The National Brotherhood of Skiers returns to Snowmass this week
Nearly 900 members of Black ski clubs hit the slopes for annual summit
The National Brotherhood of Skiers is first and foremost a “social organization,” according to its president, Henri Rivers.
Its annual summit, in turn, is a “social event” — one where this week, more than 1,000 skiers and snowboarders from Black ski clubs from across the country will convene in Snowmass Village for tours, races, clinics, picnics, game nights, aprés parties, barbecues, entertainment and an abundance of outdoor recreation. The summit began with a welcome party Saturday, and “Gospel Fest” and parade Sunday; programming on and off the slopes runs through Feb. 12.
It’s the first in-person summit for the organization since early March 2020, when COVID-19 threw a heck of a wrench into the last big fete of nearly 600 revelers in Sun Valley, Idaho; a virtual iteration garnered about 700 participants in 2021, Rivers said. Returning to live programming “feels great,” he said in an interview at the Base Village Conference Center during set-up Thursday.
“You know, it’s almost like starting over,” Rivers said. “It’s only one year off, but it still seems like we’re so far out of touch with the in-person summit, but it’s just like being on a bike — we’re right back in it.”
Pandemic precautions were on the mind for this year’s return — there are fewer events in enclosed spaces, and Rivers acknowledged that “people are more cautious” this year — but the enthusiasm is also there if the growing summit participation is any indication.
Rivers sees it as something of a “rebirth” for the summit that first convened in Aspen in 1973 and has since met almost every year with the exception of 1974, 1976 and 2021. Nearly two dozen different resorts have played host to the summit in the past five decades; this year’s summit marks the sixth time Snowmass has hosted.
“We’re seeing a growth in our membership; we’ve seen a growth in people wanting to come outdoors and enjoy the outdoors,” Rivers said. “So with that said, I think across the board everywhere, people are becoming more cognizant of the outdoor space, and they realize that we want to utilize the outdoor space. … More people are listening. More people want to be involved with it.”
That growth within the National Brotherhood of Skiers could in turn manifest in more inclusion and representation on the mountain. Skiing has long had a reputation for its whiteness and not just because of the snow on the slopes; awareness and advocacy in the diversity, equity and inclusion sphere have manifested in the ski industry as in many others over the past two years.
Though Rivers maintains that the National Brotherhood of Skiers was founded as a social organization focused on camaraderie on the slopes, he also acknowledges that there is a layer of advocacy in the way the organization and the summit are moving forward.
“It’s not the NBS jumping out there saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to be social justice heroes,’” Rivers said. “No, we’re just everyday people that ski but are affected by the inequities that exist. … I believe that we need to stand up and use our platform to help promote equality.”
The summit serves as a major fundraiser for the organization’s Olympic Scholarship Fund, which helps identify and develop promising young athletes of color with the aim of getting Black skiers and snowboarders to the very top level of international competition. The organization also offers programming for people of color on the other end of the athletic spectrum — never-evers who might not otherwise try skiing or snowboarding in the first place.
But representation and visibility on the mountain is only part of the equation. It has to happen in the hiring structure of the ski industry, too, Rivers said, with more people of color in management positions, in the hospitality sector, on coaching rosters and in corporate boardrooms.
“Inclusion is not just selling lift tickets to Black people. … If you have inclusion from the inside, then that will permeate out,” Rivers said. “And sure, you’ll get more ticket sales, and that’s what they want, but we need to see more positions of color and show that you’re being inclusive.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the number of attendees at this year’s National Brotherhood of Skiers summit. There were nearly 900 people pre-registered but more showed up the week of, putting totals in the ballpark of more than 1,000 attendees; some estimates near 1,100.