SNOWMASS VILLAGE - The National Brotherhood of Skiers has again chosen Snowmass Village as the location for its Summit, the largest gathering of skiers and riders in the country. Although this isn't the organization's first visit here, this year has special meaning.
This year marks the 40th anniversary for the Brotherhood's first organized meeting, which happened in Aspen.
"It's really important for us to be back," said Diana Starks, current president of the organization. "It was an amazing time in history. No one knew we existed as people of color with a passion for skiing."
The national club of black skiers was born from that historical gathering in 1973, and today has 60 clubs in 43 cities, according to its website. At 3,000 members, it is one of the largest ski organizations in the U.S. The primary mission of the club is to identify and support black athletes who will win Olympic and international winter sports competitions and to increase participation in winter sports, according to a statement.
The Summit, its biennial fundraiser, is held every odd year and supports the Olympic Scholarship Fund. The Summit moves around to different ski resorts and last came to Snowmass in 2009. One-thousand people have registered for this year's event, but because additional people like to follow the club on its trips, Starks said, even more than that could be descending on Snowmass Village from Feb. 23 to March 2. Most of them will be staying in the Village, according to Patsy Popejoy, of Snowmass Tourism.
In addition to Olympic scholarships, the club spends money on outreach, including camps and events to introduce young people to winter sports, racing and mountain safety.
"The goal is to facilitate introduction of 100,000 youth to winter sports," Starks said.
Although the club hasn't yet reached its goal of sending someone to the Olympics, it continues to invest in young athletes.
"We don't give up," Starks said. "It's like an investment. You wouldn't give up on an investment."
Many young people who go through the Brotherhood's camps have gone on to get jobs in ski areas or come back to the organization, Starks said.
Starks said a big highlight of the Summit for her will be the welcome ceremony that kicks off the week. The opening ceremony on Sunday will include a torchlight parade that the public is invited to join.
"I'm just looking forward to the feeling, the electricity of the participants," she said. "I hope it doesn't make me cry, but I think that's going to be a memorable day for me."
Some other highlights of the week are extended happy hours on the mountain, a picnic on the hill and the anniversary gala on Feb. 27 at the Westin, she said. The founders, Arthur Clay and Ben Finley, will be recognized then.
Another component of the event is the interclub races on Feb. 27. The Brotherhood has a national team, but this competition is between representatives of the individual clubs.
"This is more of an interclub rivalry," said Mark Jackson, president of the Jim Dandy Ski Club in Detroit and organizer of the racing during the Summit. "(It's a) friendly rivalry. We all have a good time after the races are over."
The race awards ceremony is at 3 p.m. March 1.