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Building Community and Experiences: A Season with Ikon Pass

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

In an instant, my mind went from interpreting scientific data to daydreaming about turn after turn in winter wonderlands. I was at work when the notification came in: I had won the SheJumps Ikon Pass giveaway! When reality hit, I exploded with exhilaration–this was my opportunity to make my long-deferred ski dreams come true!

When SheJumps announced their Ikon Pass open nominations, I immediately submitted a self-nomination. I was hopefully optimistic, but tried not to get my hopes up too high. SheJumps serves lots of worthy women, and I was honored to be considered. But, when a few friends, then a few more, told me they had nominated me as well, I couldn’t help but feel humbled and hopeful. Words cannot describe the joy I felt the moment I was notified that I had won the Ikon Pass through SheJumps!

Dreams Activated

I was introduced to skiing only a few years ago. I fell in love instantly. In addition to my work as a scientist, I got a part-time job teaching ski lessons to beginners at Stevens Pass in Washington. I absolutely love teaching and helping my students overcome barriers on the hill. Furthermore, I wanted to change some old biases about the type of person who belongs on the slopes.

In pursuit of my skiing dreams, I knew I had to take my Ikon Pass to visit Colorado, Utah, and California. Resorts such as Arapahoe Basin, Alta, Snowbird, and Mammoth Mountain were high on my list and ranked as non-negotiable visits. Travel reward points on my credit card made these trips convenient and affordable. Additionally, my parents live in Colorado so visiting them is an extra bonus.

The following days, I found myself zoning in and out of powdered fantasies several times a day.

Winning this pass also meant paying it forward, so I made time during the season to teach free beginner ski lessons to women of color at The Summit Snoqualmie. The importance of giving back, especially to those who are marginalized, is paramount to me. I love being able to take this new passion and share it with others.

Powder Deep - Fernie Alpine Resort

In the weeks preceding ski season, I made new online connections, including Claire Smallwood, the Executive Director of SheJumps. Although it’s hard to make genuine connections virtually, Claire and I became friends instantly. Of course, we have a common interest in skiing, but we really bonded over discussions about SheJumps, outdoor disparities, social justice, and breaking barriers for people of color. I had to meet her in person.

I suggested we get together as part of a ski trip I had planned with friends to Canada. Lucky for me, our dates, times, and location worked out.

The powder was coming down hard the week I arrived in Fernie. The resort was getting 8-14 inches each day, with temperatures ranging from -4 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. The snow was light, fluffy, abundant, and waist-deep. The powder left me feeling weightless as I skied each legendary bowl at Fernie. With each turn, I was laughing and smiling. I felt like I was floating through nothingness. It was a fantastic, yet exhausting, experience. Skiing powder is hard when you don’t have much experience doing so.

The final day at Fernie, my friends and I met with Claire; skiing and après were on the agenda. She met us mid-mountain at Bear’s Den, and when Claire walked in, I felt an instant connection. It was like seeing a long-lost friend. Once everyone became acquainted, we hit the slopes! I skied right behind Claire and observed her speed, skill, and agility. For a second, I thought I was watching a Canadian lynx spring into action. She took us around the mountain, putting on a skiing clinic along the way. She taught us about creating rebound, turns, and using pole plants to create tempo. We all improved our powder skiing within an hour. We explored until closing when our extraordinary day came to end. I was sad to leave, but excited to continue my Ikon Pass ski journey on my next trip to Colorado.

Improbable Realities - Arapahoe Basin – A Time of Healing

When I arrived in Denver, I knew I had to take my parents to a ski resort. Despite being non-skiers, my parents were excited to experience a ski resort for the first time. I opted for Arapahoe Basin, known as A-Basin, a resort established in 1945 in the wake of racial segregation, disenfranchisement, and white terrorism on black bodies. In fact, Colorado was once home to one of the nation’s largest KKK chapters, and segregation was enforced to the utmost including on mountain spaces. Unbeknownst to my parents, I took them to A-Basin to reclaim a piece of the outdoors. They were born in the era of segregation, Jim Crow, and civil rights, and I wanted to take them here specifically because of the timeframe in which this resort was established. I wanted to help them heal from past traumatic experiences endured in white spaces. I also wanted them to experience how these spaces have evolved and changed for the better.

