when I was collecting my kids for the day. I walked in there and took my helmet off and started talking to him and his eyes got really big. He just kept on saying “You’re Black. You’re Black. But you’re Black.” He couldn’t get over it. And I laughed and said “Yes, baby I’m Black. Now do you want to go skiing or not?” He was totally shocked because the narrative in his head of what a ski instructor looks like was getting disrupted. It’s not only about providing representation for the BIPOC community but providing imagery to Whites outside the status quo.

Our BIPOC youth is yearning to see themselves reflected on the hill. I had this 13-year-old Black Hispanic girl in my ski class one day. She was amazing and she progressed so fast, but I’ll never forget the look in her eyes. There was this sense of safety and trust I could see her getting from looking at me, and I felt it too. It was really powerful. After the lesson, her parents came to pick her up and they couldn’t believe she had a Black female instructor. They took a picture of us together and told me how big this was for them and for her. It was a huge moment for her to see herself reflected on the hill.

To support initiatives that go deeper.

White-led initiatives often fail Black, Indigenous, People of Color when it comes to actually creating a safe space for inclusion to work. Organizations often come across as performative. They’ll throw a piece of the puzzle at you because you’re from the BIPOC community, and they expect you to flourish. But the barriers are so much deeper. Over the years, I have been searching for a solid program and mentorship, but each time I found a ski camp that met my standards of coaching my dreams would be quickly extinguished due to the alarming cost of registration fees.

However, Jessica Baker’s Ski Divas BIPOC Camp offered a refreshing and genuine approach to White-led inclusion work by creating a real, intentional BIWOC ski camp. This camp not only focused on alpine and backcountry ski training but also prioritized connection amongst women of color. A lot of space was held for courageous conversations where we shared our struggles with the ski industry and how we could move forward together. Honestly, I fall short with adequate words to explain how impactful this experience was because a rush of joy floods my mind and words escape me

Annette Diggs
Diggs focuses on creating a welcoming space on the slopes for women of color in her nonprofit organization, EDGE Outdoor. Photo: Parker Tikson

So she can build her own community.

EDGE Outdoors is a powerful initiative to provide equity to Women of Color including Trans Women of Color in snow sports; marginalized communities that have been historically and intentionally excluded from outdoor spaces including ski areas. My mission is to bring more diversity to the slopes, bestow equity to BIWOC, promote the normalization of Black and Brown bodies on the hill while creating a community BIWOC can thrive in.

I’m trying to build a community of women of color that can support themselves and each other in predominantly White spaces by giving them a positive entry experience so we can actually retain them in snow sports. My dream is to create a pipeline where recipients are not only recreating on the hill but taking jobs at the resort as instructors or other roles. 

Also Read: They’re Becoming Ski Instructors to Draw More Women of Color to Skiing

It’s not about just giving them the opportunity to try skiing or snowboarding once. EDGE is a multifaceted program where BIWOC are provided mountain access, gear, and multi-week lessons from certified PSIA/AASI BIPOC instructors. So many BIPOC have endured harmful experiences on the hill and never come back, which is what I’m trying to counter. We have insight on how to navigate inequitable spaces and transform these spaces into liberating learning spaces where BIWOC can thrive without having to conform to the White culture that is so heavily embedded in the ski industry. 

Related: Talking about How Skiers Talk

To share her journey.

I have to be my biggest motivator. There are no Black skiers in my family, I didn’t have a mentor in skiing, but now I can pass that on to others. It’s so rewarding to see my own development as a skier, but now the biggest reward for me is seeing the growth of others that I can share the joy of skiing with.

Meet other core skiers

Quincy Shannon wants to share his love of skiing with the BIPOC community
Why I haven’t missed a season of ski instructing in 54 years
What it’s like to be a Black ski mountaineer in Bend, Oregon