Emily Coombs, a pioneer of big mountain skiing who became a catalyst for helping integrate Jackson Hole's Latino community into winter sports, is retiring from the Doug Coombs Foundation. In what started as an idea six years ago to build the foundation, largely by herself, has since become one of the most remarkable nonprofit success stories in the ski world.
But as she stated this week, Coombs needs to move on to find a career that will support herself and her son, David. In a Facebook post on May 18, she wrote:
"It is with a heavy heart that I chose to resign from my job with the Doug Coombs Foundation. I created this foundation both for a meaningful career and to change the situation in Jackson Hole where the kids of the Latino workforce were not included in the organized sports programs. I wish the 'career' part had worked out as this was so much more than a job. It was my life. But I need to make a living, so after six years I realized this was never going to happen working for a nonprofit organization in Jackson Hole. I hope you will continue to support the kids so they can continue to participate in the sports programs enjoyed by their peers. Diversity without inclusion is not a good thing for any community, and very sad for innocent children."
Mary Erickson, the foundation's executive director, said Coombs leaves the foundation in a healthy place. When Coombs launched the organization in 2012, she enrolled 28 kids and helped them receive financial assistance for ski rentals, lift tickets, and lessons. This past winter, the foundation served 191 children, including 38 of the kids' parents. It also now staffs two full-time employees and another part-time position—all for the purpose of helping those less fortunate get outdoors and for Jackson to be a more inclusive community.
"It's not an unhealthy thing for an organization to grow and evolve," Erickson said this week. "And I think she realized she's taken it as far as she could. She's very much an entrepreneur and now it's time to hand it over as all the pieces are in place. She also wanted to make sure we're fully committed to her mission, which we are."
"We're deeply grateful for everything she's done," Erickson added.
Coombs founded the organization in 2012 after the death of her husband, Doug Coombs, one of the greatest skiers of all time who died while skiing in La Grave, France, in 2006. In an interview with Powder on Wednesday, Coombs said she originally wanted the foundation to enable a career for herself, as she needed something to do when she gave up running steep-skiing clinics after Doug's passing. The other goal was to "solve a problem" of helping to ease racial divisions within Jackson Hole. In a population of roughly 10,000, an estimated 28-33 percent are Latino. Yet Coombs rarely, if ever, saw any of them skiing or taking part in the outdoor activities that make Jackson such a desirable place to live.
By welcoming the children into skiing, she figured, the parents would follow. And they have.
"Just seeing these kids out there and thriving and being included in the community, and seeing the parents getting to know each other, that's what makes me feel good," Coombs said. "It's not about the skiing; skiing is just the way you make change happen."
As a lifelong skier, Coombs says intends to teach skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort this coming winter, and is interested in starting ski camps for women ages 50 and up. She also plans to ski more with David, who is 14, and the close friends she's made through the foundation.
She also hopes the goals of the foundation spread to other ski towns. Now that Coombs has done the legwork, she’s shown what’s possible. “This actually works and the community is better for it,” she said. “Hopefully it will go to other ski towns. Now that you see how this works, other communities aren't starting in the dark.”