By Yvonne McKenley-Hewitt, Nubian Ski Communications Manager
“Do Black people ski?” is a question that Nubian Ski Club is asked more often than we care to admit. However, after seeing a BBC Ski Sunday report discussing a lack of black people in skiing, we thought we would set the record straight.
Nubian Ski is a London based, black ski club and our aim is to encourage people of colour to participate in winter sports. The make-up of the group is mainly UK born skiers and boarders of African and Caribbean heritage, formed, in the initial stages through word-of-mouth. What bonds the group together is a love for outdoor adventure, a chance to make new friends, a travel bucket list and curiosity about skiing and snowboarding around the globe.
Formed in 2000, we are a non-profit organisation with members ranging from skiers and snowboarders who have never been on the slopes, to experts who have been skiing for over 30 years. Each year around a third of those travelling with us are complete beginners, a third are intermediates and a third are advanced.
We started the ski group after an ‘unhappy’ experience skiing in France, we decided to join the US based black ski group, National Brotherhood of Skiers, in Keystone, Colorado, USA. That year there were reported to be more than 9,000 African-American on the slopes, including Nubian Ski Club members.
In that first year Nubian Ski travelled with 40 members, in subsequent years we travelled with over 100 members seeking to experience the camaraderie and excitement of skiing and boarding. We travel with the NBS roughly every other year, as they do not always go to the resorts we want to visit.
There is a belief that skiing is just for the rich and privileged, however, that label does not fit us, or many of the other Black people we met on the slopes. Whilst we admit skiing is certainly not a cheap sport, members benefit from group discounts and paying for their holiday in instalments making it easier to manage the cost, as you might do with any other holiday.
To date, Nubian Ski has skied in Japan three times (Niseko and Hakuba Ski Resorts). For the most part we ski in Colorado (including Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, Aspen, Snowmass) and Canada from Whistler in the west through resorts in Calgary and most recently, Tremblant in Eastern Canada). In recent years, we tacked on a ‘sunshine’ leg to the holiday and have been to Thailand, Mexico, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Dominican Republic after the ski leg of the journey. Going forward, in a post-COVID world, we are looking at European destinations, as they are nearer and less costly!
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nubian Ski organised events that brought non-skiing members together like picnics, parties and barbecues. During the pandemic, we zoom and are looking forward to a time we can meet up in safety.
An important part of our remit is to support local charities and our current charity of choice is Urban Synergy, which mentors and supports school children to achieve high levels of academic and personal success for themselves. It also holds role model seminars so that young people can see other people of colour doing roles that they had not considered possible for them to do before.
Prior to that, we supported Snow Camp, a charity that supports young people to achieve through personal development, vocational training and introducing them to the experience of skiing and boarding. We have also helped to raise funds and awareness for the charity ACLT.org which encourages donors from the African and Caribbean communities in particular.
Nubian Ski members support the charities wherever they can. One particular member, who is also an organiser for the group, is Roger Walton. An avid skier and former soldier, Roger started skiing in 1988. A Black British man of Caribbean heritage, he skied for the first time in Austria, and has since skied extensively in Europe, North America and Japan.
Roger joined Nubian Ski in 2002 skiing in Banff and Lake Louise in Canada and has been with the club ever since. His enthusiasm is such that he has only taken two breaks from skiing since he started; one was for health reasons in 2015, and the other was due to the birth of his daughter.
When asked about the narrative of there being no black skiers, he said, “I saw the BBC Ski Sunday report that said there were no black skiers. It’s wrong to assume that there are no black skiers, it’s more reasonable to say more black skiers should be highlighted and represented. Quite simply, I enjoy skiing and the Nubian Ski Club has made me see parts of the world I’ve never seen before.”
In 2005, Kurt Dallas went on his first ski trip with Nubian Ski at the age of 40. He had previously wanted to ski for a long time, and a change of circumstances in his life gave him the opportunity to do so.
He thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the camaraderie that came with being amongst like-minded black people who enjoyed skiing. It gave him an ‘adrenaline rush’ and allowed him ‘to feel free with the wide-open space with snow’. It also allowed him to practice skiing as a sports discipline.
A medical diagnostic engineer, he has been on 11 ski trips with Nubian Ski and is the current President of Nubian Ski. His most memorable trip was in 2020, travelling to Tremblant in Canada and then the Dominican Republic.
When asked about the narrative of there being no black skiers, he said, “Nubian Ski has been going for 20 years. Lots of people who joined Nubian Ski also went with their white friends initially. They chose to join a black ski group as they felt the togetherness was better, and to avoid potential racism, which some of them have experienced.”
Nubian Ski Club is one of a handful of black European ski clubs that recognises the need for, acknowledges and encourages diversity within winter sports. Whilst the future of travel as a whole is uncertain, we do know that when it returns, clubs like Nubian Ski will continue to thrive once more. You just need to know where to find them.