It is no secret that the world of skiing and alpine sports is an overwhelmingly homogeneous space. The cost of jackets and pants, lift tickets, transportation, lessons, goggles, boots, and boards make the activities prohibitively expensive for many low-income or minority communities. Add in the exorbitant real estate and rental prices around ski and mountain towns, and you get some estimates that suggest around 88 percent of skiers here in the United States are white.
“U.S. Ski & Snowboard and our sports are historically white and despite many great programs in place, we could use more widespread initiatives for marginalized communities to participate,” wrote U.S. Ski and Snowboard President Tiger Shaw in the wake of this summer’s protests against police brutality. “We could attempt to justify this with excuses, but when you drill down, the core issue is that there has been a lack of broad responsibility to do so.”
Constance Beverley agrees that in order for everyone to have access to epic powder, the people who populate—and dominate—the ski industry have to care. That’s why the former Wall Street lawyer signed on a few years ago to be the CEO of the Share Winter Foundation, a nonprofit that provides grants to organizations looking to make snowsports more accessible and diverse.
Four years ago, Share Winter worked with grantees all across the country to fund more than 13,000 kids on the mountain. During the 2019-20 season, 45,000 kids were able to experience snowsports—including their lessons, gear, and lift tickets. In Colorado specifically, the organization, which is based in Rhode Island, currently funds three grantees: SOS Outreach, the Chill Foundation, and the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club.
Alex Bornstein, Executive Director of the Chill Foundation, wants underserved youth in snowsports because, well, he should have been one of them. “A lot of us say we would have been Chill kids back when we were that age,” he explains. “But there wasn’t anything like that for me. I filled my time in less productive and healthy ways.”
Beverley almost had the same experience. She grew up in Akron, Ohio, and learned to ski at Boston Mills Ski Area with her parents. But when her father died when she was nine years old, skiing was a luxury her family couldn’t afford. Her mother had to work constantly, and she couldn’t pay for a snowsports injury. Beverley was off the mountain until she was able to clip a coupon out of the newspaper, get a board, slip on her dad’s old ski gear, and eavesdrop on a lesson. She used friendships and connections to get access to the mountain, but was still only able to go once or twice a year until she hit college.
“This is why one of the things that I speak about a lot in the industry is that our model of the ‘skiing family’ is very outdated,” she says. “Most of my friends who were able to ski in the town that I grew up in had two-parent households—at least one parent making an upper-middle- or upper-class wage, one parent not working who had access to a solid, reliable vehicle, and the time to take kids to the mountains.” She argues that it’s time to wipe out that old model, at the very least, because the majority of American families don’t fit it.
Having experienced the thrill of the mountain herself, Beverley knew it’d be the same for a kid who, perhaps, had never even seen snow before.
Beverley and the rest of her team at the Share Winter Foundation carefully assess grantees across the country to judge their aptitude in a number of categories, including:
- Do they use youth in snowsports as a gimmick, a PR boost?
- Do the programs create real pathways for kids to become experts in their snowsport? Are there opportunities for competitive growth?
- Does the organization track skill-building and attendance?
- Is the program cost-effective? Stable? Long-lasting?
- Does the organization fit Share Winter’s standards of diversity and inclusion? Are the demographics—gender, geographic, economic and racial—wide enough?
The programs that fit the bill specifically tailor their recruitment efforts to kids who wouldn’t otherwise have any connection to skiing and snowboarding, even if they live only a few miles from the best ski resorts in the country. Maybe they’re terrified of falling and saddling their parents with an unexpected medical bill. These programs let them try safer Nordic skiing instead. Maybe they’re without a car. Every winter, the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club (AVSC), for instance, shuttles seven buses full of kids from down the valley right to the base of the mountain. Maybe they don’t know anyone in the snowsports community. Chill Foundation brings together kids from all over Denver for six weeks of snow.
“It’s just an additional form of education,” says Mark Godomsky, Executive Director of the AVSC. “You know, it’s a different way to explore yourself, it’s a different way to challenge yourself. It’s not always easy. And that’s the cool part about it.”
But in a year when COVID-19 has disproportionately affected minority communities and Black Lives Matter protests have sprung up across the country amid continued systemic racism, why does access to snowsports for all really matter? Beverley could haul out the tired reasons: snowsports build teamwork and confidence; they get high-risk kids out of the house; they present new opportunities for competition and excellence. But she thinks that’s all a bit goofy. To her, it really shouldn’t matter that sports are “good” for underserved communities. Sports are fun. And every kid should have access to that, no matter their socioeconomic status.