In early March, right before the coronavirus had started to spread in the United States, I was looking for travel inspiration for a birthday trip. Taking advantage of the proximity of Albany, New York to the mountains, I decided on a group ski trip to Hunter mountain with a few friends. As I had never skied before and none of my friends had either, I turned to social media for advice on appropriate ski attire for first-time skiers.
The hashtag #blackgirlski led me to Mount Noire Ldn, a group of black British skiers who posted images of themselves skiing and snowboarding. Their brightly colored outfits contrasted with the white snow in the background. The caption read “Bringing color to the mountain.”
After sharing a similar image of themselves from their first ski trip to Chamonix in 2019, the five women behind Mount Noire; Wenona Barnieh, Simisola Oke, Adeola Omotode, Tobi Adegboye, and Blessing Ekairia were inundated with questions from friends and strangers who wanted to go on ski trips.
“Planning a ski trip can be daunting if you have not been before. It is also quite expensive if you do so on your own, which is why we decided to pursue this as a business idea,” says Barnieh. “We are also aware that some black people may not have friends who are interested in skiing. We want to create a travel community where you can come on an all-inclusive ski trip and have fun with like-minded people.”
Mount Noire was founded shortly after that trip. Services include planning luxury ski holidays and providing insight and awareness to Black and ethnic minorities (BAME) interested in skiing.
The founders of Mount Noire spoke to POWDER about being black women in the ski industry, media representation of black skiers, and more.
POWDER: How did you individually become interested in skiing in the first place?
BARNIEH: My ski journey started in 2014; I learned to ski on dry and indoor slopes in the UK. I loved it but at the time I did not have anyone who shared the same passion with me and had not embraced solo traveling yet. Since finding likeminded adventurous girls, I have been to the French Alps, Bulgaria, and Slovakia.
OMOTODE: Skiing was first introduced to me by a friend from university back in 2015. At the time, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to spend their hard-earned money in the cold. However, after days of nagging from my friend, I was on my way to explore this so-called ‘blissful ski experience.’ So in other words, I was dragged to my first ever ski trip.
I was terrified, especially being afraid of heights, but despite my fears, I did it. It was one of the best trips ever! I remember the excitement and thrill of heading down the slopes with friends. Since then, I have been to other ski resorts in Slovakia and Chamonix.
EKAIRIA: I’m a novice skier, so most of the time you will find me on the blue slopes. I’ve wanted to go skiing for a long time and always missed the opportunity until 2018 when I skied in Chamonix for the first time. Now I’m hooked.
ADEGBOYE: I love trying everything in my life once and have surprised myself by ticking a few active sports underneath my belt. From paragliding, surfing, kayaking, kickboxing, mountain biking, hiking—it was only a matter of time before skiing took my interest. I had close friends who went regularly so we finally decided to organize a trip for just us and I absolutely loved it.
OKE: I was in my first year of medical school (2013), and my housemate convinced me to pay for a university ski trip. I don’t regret a single penny.
Skiing is a sport that is dominated by non-black people. Even in the media, not many black skiers are spotlighted. Was that an impetus for your mantra ‘Bringing color to the mountain?’
MOUNT NOIRE: When we started skiing, it felt like we were entering a white space. It was obvious some people felt that too. I recall our ski instructor pointing out that everyone in the queue for the chair lift was staring at us. It was simply the norm.
We have not experienced any overt racism on the slopes, however we were often approached at ski resorts with comments like “We don’t you usually see black people here” or “ I didn’t know black people liked skiing” shortly followed by “Can we take a picture with you?”
If you google “black female skier,” the first name that comes up is Seba Johnson, an African American Olympic athlete. In general winter sports, you may come across Shani Davis, Andre Horton, Ralph Green, Bonnie St. John, Errol Kerr, and the film “Cool Runnings.”
But, we don’t see ourselves represented in the sport. As a group, we bonded over the lack of representation and the want to see people like ourselves on the slopes, skiing, snowboarding, and having fun in the mountains.
You were set to host one of your first major trips and then corona hit. How has corona affected your business and what do you think the future of post-coronavirus ski travel will look like?
MN: We had to move our trip to March 2021. Our indoor ski networking event was also canceled. We anticipate that by 2021, international travel will again be possible. Our first official Mount Noire ski trip will go ahead as planned, hopefully. Anyone interested in the 2021 trip to Val Thorens can sign up via our website mountnoire.squarespace.com. and follow us on Instagram at @mountnoireldn.
Do you think the high cost of skiing is one of the reasons that has prohibited Black people and ethnic minorities to become avid skiers?
MN: Skiing is an expensive sport. Even if you live near a resort and can reduce transport costs, all the additional costs of equipment and ski passes add up. This could deter some Black people and those from ethnic minorities from booking a ski trip. For this reason, we deliberately choose resorts that are cost-effective and provide a good ski experience for all abilities.
We also have payment plans to allow people to spread the costs. As winter holidays become more appealing and popular in the Black community, the issue of cost will not deter people from trying it at least once.
How can non-Black skiers be true allies to Black and ethnic minorities when skiing?
MN: Representation is key. It makes a difference seeing people who look like us on the slopes. When recruiting for ski season staff, resorts should hire more staff from diverse backgrounds in leadership positions. Not just in maintenance roles.