I packed the car with my gear, our lunches, and board games, and we began our two and one-half hours drive through the highest mountain pass in Colorado, Loveland Pass. My parents were amazed by the Rocky Mountains and were in awe about how the bare highways and arid terrain could transform into icy roadways and snow packed mountains. As we slowly ascended the winding roads, my parents and I took in the stunning and spectacular views of the continental divide. It was intoxicating–my parents had only seen views like this in National Geographic and on TV.

With a few more winding turns we made it to A-Basin. I gave my parents the grand tour of the base area, visiting all the lodges to find prime window seating at A-Frame Lodge. We sat together for a long while taking in the views. As time passed, I watched their anxieties regarding safety in white spaces fade into calmness. They were no longer apprehensive and worried, and it was time for me to depart for adventure. I slipped on my colorful tutu and I told my parents to keep a lookout for me as I would make several laps on the front side of the mountain while passing the lodge. For my parents the imagery of me skiing was powerful; it offered them healing, hope, and inspiration. This was especially true for my father, as he worked the fields as a child from 6 am to noon.

When I met my parents in the lodge for lunch, they had moved to the outdoor patio, so I pinwheeled on my skis at the base to bring an added spark of joy. They were elated! Over lunch, my parents were all smiles, gloating about me being the first skier in our family. They never thought skiing was a possibility for anyone in our family due to many barriers to gain entry. They also told me about the people they met and the conversations they had while I was gone. Now, they even wanted to try skiing! I relished in their happiness as they rejoiced in the improbable reality of being on the hill. Sitting, taking it all in, I reflected on the oppressive and traumatic history of my family, how we overcame, and how my parents reclaimed a piece of the outdoors in a place that black people were once not wanted.

Improbable Realities - Arapahoe Basin – Changing the Narrative

After lunch, it was time for serious adventure. I took off and explored advanced terrain on the front side of the mountain, then headed to the backside where I met a white man named Travis, a beginner plus skier from Ohio. I came across him at the base of Zuma, where he’d been ditched by his co-workers. After he told me the story of his abandonment, we stood in silence, and I knew I had to make him the side-kick to my internal cold-based super heroine, Artic Blast, an innately daring intermediate skier with explosive Black girl magic; plus, she’s an icon with an Ikon Pass.

Travis and I united forces on the Zuma lift, talking more about what happened and the importance of ski buddies. I took Travis on his first black diamond run, Northern Spy, off Mountain Goat Traverse. Initially, I could tell he was nervous as we dropped in, but with every turn, I could see his confidence increase. I gave him tips on speed control and how to use the terrain to his advantage and before he knew it, Travis had completed the run. I could see his stoke and intrepid spirit grow within him, so we went on more challenging runs including his first time venturing into the trees. We had a blast navigating steep chutes and low hanging branches.

As the day came to an end, we ran into his co-workers on the backside and they could not believe Travis could accomplish this feat; their jaws were left hanging. Travis and I soaked in that glorious moment, and he took the opportunity to boast about his new ski buddy (me) and our epic adventures. As a final confirmation, they watched him ski smoothly down a black diamond run, leaving them in awe. I basked in his joy. The day ultimately came to end, Travis and I parted ways, and he was left with ski memories of a lifetime fulfilled by a Black woman – a narrative that some would consider an improbable reality.

Ripping Alta and Snowbird

Flying into Utah I was met by the profound beauty of the Wasatch Mountain Range. Laced with snow, its rugged peaks and ridgelines appeared to sweep into infinity. The landscape was magnetizing. With every glance its beauty became etched into my memory forever.

