Nov 13, 2021 - News

Colorado ski industry leaders aim to break barriers from the top down

Students from Denver's Swansea Elementary School skiing

Students from Denver's Swansea Elementary School ride a shuttle to Copper Mountain Resort in 2005. Photo: Craig F. Walker/Denver Post via Getty Images

In the wake of George Floyd's murder, Colorado ski industry leaders have started taking steps to diversify the sport — but they have a long way to go.

Why it matters: For decades, people of color and lower-income earners have been largely excluded from the elite pastime because of a variety of barriers, from the cost to play and live in the mountains to the transportation to get there.

  • Less than 2% of recorded resort visits during the 2018-19 ski season came from Black skiers and snowboarders, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

What's happening: Some of Colorado's biggest industry players have responded to the widespread racial justice movement and committed to making the sport more inclusive.

  • Vail Resorts sent a letter to employees in June 2020 titled "We Are Part of the Problem" to acknowledge the "incredibly low" representation of people of color in the industry. Leadership has since outlined a plan to address the issue.
  • Aspen Snowmass leaders wrote an open letter titled "We Commit" to publicly stand with the Black community and support the fight for social justice.
  • Alterra Mountain Co. pledged in September to dedicate nearly $4 million to expand youth access to the mountains, including lessons, lift tickets, equipment rentals and meal vouchers.

What they're saying: “We see a lot of the large ski organizations and resorts putting out letters [and goals] allying with the BIPOC community, and we appreciate that, and we want to see more,” says Henry Rivers, president of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, referring to people of color.

  • "But now it's 2021 — almost 2022 — and I am waiting for the other [shoe] to drop and to see these goals implemented," he tells Axios.
  • A first priority should be diversifying the workforce running the resorts, Rivers adds. If guests don't feel welcomed, represented and seen by staff, they'll never come.

The big picture: Equity advocates agree the industry is moving in the right direction overall — but only time will tell if meaningful change makes it to the mountains.

  • Vulnerable communities "cannot control this," Rivers says. "It's got to be driven by the snow sports industry."

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