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US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame inducts its first Native American member

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In Park City, Utah, tonight, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame will induct its first Native American member. Ross Anderson skied faster than any other American, more than 150 miles an hour. Adam Burke, with member station KSUT, reports.

ADAM BURKE, BYLINE: By the time he was 10 years old, Ross Anderson knew he was a gifted skier.

ROSS ANDERSON: I had rhythm. I wasn't afraid to make a line that goes vertical all the way down the mountain, and I lived to go fast.

BURKE: In Durango, Colo., Anderson felt at ease in a community full of extreme athletes and more than a few Olympians. But he struggled with his own racial identity.

ANDERSON: As a teenager, it was difficult, getting teased because you're darker than the other people, and the worst of the worst was, you know, using sandpaper or pumice stones on the skin to make it lighter. I did that, you know, a few times.

BURKE: Anderson's heritage is Cheyenne-Arapaho and Mescalero Apache, but he was adopted by white parents when he was a newborn, and it wasn't until high school that he began to learn about Indigenous culture. In his late teens, Anderson had a vision of himself breaking racial barriers as a World Cup ski racer.

ANDERSON: I saw skiing - I didn't know what category of skiing it was going to be - and decided, you know what? I'm just going to do it because there's nobody of color. Just as long as I'm able to be in the World Cup, I think I'll make a difference.

BURKE: Within a few years, Anderson was competing internationally, wearing a red helmet airbrushed with a headdress of yellow feathers, and in 2006, at a race in the French Alps, he clocked 154.06 miles per hour, a record no American has broken. Competitive speed skiing is all about maximum velocity. Skiers go straight down a steep incline that runs about a mile, and they minimize wind resistance wearing rubber suits and helmets that come down to their shoulders. This short clip of Italian racer Simone Origone offers a sense of what it's like to be nearby when a speed skier goes rocketing past.

(SOUNDBITE OF WIND RUSHING)

ANDERSON: The wind itself sounds so intense like a jet, but the ground closer to the track kind of vibrates a little bit too.

(SOUNDBITE OF WIND RUSHING)

BURKE: Another video is shot from the perspective of a speed skier.

ANDERSON: You're about a foot and a half off the ground 'cause you're in a full-on tuck and you're only seeing 20 feet in front of you.

BURKE: Anderson says when things are going well, time slows down, and you can use your ears to go faster.

ANDERSON: If you have any air that sounds louder than normal, then you can fix it. You can hear the wind kind of calm down a little, you know, the tone of (imitating wind) too, the (imitating wind).

BURKE: As a teenager, Ross Anderson set out to inspire people of color to become competitive skiers, and for at least one Native Alaskan girl growing up in a remote fishing village, it worked.

CALLAN CHYTHLOOK-SIFSOF: I viscerally remember seeing his headdress and the feathers on his helmet.

BURKE: Callan Chythlook-Sifsof is Yupik and Inupiaq. She went on to compete in World Cup snowboarding for a decade and represented the U.S. in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

CHYTHLOOK-SIFSOF: Truly, there are no role models in that echelon of skiing and snowboarding to be found that are Indigenous or outwardly presenting Indigenous. And looking back, Ross Anderson was everything to me.

BURKE: Today, pro skiing and snowboarding is still a world of almost entirely white athletes, white coaches, white leaders. And critics say structural changes are needed inside the sport, from team culture to organizational leadership. Still, Ross Anderson is grateful to have a spot in ski racing history. He says he never expected to set a U.S. record that would last this long.

ANDERSON: It's not over, and that's the cool thing about it, is this vision is still going.

BURKE: Anderson hopes to use his Hall of Fame status to help establish stronger relationships between ski resorts and Native American tribes.

For NPR News, I'm Adam Burke in Durango, Colo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Adam Burke
[Copyright 2024 Four Corners Public Radio]

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