The key for these 1st-time Utah skiers is seeing ‘people on the slopes like me’
In the 16 years that she’s lived here, Christina Miller has never taken advantage of the “greatest snow on Earth” that Utah likes to brag about.
Not everyone feels comfortable enjoying the outdoor culture the state has to offer. According to the National Ski Areas Association, around 10% of the population on resort mountains are non-white. As a Black woman, Miller was waiting for the right opportunity. She also wanted a sense of belonging as she learned to ski.
"Seeing people on the slopes that look like me was important to me because, you know, it's no secret Utah lacks diversity," the South Jordan resident said.
Her opportunity came courtesy of Ski Utah’s Discover Winter program, which just wrapped up its second season of trying to make winter sports more inclusive. In the program's 2022 inaugural year, 150 diverse participants took part in four skiing or snowboard lessons across seven Utah resorts. This year, a group of 140 first-timers learned to tame the hill.
"I didn't want to come up here with experienced skiers and then ruin their day while I'm over here on the tow rope and they want to go over there [to more advanced terrain]. So I just never really did it. And I wanted to ski with people who were new."
On the bus ride up to Alta Ski Area, Miller wrestled with butterflies in her stomach and “pretty much tried to talk [herself] out of it.” But in the end, she was glad she went through with it. She found that her instructor “was really comforting and very patient, and that really helped me get down the mountain."
The program is offered free of charge thanks to donations from the Larry H. Miller Family Foundation, as well as a grant from the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity. That makes a big difference for many trying the sport out for the first time.
Like Miller, Nana Affum — who moved to Utah from Ghana 13 years ago — had always wanted to learn to ski. One barrier was the cost.
"To get to the ski resort. It's a challenge, right? Getting the equipment, the gear, having the money to spend on this … and to think about getting a ski pass, pretty expensive."
Affum was a first-year participant who loved the sport so much that he returned as a volunteer to provide a little moral support.
"Tell them my story and be like, ‘Hey, I was in your shoes last season and now I'm able to ski Sunnyside and a couple of the big mountains’ and so more like a motivation."
In order to provide the full experience on the mountain, Ski Utah knew they had to go all in.
"So we needed to provide the clothing, the jackets, the pants, the goggles, the neck gaiter, the gloves — everything for a participant to stay warm and be safe on the mountain," said Raelene Davis, VP of marketing and operations.
In addition to the gear, it was also important to make sure participants were able to get to the resorts. Since many had “never been to the mountains or didn't have vehicles or didn't even know how to get to the resorts."
Davis said they reached out to Utah nonprofits like the Future Scholars of Africa and Outdoor Afro to get people on board. She noted that 80% of last year’s participants said they would continue either skiing or snowboarding.
"I want everyone who lives here to be able to enjoy those mountains the way that I'm able to enjoy them, regardless of their ethnic background, or any background."
The experience isn’t just for creating connections on the mountain for new skiers or boarders. Sometimes, it helps others rediscover their passion for it.
Faith Amin grew up in Salt Lake City and learned to ski when she was younger. She had fallen away from the sport and getting back on the snow was no easy feat.
"I never thought skiing would be this hard, because the last time I skied, I was a kid,” she said. “So, like, now skiing, being a grown-up, there's so many things I could break in my body. And yeah, I'm not as malleable as I used to be."
Taking the time to get back up on the mountain has been worth it. In her own way, Amin is right in line with Ski Utah’s goal for the program.
"I feel like we got to get more color out here. You know, it's not one of those things that's only just subjugated to one person. I feel like more people should do it. More cultures should do it.
It's fun, we shouldn't have fear holding us back."
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