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Bringing ethnic diversity to the slopes

Targeting the non-white population to cultivate a new market of skiers and snowboarders



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In fact, people of colour comprise one of the largest ski organizations in the world. Following its first Summit, a gathering of over 350 skiers in Aspen Colorado in 1973, The National Brotherhood of Skiers was chartered. Its primary purpose: to place a black skier on the U.S. Ski Team. An ambitious goal considering it was a time when African-Americans on the ski slopes were a rarity and black ski clubs were an exception. Today the organization has grown to 84 clubs representing 41 cities with a reach of 20,000 adults and youth. The NBS is recognized by the ski industry as one of the largest ski organizations and its Summit as the largest gathering of skiers – more than any other ski convention in the United States.

There’s a local club that would like to achieve similar success. The Vancouver Chinese Ski Club is a group that possesses a membership of more than 60 people. The two organizations have a dramatically different membership base but the same worthy goals. Simon Tam, the club’s president explains what the club is all about. "We’re just similar people form similar backgrounds that all have a passion for skiing and snowboarding."

In the past some members have gone on the get their Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance level one certification, and then work at Whistler-Blackcomb and Grouse Mountain, teaching other members of the club.

Moreno and Tam share the same passion for skiing and a little of the same bewilderment that the industry is not picking up on the opportunity that minority skiers represent.

A quick review of the statistical evidence from Trovato and Wu confirms the potential: "Vancouver’s visible minority population grew to 37 per cent in 2001. One-in-three Vancouver residents is Asian, with 18 per cent of the city’s population having Chinese and eight per cent South Asian ethnic backgrounds."

Tam sometimes wonders if ski areas have a slightly myopic view of the Chinese ski community. "Ski areas are looking for short-term financial returns rather than the long-tem benefit of attracting more Chinese people to try skiing," he says.

Tam has been around the ski business long enough (he’s also a boot fitter at Mountain Equipment Co-op) to understand the realities of the industry.

"I’m only guessing but my assumption is that money is tight and ski hills don’t have a lot to spend supporting minority ski clubs."

The exception, says Tam, is Hemlock Valley Resorts in Agassiz, B.C.

"The past couple of seasons they have held a community day specifically targeted to Chinese people to get the interested in skiing and snowboarding."