As snow starts to fall on ski resorts like Brighton and Alta, some Utahns dust off their skis or snowboards and look forward to hitting the slopes with friends and family.
But whether these snow-crazed Utahns are a “go every day” type of enthusiast or an occasional enjoyer of a good ski run and hot chocolate, one thing is fairly obvious. There just isn’t much diversity on the mountain.
Ski Utah’s Discover Winter program is partnering with groups like OurSundays to change that. Raelene Davis, Vice President of marketing and operations for Ski Utah, established Discover Winter in response to a growing movement to introduce BIPOC individuals to snow sports.
“For years, the ski industry has been talking about how we can be inclusive and include underrepresented groups,” Davis said. “We knew we needed to break down all the barriers.”
According to the Snowsports Industry of America’s 2018-2019 report, more than half (59.6%) of the 14.9 million skiers were Caucasian, white or non-Hispanic, while African American/Black individuals (the next largest demographic) only represented 16.7% of skiers.
Of the 7.8 million snowboarders in the 2018-2019 season, 60.9% were Caucasian/white or non-Hispanic while the next largest demographic (Hispanic) accounted for only 16.1% of snowboarders. African America/Black individuals made up only 7.4% of total snowboarders.
The Discover Winter program provides participants with four free lessons, including gear and transportation, to learn snowboarding or skiing. At the end of the program, participants are awarded with a Yeti Pass, which allows them to go to every participating ski resort one time during the season.
According to Davis, the program is currently available to 200 BIPOC or LGBTQ+ individuals. 600 applied for this year’s program.
As the program has continued to expand, other organizations have become involved. OurSundays, a group dedicated to helping BIPOC individuals thrive in Utah, have recently created their own ski and board club to become involved in Discover Winter.
Their mission is “To increase access and awareness of Utah destination-locations to black people seeking long or short-term residency.”
University of Utah professor and OurSundays member Richard Leverett said he became interested in donating to Discover Winter after learning about their mission.
“I saw the program and reached out to Ski Utah to say that I wanted to be involved from a donation and company standpoint trying to sponsor things,” Leverett said. “I thought this could be so much bigger. It started from a fundraising capacity. It turned into wanting to build community and culture.”
Through his membership in OurSundays, Leverett knew just the people to help build it — OurSundays co-founders Domeda Duncan and Mark Giles.
In past years, OurSundays events like cookouts have drawn hundreds of people of color together, creating lasting friendships. This year, Duncan and Giles say they are taking friendships to the mountains.
“With us being in our current season in winter, our focus is our ski and board club,” Giles said. “Our goal is to get Black folks up in the mountains to learn how to ski and snowboard. We will be doing that officially starting in January (in partnership with Discover Winter).”
Duncan and Giles said they plan to use their model of creating in-person connections to create lasting communities on the slopes.
“We want to make people feel comfortable,” Duncan said. “When people feel comfortable, they are more likely to do it again and again.”
They reached out to the National Brotherhood of Snowsports, which uses a network of affiliate organizations to create opportunities for Black skiers and snowboarders.
“For the past 50 years, we have been the world’s largest Snowsports organization, exposing people of color to winter sports,” their mission statement reads. “It is our continued goal to expose people, especially people of color, to the vast outdoors and Snowsports.”
OurSundays Ski and Board club was born.
“They really made it so easy for us to create a chapter out here,” Duncan said. “As part of being a chapter, we have an opportunity to participate in these different activities.”
NBS hosts a yearly summit, where thousands of Black snowboarders and skiers meet together. There are also regional homecoming events, according to Duncan.
Together, Discover Winter, OurSundays and NBS will attempt to provide community and increase diversity.
“We are all about being together and getting together,” Giles said. “The emphasis is to ski and snowboard with each other because of the comfortability.”
OurSundays plans to keep going to the slopes together, even after the Discover Winter lessons are over.
“In order for you to get better, you need to be out on the mountain often,” Duncan said.
As ski organizations have looked to diversify, there has been an increase in Black participation in snow sports.
In the most recent SIA report for the 2022-2023 season, the data shows a slight decrease in the number of white participants (67.4 to 66.2%) while the Black demographic showed an increase in activity from 9.2% in 2021-2022 to 11.2% in 2022-2023.
Participants like Leverett look forward to sharing the slopes with more people of color.
“I’m excited for more people to find a love of the mountain and snow sports like I have,” Leverett said.