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As a Black Skier, It Feels Good to See Others Like Me

One writer finds encouragement and camaraderie with other underrepresented skiers on an outing with the BIPOC Mountain Collective.

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On a spring morning at Vail, laughter fills the entire dining room of a restaurant lounge as a group of people gather around a stone fireplace. They clap one another on the back, cackling to inside jokes and generally enjoying each other’s company. At first glance, you might think you’ve stumbled into a reunion of some sort. 

The truth is, most of us have just met each other this morning, brought together by an organization whose mission is to encourage, teach, and inspire Black, indigenous, and people of color to participate in mountain sports by creating spaces for enjoying the outdoors. This convivial group is here for a ski day with the Denver-based BIPOC Mountain Collective (BMC).  

BIPOC Mountain Collective Vail
The day starts with breakfast and introductions at the new Gravity Haus in Vail Village. (Photo: Jackie Nunnally)

A couple years ago, I had never heard of the BMC. As a Black woman who took up skiing as a young adult, I was itching for companionship and camaraderie with other BIPOC skiers, as well as the chance to get to the slopes more regularly. And on this sunny morning at Vail, I have no idea what to expect. The one thing I do know was that everyone will be welcoming.  

I heard about BMC after it split from another Denver ski group that wasn’t very active. The folks in the new group were eager to form a well-connected outdoor BIPOC community. As the weather turned chillier and snow began to blanket the mountains, BMC posts went up on social media promoting meet-ups across the mountain west. From Park City, Utah to Crested Butte, Colo., there were plenty of opportunities to meet skiers who looked like me. I was intrigued.

Also Read: 4 Organizations Actually Doing Something About Skiing’s Diversity Problem

Affinity groups such as the BMC are spaces where people bond over a shared interest or a common goal. And in the outdoor space specifically, affinity groups like the BMC are pushing a broader dialogue and leading the discussion about diversity, signaling a long-term commitment toward a more inclusive and equitable outdoor culture.

“While we’re both Colorado natives, neither myself nor my husband started skiing until age 25,” says BMC member Lisa Truong-Nguyen. “There’s a steep barrier of entry to skiing—the financial cost alone is pretty intimidating—and it’s been really nice to meet other POCs who are learning as adults.” 

Truong-Nguyen, from Denver, is one of nearly two dozen folks who showed up at Vail’s Gravity Haus hotel for the 10 a.m. meeting time on this spring Saturday in early April.

In addition to its primary mission of bringing BIPOC together on the slopes, the group’s aim is to make things easy and non-intimidating, from getting there to finding a hotel, to renting gear, and everything in between. This is all a group effort—someone always knows something. If there’s a pullout couch in a hotel room, extra layers, or buddy passes to use, it’s offered up. If someone knows the best off-season sales or convenient places to get gear, it’s shared. 

BIPOC Mountain Collective Vail
The writer, Erin Key (left), and fellow BIPOC Mountain Collective member Taylor Bennett-Begaye take a breather on the gondola at Vail during a trip last spring. (Photo: Jackie Nunnally)

During this meetup, some are staying in an Airbnb where anyone is welcome to crash. There’s also a caravan driving up in the morning from the Mammoth carpool lot off I-70, which is known to be an event in and of itself with breakfast burritos, coffee, and camaraderie. After all, that’s what this is all about. The skiing is just the gravy.

We chat on the ride up about what to expect and our favorite Vail runs, and share our mutual excitement about getting into Vail’s iconic Back Bowls, something I’d been hesitant to do alone. We also lightheartedly battle about when we would hit traffic—my bet is never, given the time of the season. I’m right; it’s 9 a.m. sharp and a balmy 50 degrees when we arrive at the meeting spot.

You can sense the anticipation and energy as folks start trickling in, introducing themselves, where they are from, and chatting about gear. For some, this isn’t their first trip with the group. Others have never been to Vail before and are taking in the new experience. Regardless, everyone is invited into the conversations as if they had been friends all along.

Here I meet Houston-based Terrance Valiare, who considers himself semi-new to the group. This is his second meetup. His first was in Aspen in February, where he struggled to find affordable lodging. One BMC member invited him to stay at his rental for the week. “BMC really helps take the stress out of the sport for me,” says Valiare. “The wealth of knowledge with this group is incredible and isn’t something I could get at home. With advice on things like lodging and rentals, I can focus on the sport itself.”

Related: We Can Learn A Lot From the First Photo Shoot Featuring All BIPOC Skiers and Photographers

I hear similar stories as I weave my way through the group. If you need a place to stay, someone’s there to help you find it. If you need gear or a lift ticket, there’s advice on where to go. The idea is not just to help members get on the snow today, but to arm them with the knowledge we need to return.

With everyone geared up and eager to go, our large group heads to the lifts. After a quick discussion on ability levels to make sure everyone is grouped appropriately, my newfound crew of six heads to the bowls. It’s sunny and bluebird, perhaps the perfect Colorado spring-skiing day.

On the lift with Truong-Nguyen, she talks about her friends who did a lot of outdoor activities, like hiking and camping, with their families growing up. “But there are a lot of systematic barriers to getting outdoors; it’s a privilege to be able to hike trails, go camping, and certainly participate in skiing. I hope to see the outdoor industry become more inclusive of POCs, and find ways to introduce more folks who haven’t had the same privileges of exploring the outdoors.”

I can relate. I grew up in Missouri watching the X Games and wishing I could try this exotic-looking sport. When I was invited on a ski trip out West with my partner’s family, I was ecstatic. And terrified. They had all grown up skiing. I didn’t even have waterproof outerwear. I caught more than a few glares. I felt out of place, to say the least. 

But I stuck with it. And my skiing progressed over the next couple of years thanks in large part to having a support network that got me on the slopes more frequently. Now, with the BMC, I’m even being nudged, albeit gently, out of my comfort zone, and my skills are continuing to grow.

BIPOC Mountain Collective Vail
The author makes her way through choppy snow at Vail with a smile. (Photo: Jackie Nunnally)

Case in point: I’m not a mogul skier, preferring to stick to my blue cruisers and groomed corduroy. But at Vail, the group encourages me to sample the
notoriously steep bumps under the Highline Chair. They’ll be soft and forgiving, I’m promised. A few light tumbles later, I make it down safely, my quads burning. I promise the group that next season will be the year of moguls.

“As I’ve progressed in my skiing, it’s been so helpful to have friends and folks who are willing to challenge me and be patient with me, too,” says Truong-Nguyen. “While there’s so much more I can and want to do on skis, it’s also exciting to look back and say ‘Wait, I did that!’”

At the end of the day, the BMC’s work doesn’t end when the lifts stop. The real end game is creating a community, one that helps overcome challenges by sharing information and resources. With a flurry of exchanged social media handles and cell phone numbers, the next adventure is always right around the corner with this group. 

For me, that might be taking on moguls more confidently. And thanks to this crew, I won’t be on my own—but a community of people I know and trust.

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