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Local group shifts Black participation in winter sports

Updated: Feb 4

Ski resorts are one of the least diverse spaces, but one group in Minnesota is looking to change that.

A group of nine composed of people from the metro & Houston, TX hit the slopes at Cascade Mountains in January for the annual MN Black Ski Weekend. The event is held during the MLK Holiday Weekend as an exemplification of the civil rights leader’s vision of equality for all. The Organizers believe this event is crucial and necessary to broadening the actions that the winter sports industry needs to take as it relates to access, inclusion and diversity in Winter Sports.

Despite Black people making up roughly 14% of the American population, data from the National Ski Areas Association suggests that only 1.5% of ski resort visitors are Black, a number that has been stagnant over the past decade. In comparison, nearly 90% of skiers identify as white.

Organizers believe some barriers to access include: financial and time commitments, lack of exposure, remote locations, and a stigma that winter sports aren’t for everyone.

“I think there’s reasons for that,” said Mike Kenyanya of Minneapolis. He attended the event as a first time snowboarder. “You have to drive far from the cities, It’s not like you’re going down the street to the park. You have to rent the equipment; you have to pay for the lift ticket and lessons. Coming from an immigrant family, the priorities just weren't going to allow for that financially. That’s one thing that keeps people of color out of winter activities.”

Just like much of Black America, many of the other attendees had little to no exposure to the sport of snowboarding, but were willing to embark a clumsy start to a journey at a new perspective.

“It was definitely challenging. A lot of falling down… Everyone was falling down, everyone was struggling. There’s no shame in that.” Kenyanya said with a smile. “We moved away from the bunny hill, and we went to the steeper hill. After a few runs we weren't even falling… By then, people were figuring out how to stop,” he said. “I think that progression was great to see.”

The event was planned by Gloria James, Rita Kwakye, Sena Muledhu and Winnie Nyabuto, who all had a similar vision of creating space for Black people to build connections and break boundaries in the world of winter sports and activities.

“We believe MN Black Ski Weekend is crucial to broadening the actions the winter sports industry needs to take as it relates to access, inclusion and diversity…. and to making resorts more inclusive and welcoming to all,” said James.

The 2023 MN Black Ski Weekend getaway included a 3.5-hour road trip to Portage, WI, 90 minutes snowboarding lessons, 2-4 hours of slope time and networking. To cap off every night, the group thawed out around a campfire, curated fun vibes and ate delicious provisions (i.e. Charcuterie, Liberian cuisines) and had libations.

This group believes this is a start to breaking the mold and changing a narrative that can change within Black communities.

“We influence each other, sometimes in a bad way, sometimes in a good way. I think there’s that opportunity to make it that much easier for that next person to visualize themselves snowboarding,” Kenyanya said. “You might not like it, you might decide it’s not your thing, but you have a right to try it.”

“Just try it. That’s almost a life philosophy for me… I was probably the one that got hurt the most out of everybody, but even with that perspective, I don't necessarily regret it… I just think it’s definitely worth trying.”

“I absolutely loved this Black Ski Weekend,” said Kadeeja Rivers, who flies in from Houston, TX to attend the annual event. “ I look forward to it every year. It’s such a great experience to see people of color breaking down boundaries and stereotypes while participating in winter sports.”

Organizers say they are planning to open the weekend up to the public again in 2024.

“Black Ski Weekend was an amazing time! I’m excited for the future years to come and to keep seeing the elevation of this event!,” Kwakye said.

If you’re interested in participating or learning more, follow MN Black Ski Weekend on Instagram for further information.

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