Snowsports, especially skiing and snowboarding, is historically a stratified space—majority white, majority wealthy, and athlete visibility has been majority male for a long time. The buy in to get into these sports is high, with the costs of equipment, skyrocketing pass prices, transportation, and mentorship stacking up quickly. Added to the ticket are expectations around mobility that have also shut many adaptive athletes out of the conversation.
Organizations and events in New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming have been and continue to make strides, working to bridge the opportunity gap for a wide variety of snowsports athletes. “People are born with an equal distribution of talent,” says Seth Ehrlich, executive director of SOS Outreach, which gets kids on the slopes. “What is missing is connection to resources and connection to opportunities.”
Patricia Ann Cameron started Blackpackers in 2019 with the goal of helping bridge the representation gap for Black people in the outdoors. For Cameron, closing that gap starts at addressing the wealth gap for the Black community. She hopes she can open the economic opportunities of recreation to a wider swath of BIPOC folks. “We want to make sure that the experiences can set them up for success on their own or wherever they choose to go in their careers or personal adventures with the outdoors,” says Cameron of Blackpackers’ programming.
This winter, Blackpackers will partner again with Arapahoe Basin to provide two clinics (serving around 70 people, split among instructors), all expenses paid. The clinics are meant for beginners, and gear is provided, including skis/board, boots, helmet, goggles, and base layers if needed. Participants will receive a half-day lesson and a lift ticket to explore the bunny hill beforehand. “When you don’t have a lot of financial backing behind you because of generational wealth issues, recreation isn’t the first thing on your mind,” says Cameron. blackpackers.org
Founded in Colorado in 1993, SOS outreach has been part of the snowsports world for 30 years. The organization engages 3,000 youth across 24 mountain resorts in 10 states. It offers a multiyear curriculum from fourth grade through high school to kids who don’t have the resources to get on the slopes. In Colorado, SOS Outreach partners with nine mountains to teach and mentor over 1,800 kids. Equipment, lift tickets, instruction, and mentorship are provided free of charge. You can find programs in Durango, Steamboat Springs, Eagle County, Leadville, and Metro Denver.
Christy Sports and Nordica also collaborated with SOS Outreach and former graduates of the program to design a limited-edition ski, raising $21,000 over the past season from sales of the ski. “With every pair that we sold, we could provide a year’s worth of mentoring for another underrepresented kid,” says Randy England, director of marketing at Christy Sports. Twenty skis still remain and can be purchased HERE this season to exclusively support SOS Outreach. sosoutreach.org
Eldora Mountain Resort and Ignite Adaptive Sports, Colorado
A Front-Range favorite, Eldora has a wide smattering of partnerships and programs planned for this season. Three outside contractors, including BIPOC Mountain Collective, Native Women’s Wilderness, and Ski Noir 5280 will likely host events, lessons, and clinics at Eldora this year. And local elementary and middle school students can receive rental gear, day lessons, and meals through the Ned Shreds program at a substantial discount.
At the base of Eldora, you can also find Ignite Adaptive Sports. Operating for over 40 years, Ignite provides people with disabilities, both children and adults, the opportunity to get on the snow and shred. Folks can choose from alpine or cross-country skiing, snowboarding, ski biking, and snowshoeing.
And the program won’t turn anyone away for financial reasons. Scholarships are available, as are free adaptive lessons for military veterans with disabilities. The Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center also provides adaptive skiing and riding lessons at Breckenridge, Keystone, and Copper Mountain. Advanced reservations are recommended and are open now. eldora.com, igniteadaptivesports.org
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
You can’t think of New Mexico skiing without thinking of Taos. On the steeps and on the bunny hill, you’ll find a variety of programs suited to a skier or rider’s needs.
For their third year, Taos will host the Jedi Outdoors BIWOC Advanced Instructor Training Program. Black, Indigenous, People of Color are severely underrepresented in the professional ski instructor world, especially at the higher levels. The women who are part of this program receive coaching from Olympic gold medalist Deb Armstrong; Humaira Falkenberg, principal of JEDI Outdoors; and Burt Skall, the sports director at Taos. “The more you see people that look like you as an instructor, “the more you start seeing that you are included in that sport, or that you can have career paths within the sport,” says Dawn Boulware, vice president of social and environmental responsibility at Taos Ski Valley.
Aside from the professional level, youth from underserved communities have several opportunities to engage with Taos Ski Resort and get on the slopes as well. Notably, the Charles N. Romero Snowsports Program for Pueblo Youth provides free skiing to local Native American kids through funding from the Share Winter Foundation and the New Mexico Outdoor Equity Fund. Additionally, the Taos Schoolkids Program works to get local shredders on the slopes, providing similar lessons and gear rentals for a heavily discounted price. skitaos.com
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
With the largest wealth gap in the country, Jackson Hole has some real equity issues to address. But beneath the Grand Teton, some folks are stepping in to help bridge the opportunity gap.
Named after the legendary skier Doug Coombs, who died while skiing in France in 2006, Coombs Outdoors, founded by Emily Coombs, engages underserved youth outside. offering a wide range of programs for both summer and winter sports. Participants receive mentoring in resort skiing, backcountry skiing, and more. Programs engage elementary to high-school age skiers in group settings. Participants in the Coombs Club middle and high school program also receive season rentals and a pass to encourage continuation of the sport and independent skiing. coombsoutdoors.org
Adaptive Steep and Deep Camp
This season, Jackson Hole Mountain resort has added the Adaptive Steep and Deep Camp. On Feb. 27–March 1, adaptive athletes will learn how to safely navigate extreme terrain and conditions. Expert coaches will provide advice on finding the best line, steep skiing etiquette, and terrain selection. Groups may also have early mountain access and the opportunity to explore Jackson’s backcountry. jacksonhole.com/adaptive
PHOTO-CREDIT: Jon REsnik/sos OUtreach, Courtesy blackpackers
PHOTO-CREDIT: Cullen mchale/eldora (x2), Courtesy Taos SKI VALLEY