Paul E. Anna: High Points |

Paul E. Anna: High Points

Paul E. Anna
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

My first indication that this week would be a little different here in Aspen came when I boarded a Chicago-Aspen non-stop on Monday morning. As I took my seat and opened my paper the crowd filed past me as they boarded and took their seats.

There was the usual banter, people talking about snow conditions and the previous night’s Super Bowl, but there was something a little unusual for a flight to Aspen. The vast majority of the passengers, I mean about 75 percent of them, were black. Given the percentage of African-Americans in America, that would be a high percentage to be sure, but on a flight to Aspen, well, it was a first for me.

Now before we get all politically correct here, you know if you live in Aspen that we have many things of which we can be proud, but racial diversity is not one of our strong suits. On any given night in any given restaurant the crowd is likely to be overwhelmingly white. The same is true on the slopes. So when I saw the crowd on my flight it occurred to me this must be The National Brotherhood of Skiers coming to town.

And I was right.

The next day ” a crystal-clear, bluebird ski day on Snowmass ” at least 50 percent of the skiers on the mountain were black. And they were having a killer time. It was perfect snow, perfect weather and all-in-all a perfect ski day.

The National Brotherhood of Skiers was founded in 1973 right here in Aspen. The concept was to form a coalition of ski clubs from across the nation whose members were, for the most part, black. The idea was that the more skiers had in common with each other the better time they would have. The founders, Art Clay and Ben Finley, held their first Summit in Aspen, and since that time the organization has grown to more than 8,000 members.

This year’s Summit saw nearly 1,000 skiers descend on Snowmass to ski, slide and party. A non-profit organization, the NBS also looks to promote the sport of skiing among urban youth and currently has a program in place designed to help a black youth reach the pinnacle of the sport. They have sponsored a number of skiers who are reaching for the dream, competing in ski races around the world.

It was a pleasure to have the NBS in town these past few days, and it was great to see people enjoy themselves so much on the hill. When you break it down, skiing really is a brotherhood. Everyone who stands on Snowmass this afternoon and looks across the mountains at the blue skies before preparing for a run feels the same rush of adrenaline, the same joy of being outdoors.

This past weekend, African-American head-coach Mike Tomlin led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Super Bowl 43 title ” less than two weeks after Barack Obama was inaugurated as our 44th president. In our country the barriers that blocked access in the past for people of color are coming down daily.

I like to think the National Brotherhood of Skiers has played a role in the positive transformation in our nation.

Thanks for coming.

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