Here’s how ski towns, brands and athletes have responded to America’s social unrest

Here’s how ski towns, brands and athletes have responded to America’s social unrest

Featured Image: Tyler Wilkinson-Ray

Racial and social tensions in the United States have peaked over the past two weeks and the outcry has echoed through the outdoor world and mountain towns across the country. Massive protests and campaigns on social media have reignited the conversation about equality—one that is discussed far less than necessary in the world of snowsports—compelling many in the outdoor industry to reevaluate the ways in which we treat people in our communities.

The response from athletes, brands and ski towns varied yet maintained the idea that there are social inequities that need to be addressed, especially within the ski population. In Aspen and Vail, Colorado, Jackson, Wyoming, and Lake Tahoe, California, powerful, peaceful demonstrations were held in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement while in bigger cities such as Denver, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Seattle, Washington, massive protests have been a catalyst for conversation and immediate political action.

Apart from mass gatherings, social media has also been a major platform for discussion and announcements amongst skiers and brands. Some have professed that outdoor equipment manufacturers shouldn’t be commenting on the situation, that it isn’t appropriate for these brands to join in on the conversation with empty promises of solidarity. However, many athletes and major players in the outdoor industry are taking a strong stance against injustice, using their platforms to promote the dialogue. “Now is not the time to stay silent on the serious issue at hand… If ya got a platform and a voice in the shred community please do the right thing and start raising awareness instead of staying silent,” wrote Tanner Hall in an Instagram post.

Amie Engerbretson—like many skiers—admitted on Instagram it was difficult to fully comprehend what to do and how to respond to the social uprising. “I do not have a full understanding of this problem, I do not know how to speak about it and I don’t know what to do about it. I know I care deeply. I know love is stronger than hate. I know it is important to speak up. I pledge to learn, to help and to use my voice.”

Demonstrators in Jackson, Wyoming, gathered in the Town Square. PHOTO: @jnelmcintosh

Brands and resorts are speaking out about the state of events, too. Many brands have sent emails or produced official statements in accordance with the social movement. Vail Resorts CEO, Rob Katz, announced this week that the company would pledge a total of approximately 11.7 million dollars (via repurposed stocks) to organizations benefitting COVID-19 research efforts, racial justice reform and youth access to the outdoors. Aspen Snowmass, in a letter penned by its CEO, Mike Kaplan, recognized the inherent reasons why it needs to speak out. “We are not naïve as to why skiing and ski towns are seen as the epitome of white privilege: a lack of economic opportunity keeps many visitors from joining us; our community does not provide the range of employment needed to develop a truly diverse community; finally, though our residents are extremely open for those who actually make it here, there is a wide spread perception that our lack of diversity means we will not welcome difference. This must change.”

Armada Skis, the athlete-driven ski maker, pledged $10,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The North Face—consistently vocal about social injustice—is promoting collaboration with Outdoor Afro and donating $50,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union. Its Explore Fund will also refocus its efforts to break down “the barriers that prevent safe exploration and creating access for all.” And Faction Skis noted that it’s often hard to see how individual voices construct a bigger dialogue. “We are calling on the collective strength of our voices to instigate structural change,” the brand wrote in an Instagram post. “It can be difficult to understand how our individual words and actions can make a lasting impact.”

Protestors in Aspen, Colorado, walk along the base of Ajax Mountain. PHOTO: Tyler Wilkinson-Ray

But not all news out of the ski and outdoor community has been positive. Skiers who have continued to post photos and videos of their outdoor recreation exploits have been ridiculed by their peers and followers. Marker Dalbello Völkl [MDV] unfortunately announced it would be severing contracts with two of its freestyle athletes regarding controversial content on social media. An excerpt from the company’s official statement said: “The use of, or affiliation with racial slurs is never okay, and after seeing this content we had no choice but to end our sponsorship of these two athletes… At MDV, our mission is to create the best possible winter sports products to help our customers enjoy the outdoors. That enjoyment is a privilege that we should all relish. Social channels should be a place to share that thrill and cheer one another on, and we call on all skiers to consider this every time they share depictions of our sport.”

In tandem with the social uprising regarding racial injustice, the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic also continues to lurk in the outdoor industry. There is still great uncertainty concerning resort openings and how the ski area experience might change this season, cardinal factors in preseason pass sales, food and beverage planning and hiring protocols. With so many doubts about the coming winter and how it will play out, skiers are eagerly awaiting more news from ski areas and conglomerate passes such as Vail Resort’s Epic Pass, Alterra Mountain Company’s Ikon Pass and the Mountain Collective Pass. Many of these pass offerings have introduced new insurance policies, renewal discounts and extended payment plans to instill confidence in purchasing.

As the winter approaches, there’s hope that today’s activism will be a catalyst for tangible change in the way our society functions. Rallies against injustice and inequality shouldn’t have to become normal occurrences—what needs to become normal is fair treatment amongst human beings and more resources for Indigenous people, people of color and underprivileged communities to gain access to the skiing experience. Skiers thrive on community; now is the time to grow our sport, welcome in new faces with open arms and break down barriers inhibiting some from feeling the thrill of the downhill.

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