This post was originally written for Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month in 2016. (To read the original article at Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, click here)
First came the Norwegians, who are credited with founding ski clubs in the U.S. and setting up commercial ski manufacturers.
Next up were celebrity Austrian ski coaches, imported to teach Americans how to slide, turn and stop.
By then a stereotype was in place: skiing was for athletic Nordic types and resorts were retreats for America’s wealthy. And while this may have been true at one time, this stereotype no longer holds.
Here in the second decade of the 21st-Century, snowsports participation is more broad and diverse than you might imagine.
Snowsports are Local
Just like neighborhood schools, city parks and swimming pools, ski areas are local community assets. And the more diverse the community, the more diverse the ski area.
While many famous destination resorts are in remote mountain areas, there are plenty of ski areas in the United States near large cities and in states with ethnically diverse populations.
For example, Liberty Mountain Resort near Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD. Being near two large diverse urban areas mean that Liberty serves a lot of people who are both new to snowsports and new to the U.S.
According to Anne Weimer, a spokesperson for Liberty Mountain, “We try to make our ‘Learn-To’ programs easy, and all of our staff, from ticketing to rentals to food service to lifts, are invested in catering to new skiers and snowboarders.”
This doesn’t mean that ski areas can just sit by and wait for people to come. Instead, many ski areas realize that they need to offer special programing and incentives to bring new populations to snowsports.
As Jim Wall, the Director of Services for Pat’s Peak Ski Area in Henniker, New Hampshire puts it, “Perception is everything. Large segments of our population don’t see themselves as skiers because they have few role models and they don’t necessarily feel welcome.”
Pat’s Peak Pay One Price Saturday Nights (POP)
At Pat’s Peak, POP stands for “Pay One Price.” And POP is a program to make learning to ski as welcoming, affordable and fun as possible for kids and adults from central Boston.
Offering “amusement park” pricing, POP Saturday Night guests pay just one price for rentals, lift tickets, lesson tips and live entertainment. Pat’s Peak is open from 3:00 – 10:00 p.m. on Saturdays and a ski area bus brings guests from Boston to the mountain and back again.
When POP began the price was just $21.00. Soon up to 2,800 people were arriving every Saturday.
In order to handle the crowds, and make sure everyone was having fun, Pat’s Peak expanded their base facilities and hired employees who could speak Mandarin, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Years later, POP Saturday Night skiing, riding, and now tubing, continues to be popular, with around 1,200-1,500 guests each week, 70-80% of whom are ethnically diverse, says Wall.
For 2018, the price was $49.00, still a great deal.
Diversity Day at Pat’s Peak
Since 2001, Pat’s Peak has also celebrated Diversity Day on Martin Luther King Day. Working with Youth Enrichment Services, a Boston-area non-profit, busloads of kids from inner city Boston visit Pat’s Peak for a day of skiing, snowboarding and a ceremony honoring Dr. King.
For these efforts, Pat’s Peak as awarded the first ever Diversity Leadership Award from Ski Area Management in 2006. Even more importantly, other New Hampshire ski areas now celebrate Diversity Day, as well.
Winter Park Resort Brings Kids to the Mountain and the Mountain to the Kids
About 90 minutes from downtown Denver (and nearly 7000 feet higher), Winter Park Resort offers free learn-to-ski packages for Denver children and teenagers through Denver Parks and Recreation.
Since 1997, over 30,000 Denver children and teenagers have learned to ski and snowboard at Winter Park.
“It’s an awesome program and we’re super proud to offer this opportunity to kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to ski,” explains resort Communications Director Steve Hurlbert.
Winter Park also operates an urban terrain park that brings the mountain to the city.
The Ruby Hill Rail Yard is a free terrain park located in Denver. Open in January, as conditions and snowmaking permit, over 6,000 children and adults rode at Ruby Hill in 2016. Corporate sponsors help pay the costs for the Ruby Hill Rail Yard and it is maintained largely by volunteers.
Vail Resorts and SOS Outreach Partnership
Since 1993, Vail Resorts has partnered with a national nonprofit called SOS Outreach. SOS Outreach helps underserved local kids experience outdoor adventure, provides adult mentors and creates opportunities for leadership development.
As of fall 2016, over 27,000 children and teenagers have participated in 100,000 program days on Vail Resorts’ mountains.
This includes youth from communities near Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek Resort, Keystone Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado; Park City Mountain in Utah; Heavenly Ski Resort, Kirkwood Resort and Northstar in California; and Mt. Brighton Ski Area near Detroit, Michigan.
Vail Resorts supports SOS Outreach financially as well as through donated lift tickets, rental equipment, and ski and snowboard instruction.
Because mentorship and leadership are important components of this effort, Vail Resorts also supports SOS Outreach Industry Day. This involves hosting SOS Outreach youth at the Vail Resorts corporate office and introducing them to careers in the outdoor industry.
Cultural Cooperation at Taos Ski Valley
Located near the town of Taos, New Mexico, Taos Ski Valley has a unique relationship with neighboring Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Twice a year, Taos Ski Valley management meets with the Pueblo War Council to discuss summer and winter operations and the resort’s long-term plans and impacts.
In addition to working with TSV to protect the local environment, Taos Pueblo elementary school students participate in a five-week learn to ski and snowboard program with students from other elementary, middle and high schools in Taos, and the nearby communities of Espanola, Questa and Las Vegas, New Mexico.
In 2016, 700 kids completed five weeks of lessons and the program expands every year.
Sunlight Mountain Resort 4th Grade Pass
Since 1998, Colorado’s Sunlight Mountain Resort has provided a free season pass to all local 4th graders.
Each fall, resort representatives coordinate with teachers and visit area classrooms to build excitement for skiing and snowboarding and to provide basic information such as what to wear, how a chairlift works and what to expect in a lesson. Then, Sunlight schedules a day for each school class to come and ski.
“Never-evers” get a free lesson and rental to get them started off right. Everyone gets a good time.
By giving a pass to 4th graders, Sunlight sets these kids up for three years of free and discounted ski tickets, as the resort’s pass program dovetails with Colorado Ski Country USA 5th and 6th grade passes.
One of the benefits of the program has been an increase in Latino families at the ski area. Although snowsports haven’t been a traditional part of local Latino culture, when parents they see their children having fun at Sunlight, the rest of the family gets often involved.
The National Brotherhood of Skiers
While many resort-based programs focus on younger generations, the National Brotherhood of Skiers brings together adult friends and family at their annual Black Summit.
The first Black Summit was held in Aspen in 1973. Thirteen black ski clubs came to Aspen to “identify and discuss problems and subjects which were unique to the black skiing population, ski and socialize,” according to Ben Finley, an NBS founder, as quoted on the NBS website.
In the years since, the National Brotherhood of Skiers has grown to 60 ski clubs, representing 43 cities with an individual membership of 3,000. The annual Black Summit is the largest annual gathering of skiers and riders in North America.
Does your local ski area or ski resort deserve a shout out for making snowsports more fun, accessible, welcoming and affordable for everyone?
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