Roger Marolt: Blinded by the whiteout on our ski slopes
When I talk about racial issues with people not from here, I oftentimes get the response, “You’re lucky. You don’t have racial issues there.” I know what they mean, because it’s true — we don’t have widespread racial tension in the village. But, is that a good thing? I mean, aren’t they really saying, “You’re lucky. You don’t have any racial issues there, because there aren’t many people of color”?
If so, yes, I suppose our lives are easier because we don’t have racial problems, but it comes at the cost of being a predominantly white community for our entire history. I don’t see that as fortunate. It seems, rather, kind of embarrassing.
I have given this more thought recently with the Black Lives Matter movement making its mark in history. Now I believe what we have created and sustain here might be loaded with inadvertent systemic racism. How otherwise can we consider ourselves lucky to not have enough racial issues to discuss as a community other than hypothetically? I suppose the fact that the few Black visitors we do have are mostly wealthy and educated makes us even luckier? That’s unsettling.
The skiing world is white, literally and figuratively. It is an obvious fact of life in our mountain resort. Few would dispute this. While we do have many hispanic people working here, almost none participate in the skiing culture. I would be surprised if anyone who lives here has not observed and remarked on this. Yet, do many ask why? This should be at the top of our list of uncomfortable things that we should discuss. Today, with few places to go and fewer crowds to be in, might be the right time to do it.
I don’t think people of color avoid our resort because of cost. While it is true that minorities in the United Sates generally have lower incomes — according to Census Bureau data, average Black household income was just 63% of that for average white households in 2018 — I am sure there are plenty of Black people wealthy enough to crowd the streets of our small resort towns, if they wanted to be here. I think they don’t want to be here more than they can’t be here, although both are big enough problems on their own.
We are slithering down a white rabbit hole: if people of color don’t feel comfortable here, is anyone responsible for that? My instinct tells me it is not just a random thing that happened. It doesn’t seem to add up. Skiing is fun and a lot of people who try it love it. Ski resorts are beautiful places to be in the wintertime, even for people who otherwise don’t love cold weather. We pamper guests, and who doesn’t enjoy that? It just doesn’t seem to fit that people of color are not a proportionally represented demographic here for the reason they just don’t like what we have to offer, at least on the surface.
Maybe it goes back to our mining and ranching roots. Perhaps discrimination carries over from the beginning of our history. That is an incredibly sad possibility for me to consider in that my ancestors have been here almost since this community was founded. One thing that doesn’t fit with this theory, however, is that I don’t think the Aspen-Snowmass ski resort is unique in excluding minorities and I don’t think most ski resorts share our mining or ranching heritages, although more than a few do.
It might be easier to blame the ski industry for promulgating our sport as something predominately for white people. Most ski resorts I have been to seem to be populated by a mostly white crowd. But, that is only an observation. I don’t believe a lot of statistics are being kept on this.
Or, maybe it’s related to an educated, white, wealthy culture that systemically puts up invisible barriers for minorities to enter. The education part of this formula is most problematic, however. That should be the key that offers movement away from racism, but maybe that’s only in theory. I don’t know.
So, while I don’t have any solutions for the lack of color in our community, I do know that we can’t continue to ignore something so obvious. Even if there is neither an obvious cause of it nor discoverable components to it that we can readily fix, I think we should at least be able to explain it reasonably to anyone who has the nerve to ask.
Roger Marolt wonders why an industry facing chronic stagnant growth has not reached out more to minorities to expand its customer base than it has focused on raising prices to sustain itself. Email him at email@example.com.
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Spend enough time on the trails and slopes of Snowmass Village and you’ll probably see Brandon Hawksley at some point — or his handiwork, anyway.