Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry.
In 1972, two Black skiers, Benjamin Finley and Arthur Clay, met one another and realized they shared a problem. They'd each looked around on the slopes they loved and didn't see anyone else who looked like them. They decided to fix it. One year later in Aspen, Colorado, Clay and Finley hosted the first gathering of Black skiers from around the nation. More than 350 Black skiers took part in that initial Black Summit. See what they did there, Summit. [chuckles]
The Black Summit had two intertwined goals: to expand the love of recreational snowsports, and to nurture Black talent with the goal of diversifying the US Olympic teams in the Winter Olympics. The National Brotherhood of Skiers, now known as the National Brotherhood of Snowsports, was born from these efforts. The Takeaway sat down with the current president, Henri Rivers.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: You get any funny looks ever when you're out on the slopes, especially maybe with other Black folks? Are people surprised to see Black people skiing?
Henri Rivers: I'm laughing. Do you ever get funny looks? Oh my goodness. From the minute you pull up in the parking lot. The funny part about it is, white folks might not think they're looking at you weird or strange or saying things that are not really appropriate. I've come to some resorts and they were like, "Oh, sir, you want to go over here to this area," and I'm like, "What area is that?" They say, "Well, there's a lot of green trails over there," green being the easiest. I said, "I'm okay." I said, "I'll take my chances over here."
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: Your organization just celebrated its 50th anniversary. My understanding is you all were in Vail, taking to the slopes there. Tell me about this organization.
Henri Rivers: The mission of our organization is to identify, develop and support athletes of color that are going to win international and Olympic competitions representing the United States, and to increase, and this is critical, to increase participation in winter sports. Because there is a need or a desire for underrepresented communities to want to get out and get exposed to all that nature has to offer in the great outdoors. We do everything from skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, hiking, uphill skiing. You name it. If it's outdoors, we want to do it.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, how did you get into skiing?
Henri Rivers: [chuckles] Oh, goodness. My parents and my grandmother, they purchased a property in the Catskills and found a pair of skis there. I put them on, and I just pushed off and went down the hill, and I had no idea what I was doing. The thrill and the excitement and the adrenaline of going down the hill just piqued my interest so much that I had to keep doing it and keep doing it. Several years after I started, when I was 14 or 15, I made my high school ski team and that was it. Once I made the ski team, you couldn't tell me anything. I was a skier now. I was the last kid picked on the team, but I was a skier.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: I've seen this fantastic photograph, it's a decade old now, but of you and your family. There's three children, all of them on skis. Again that's a decade ago now. Tell me about your own family and their engagement with snowsports.
Henri Rivers: My wife and I, we decided long before they were born that we were going to raise them as a ski family. Those three are 15 years old now. They compete in slalom, giant slalom, and super-G. They love skiing. I made sure when we were raising them that we didn't force them into skiing. You want to make sure this was something that they wanted to do, that they desired to do, so now I have three aspiring elite skiers. They're all very good alpine skiers. We're just watching them develop and enjoying the ride.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: All right, quick break right here. More on being Black while skiing right after this. You're back with The Takeaway. We're still talking with Henri Rivers of the National Brotherhood of Snowsports. Many snowsports are also expensive. My mother grew up in the Pacific Northwest and skied all through high school and college; something that me, growing up in the Southeast, I did not. [chuckles]
How much is the expense of participating in snowsports part of what is barring people of color from being part of it?
Henri Rivers: It's a great part. It's a huge part. A pair of race skis cost $1,000. That's without bindings. On a recreational level, those skis are going to cost you $300, $400. A lot of people that are not exposed to the outdoors don't have that disposable income to just go out and say, "Hey, I want to ski this weekend. I want to go buy me a pair of $400 skis, $200 bindings, $100 poles, $500 boots." You're already at $2,000. Now, I need a lift ticket. The lift ticket is another $150, $200.
The expense of this sport is a tremendous deterrent to making it more inclusive. We need to address that on an industry level, on the manufacturer's end, on a supply end, on the resort end. Yes, the expense is tremendous. It's something that we have to get through and make the industry know, if we're going to improve or increase inclusion, we've got to figure out a way to knock that cost down.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: I want to know your advice for potential Olympic athletes or Olympic athletes in the Winter Olympics, in the snowsports, who we should be watching.
Henri Rivers: Within the National Brotherhood of Skiers, we have an Olympic Scholarship Fund that supports our team, NBS. This year, Team NBS is comprised of 23 athletes in many disciplines, from mogul skiing, to snowboarding, to freeskiing, to alpine skiing. With that said, we have three athletes that are on the radar for 2026. One is a snowboarder, Brian Rice. He is doing quite well.
Then we have a couple of freeskiers, Keagan Supple and Bogale Giddings. Then we have this phenomenal, young, female mogul skier, but she's 13 right now. I don't think her dad is going to push her or want her to participate in 2026. She'll be 16. That could change. I don't know. If she were to compete, if she does make the team, she would be someone to definitely watch. This girl is phenomenal. Her name is Ava Keenan.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: For folks who are listening right now, who are saying, "Hey, either it's been a long time since I've skied or I haven't ever learned, but I'd love to get involved in this kind of space," what do they do? How can they get involved?
Henri Rivers: You find a club that's in your area. They will guide you on everything. There's someone in that club that can assist you with learning the dos and the don'ts, and familiarizing you with taking your first ski trip.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: Henri Rivers is President of the National Brotherhood of Snowsports. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Henri Rivers: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: In 2019, the founders of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, Benjamin Finley and Arthur Clay, were inducted into the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame for their "foundational and five-decade long role in nurturing the National Brotherhood of Skiers". The organization also made good on supporting Black skiers who were Olympic hopefuls like Bonnie St. John, who became the first Black American to medal in the 1984 Paralympic Games. She won two bronze and one silver medal in Para Alpine Skiing. We love to see it.
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