Driving up Little Cottonwood Canyon, I took in all the scenery as I blasted music while recalling epic scenes from Ingrid Backstrom’s ski videos. My level of stoke was 100 out of 10; I couldn’t believe my dream of skiing Alta would soon be reality. I cried when I got to the parking lot because I never thought a trip here to ski would be possible for me.

I dried my tears, slipped on my tutu, and strategically parked my rental jeep with Alta Mountain in the background and asked a passerby to take my picture so I could capture my presence in a dream come true.

I spent my time dropping into the powder caches of Sugar Bowl and EBT/Collins. Then, I ventured off into some popular black diamond runs such as Cecret Saddle and Amen. About my seventh ride up the Sugarloaf chairlift, I met some ripping skiers, Kevin and Carol, both in their 60s – one a native of Utah and the other a native of Seattle. We chatted about my tutu, outdoor disparities and how SheJumps is creating accessibility in skiing for WOC through their Ikon Pass giveaway. They were impressed with SheJumps initiatives as they thoroughly understood the historical backdrop of racial inequality in our country that has created so many successful barriers for Black people to overcome.

We took a few black diamond test runs together, then they took me off piste to more challenging terrain. We came across a powder cache next to a cliff. It wasn’t too high, but was steep enough to have me concerned. The line looked fun yet terrifying, and with encouragement from my ski buddies, I went for it. As I dropped in, fear pitted my stomach, my skis crossed, and my body was tossed by the terrain into powder. Unscathed, I uncrossed my skis and popped-up, feeling a combination of embarrassment and adrenaline–I laughed and finished the run. Afterwards, we got lunch together and discussed the dark history of oppression, the recent loss of my brother, and mental health disparities. Our conversations were deep, constructive, and therapeutic. After lunch we parted ways, I headed to Snowbird and they continued at Alta. As I skied and took in the absolute beauty of Snowbird I couldn’t help but recall the connection I had made with those two ripping skiers at Alta–their kindness, compassion, and solidarity will never be forgotten.

A Journey Over Too Soon

Then everything changed. COVID hit and our ski season came to an abrupt and immediate end. My childhood dream of skiing Mammoth was cancelled. The bi-monthly free ski lessons I provided to WOC for free were also cancelled. I felt sad. Sad that I, like so many others in this country, would be missing out on plans I had been eagerly looking forward to. I was also sad to have only been able to help one woman of color learn how to ski.

Although I did not get to go full circle with the Ikon Pass as I had been hoping, I was able to help heal my parents, change the narrative about who belongs on the ski slope in at least three resorts, and break a barrier for at least one woman of color. For that I will forever be grateful to have been a recipient of the SheJumps Ikon Pass giveaway. I was able to live out a few of my big mountain dreams and experience new terrain while becoming a better skier and instructor.

As I moved through the mountains, I couldn’t help but notice the repeating theme of being the only Black woman on the hill. My presence was always noticed, questioned, or scrutinized. The unsolicited slowing down of the chairlift, the redirection by others from a black run to a green run, and the harmful coded language used to identify my blackness, all confirmed that my black body was not an expected sight for the typical skier or snowboarder. Not seeing minorities on the hill is direct reflection of systems of oppressions designed to deny Black people access to winter sports. The stereotypes that “Black people don’t ski” and “Black people don’t like the cold” are generational lies passed down from one generation to the next to hide the exclusionary practices and atrocities of inequality. Perhaps telling these lies made us all feel better; perhaps these lies were told so much we believed it instead of facing the truth that Black and Brown bodies were not wanted on the slopes. Hopefully one day, my blackness and other black bodies will be normalized on the hill. Until then, I will keep skiing, teaching, wearing tutus, and bringing Black, Indigenous, and people of color to the sport.

Snowpack Scholarship

SheJumps Snowpack Scholarship is back and better than ever! We’re looking for motivated women who want to push past their perceived limitations when it comes to snowsports. We encourage women of color and individuals with demonstrated financial need to apply, as 100% of Ikon scholarship spots and 56% of AIARE Level 1 scholarship spots are earmarked for participation by women of color. Applications are open from October 1 through the 31.

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