Skiing Aspen African-American Styleby Louise Hudson
The scene: a brand new ritzy restaurant with Prosecco patio heated by trendy tabletop fire-pits. The clientele: exuberant African Americans relaxing in designer gear, sampling appetizers, quaffing beer and Italian champers, and dancing to professional DJ music. Sounds like just another chi-chi LA venue. But it was actually Elk Camp at Aspen Snowmass last week when 11 Californian ski clubs joined the National Brotherhood of Skiers to celebrate 40 years of black skiing.
NBS founder Arthur Clay presiding over the Picnic on the Piste
at the Spider Sabich Hut at Aspen Snowmass
The NBS was set up back in 1973 when black skiing was truly a minority sport. Even now, many people are surprised to see black skiers. But, contrary to statistics, around 3000 NBS skiers from all over America took over the snow-deluged slopes and the chic shops, hotels, condominiums and private homes dotting the extensive ski in/out resort of Snowmass. California clubs, whose usual mountains are Mammoth, Big Bear and Tahoe, included the All Seasons Ski Club, Oakland; Camellia City Ski Club, Sacramento; Fire and Ice Ski from San Jose; Snowbusters from Pasadena; and Winter Fox and Bladerunners from Los Angeles.
Jazz Ma Tazz from New Orleans wore the brightest ski suits
on the slopes last week; Darryl Joseph pictured
It was Lenore Benoit’s first visit to Snowmass, one of Aspen’s quartet of resorts. The current membership director for Winter Fox Ski Association joined the club after moving from New York in 1990. “One of the ladies at my new company befriended me and told me about Winter Fox. She said it was a great way to meet people as well as learn to ski,” said Benoit. She enjoys the club’s year-round activities including camping, house boat trips, watersports, river rafting, concerts, wine tastings and, of course, several ski trips. “I’ve never been to Aspen so it is just an awesome experience to come here and see the beauty and the amazing runs,” said Benoit. The social scene is particularly important to her: “Each trip I get to see people I haven’t seen for a while. They have become like family through the NBS. We meet skiing and then stay in touch, it’s just a beautiful thing.”
DJ B-Sharp from New Orleans revved up the rhythm at last Wednesday's Picnic on the Piste
Fellow Fox, Ida Cochrane is a past president of the club and member since 1980. A veteran with the NBS, she has seen numbers fluctuate at yearly summits which reached a peak at Vail in 1993 when there were 4000 registrants and another 2000 hangers-on. Every summit has its “renegades”, non-members who tag along for the party. Averaging 20 ski days per season, Cochrane meets up with friends from all over the States at NBS events especially her ski buddy, Georgia Odom who moved from LA to Texarkana, Texas, but re-connects annually under the Winter Fox banner: “I have never missed a season, I’m afraid if I stop I’ll never start again,” she said at the mid-week picnic on the piste. “My motto is as long as I can walk, I can ski.”
Georgia Odom lives in Texas but has been skiing with Winter Fox from Los Angeles for 20 years
Odom has skied the Italian, French, Austrian and Swiss Alps as well as resorts from New Mexico to Canada. After taking instruction courses in North America, Italy and France, she is an accomplished skier who feels a resurgence of youth during every Summit. “I also join in with all the happy hours and really enjoy myself – you would think I was 30 years old,” she said. After skiing Aspen Snowmass six times, it has become her firm favorite resort: “It’s easy to get to and the lodging is mostly ski in/out. You don’t need a car and everything is walkable. And the runs are wide open,” she enthused.
