Wherever they go, the National Brotherhood of Skiers brings the snow and the party. That rang as true this year as ever, when the Brotherhood brought 550 people to Squaw Valley, California, in mid-March, just after a four-day storm cycle dropped more than 80 inches of snow.
"When it cleared up, everybody was like, 'Yeah, we are right on time," said Peggy Allen, the president of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, on the last day of their annual summit earlier this month.
Every year since their first gathering in Aspen, Colorado, in 1973, the Brotherhood has hosted an annual ski summit, assembling the largest group of black skiers in the United States. The week is a mix of slopeside DJs, parades, après ski parties, old friends reuniting, and, of course, skiing. The Brotherhood is a strong community that turns new members into committed skiers every year. Their summit is also a fundraiser to support more youth minorities in winter sports, with the goal of putting black skiers on Olympic podiums. Today, 45 years since their first summit, the Brotherhood represents 53 ski clubs in four regions across the country and 3,000 members.
At Squaw Valley, the Brotherhood wore their signature ski club jackets, representing their homes and cities and groups all week long. Emblems and patches displayed clubs like "Sugar & Spice Snow & Social Club" and the Sunshine Slopers. The Sno-Gophers arrived from Chicago and the Tenn-A-Ski Mavericks came in from Memphis. On the first day of the summit, the Brotherhood's ski clubs marched through the village in a parade. On the last day, I sat down with Allen to catch up on the week, dish about the parties, and ask how we can bring more diversity to skiing. Allen's friend and PR Director Lawanda Joseph had a few words to say, too.
How did you get started with the Brotherhood?
Allen: Back in 2000, I went skiing with a friend who invited me. I went and did a three-day learn-to-ski and I came back to Albany and was like, 'I love this.' I helped found the Nubian Empire Ski Club out of Albany, New York, where I was the founding president.
I think it's important to get people of color out during the winter, especially in our more Northern states where they tend to be in more. It really has opened up a lot of people's eyes just to be out.
How old were you when you started skiing?
Let's see, it's been 18 years, and I'm 60, so 42ish? That sounds good.
That's awesome, and not many 42-year-olds pick up skiing and stick with it.
It helped that I was athletic and because of the NBS. I talk about what a great community it is, and they just surrounded me.
We look out for each other. I took my learn-to-ski and then people came to me afterward and said, 'Come on, let's go out and practice.' 'What did you learn?' 'Don't worry, we won't leave you.' That's a great thing that we do—if we see people out there, skiing by themselves, it's: 'Come on, come join us!'
What's your advice to hosting a solid, fun ski trip? Clearly, you know how to host a good ski vacation.
First of all, you need to have a very good team in place. When you have that strong team in place, then you can build on that.
Our opening ceremony is on Sunday and we get all the clubs gathered with their brightly colored jackets and their banners and this year, they walked in the village and we announced them like in the Olympics. 'Now here's Tenn-A-Ski from Tennesee, and the Sunshine Slopers out of Florida.' They come in with their banners and everybody is like, 'Yay!'
We did our outdoor après ski, and it was beautiful. We had food and the DJ and we partied for a good three hours outside. Our other big signature event is our picnic on the hill. We took over the KT deck here. Once again, a lot of people wear their jackets on that day. I asked for and got a perfect day. It was sunny. The sky was blue.
This is a group that skis a lot. But we also party and we say we always party with a purpose, and our purpose is to have a youth of color stand up on an Olympic podium for winter sports, and also to introduce youth minorities to winter sports.
What were your best turns of the week?
I got first tracks on Monday. I fussed about getting up early, you know—I don't want to get up, I'm tired. But I got out there and it was another one of those beautiful blue days. We have what we call our Bro Pros that are professional certified ski instructors. There were probably about 40 of us and we all went out and broke up into little groups.
We also had Errol Kerr, [who competed in the 2010 Olympics Skicross in Vancouver, BC, for the Jamaican ski team,] and he was out there in all his Jamaican green. He skied with us. I was standing still and saw all this green going past me, and I was like, 'Oh my God, I've never seen anyone ski so fast in my life.' And I'm thinking, 'That's probably not the fastest he goes.' No wonder he was in the Olympics!
What's ahead for the Brotherhood?
As with all ski clubs, it's bringing the younger people in. They tend not to be joiners as much as we were joiners back in the day. So, how do we reach out to them? It's getting more tech savvy and trying to reach out to them in their language. Facebook is starting to be passè, so it's Instagram and all that stuff. I think it's best we get the word out to them in their language to get them on board.
What does skiing bring to you in your life now? What does it give you?
You're out there when you're skiing and it's that gliding, that floating, that sense of freedom. You know, where you just feel good. My song that I sing to myself on my last run of the day—I feel good, duh nuh nuh nuh… That's my song that goes through my head.
Skiing, I made friends. It's opened up a different world to me, and definitely a whole new community. I wouldn't have met my dear friend, here, Lawanda. Some people I may only see once a year, but I saw them yesterday, and some people I have good friendships with and stay in contact with. It's always nice to be around likeminded people who ski and support our cause and like to get on the dance floor and dance at night and repeat all over again the next day. Mmm, hmm.
What would you like to see to bring more diversity to the outdoor industry?
The National Brotherhood of Skiers, we have a really high retention rate, so once we introduce people to skiing or boarding, they stick with it. We are still a growing community of people who are going to the mountains.
Joseph: One thing [the industry] could be really conscious and aware of is in their marketing materials. It would be advantageous, not only to the African American community but to them [ski resorts], is to have images that look like us, occassionally. It would help. You can go through the magazines, you can go on the websites, and you seldom see images that look like us. That is something I would love to see. It's kind of sad, that in this day and time, you're not seeing more images of diversity.
Allen: And you know, it's not just African Americans; you don't see Asians, Latinos, everything. My wonderful PR person—she's right on the money. People want to go someplace and feel included. When you look at brochures and websites and you see nobody that looks like you, it makes you wonder how welcome you are. I think the mountain should utilize us. We are a great resource. We haven't been around for 45 years for nothing.
When you started skiing, what kept you engaged in the community?
A lot of people come and stay with us because they know our cause and they think our cause is wonderful. But also, there are a lot of hugs and kisses and stuff going on. We're just like that naturally and we embrace each other. To me, it's like, how do you walk away from that?