LA's Ida Cochrane is a former president of the Winter Fox Ski Association which she joined in 1980
The whole week of the NBS Summit, the party pulse was so persuasive that it made Snowmass locals and other tourists eager to join in the après action. “I worked security one night and saw so many non-members who wanted to join in all the fun,” said Darryl Joseph, a member of the Jazz Ma Tazz ski club from New Orleans. “The resort staff were dancing more than us!” NBS sponsors Diageo had brought DJ Ike T and DJ B-Sharp from New Orleans to emcee the week’s activities. Apart from the après ski, Joseph’s main focus on NBS trips is the sport: “I am back on skis after surgery. I’ve been skiing three years and injury hasn’t stopped me. I think Snowmass is wonderful, very welcoming, the mountain is great and the weather has been fantastic,” he said. He was loving the abundant snowfalls after the heat of Louisiana. But it was the strength in numbers that was particularly gratifying for him. “When I ski outside the organization I don’t see many African Americans. So it’s great that once or twice a year I get to see so many African Americans enjoying skiing together,” he said.
Colorado's Zyre Austin is a halfpipe hopeful for the Sochi Olympics
Original founders, Ben Finley and Arthur Clay were center stage last week, presiding over at the opulent opening ceremony on the Westin Snowmass patio. Clay has been skiing since 1965 when he was often the only black skier on the slopes. Bringing together 350 skiers from 13 black ski clubs for the first NBS summit in Aspen, he has since helped develop the organization to encompass 60 clubs from 43 cities over 25 states. “It’s a big family reunion,” said Clay, who had to overcome considerable trial and tribulation to keep the NBS alive. “A lot of people have told me over the years you can’t do this. But it is doable although there’s a lot of administration.”
Line Dancing in ski boots adds an extra challenge at the NBS Picnic on the Piste
Featuring team colors and cheers, dances, prayers, national anthem, torchlit ski and fireworks, the opening ceremony heralded a host of diverse on and off snow activities throughout the week. As well as ski and snowboard races, piste picnics, happy hours, concerts and comedy, there were also special events for tag-along non-skiers including a movie screening, gospel fest and shopping spree.
Handy ski rental and valet service right on the ski slopes at Crestwood Condominiums
Just like every other recreational and professional sport, as black populations climb the economic ladder, so black athletes are gradually infiltrating every wintersport discipline and it won’t be too long before they are topping the podium at Olympic and World Cup events. The NBS has already sent skiers to the US National Championships, the Winter Paralympics and the Vancouver Olympics. With membership topping 3000, the non-profit, volunteer-run association is one of the largest ski organizations within the industry. The Summit itself is the largest gathering of skiers and riders among all US ski conventions. Although serious ski-related issues are addressed (such as introducing the sport to underprivileged inner city youth), it is all about skiing, snowboarding and socializing for most participants.
For Sochi Olympic hopeful, Zyre Austin the week was an opportunity to have fun, showcase her talents and further consolidate her sponsorship relationship with Jim Dandy Ski Club from Detroit. The cute Colorado skier is a halfpipe champ, ranked 20th in the AFP World Ranking. “I’m going to work as hard as I can to go to Sochi,” she said. “I was ranked fifth in the US before the Aspen Open.” Austin hopes to train in New Zealand this summer supported by her NBS sponsors. “Although I live in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, my main supporters are Jim Dandy who help me go to camps and provide funds for all the competitions,” explained the 19-year-old who has been on skis since 11 months old. Her home hills are Aspen, Snowmass and Buttermilk.
Knee-deep powder last week on Aspen Snowmass's double diamond
terrain at Headwall off the Cirque Poma
As well as the Westin and Viceroy, many of the NBS skiers were staying at the recently renovated Crestwood Condominiums right on the Snowmass home run and a skate across the piste to Venga Venga, one of the hottest après ski spots in town. Complete with rental store and ski valet, the Crestwood accesses the slopes on either side of the complex and has a warm waiting room for the free resort shuttle buses. As well as a gym, there are two heavenly hot tubs and lap pool with rocky waterfall landscaping. It’s the perfect family venue with spacious two-floor apartments and home-from-home kitchens. The Aspen Snowmass ski pass also includes Apex Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk all linked by free buses - http://www.aspensnowmass.com
This article is in Huntington Beach News, Los Angeles right now on: http://www.hbnews.us/feature3.html