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‘National Brotherhood of Skiers’ Returns to Vail, Celebrates 50th Summit

In honor of Black History Month, we connected with the National Brotherhood of Skiers — a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization organizing, educating, and supporting Black skiers.

The 2022 National Brotherhood of Skiers Summit
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Skiing is one sport that has historically been — and is — predominantly white. But that doesn’t have to be the case for the sport’s future. The National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS), is one of the biggest players working to combat that trend, promote inclusion, and increase diversity on the slopes.

Its mission is to “identify, develop, and support athletes of color” — specifically, BIPOC athletes who participate in ski clubs across the country, and in international and Olympic competitions as well. It’s a 100% volunteer-based organization with a whole network of members, coaches, instructors, athletes, and more. NBS works with children, youth, teens, and adults, and those of any skill level.

“More Black skiers on the hill is not inclusion. It’s seeing more Black individuals in the skiing industry as a whole: at brands, CEOs at ski resorts, in marketing, it’s the representation of seeing people across the industry in those positions,” the National Brotherhood of Skiers president Henri Rivers explained.

We caught up with Rivers last year during NBS’s annual Summit to chat about the organization’s mission, work toward inclusion, and what they are planning for next season.

This year, you can catch the NBS and its members in Vail from February 4 to 11, 2023.

Q&A With National Brotherhood of Skiers

Crowds at the NBS Summit in Aspen-Snowmass in 2022.

GearJunkie: Can you tell me your personal story of how you became involved in NBS?

Henri Rivers, NBS President: I learned of the NBS in 1995. I was sitting on the beach in Jamaica reading a ski magazine, and someone saw me reading it and told me about the Brotherhood. 1996 was the first summit I went to. I got to see so many Black people skiing that I never had the pleasure of skiing with before. Growing up I never had that: a group of Black skiers. For the first 30 years of my life, I maybe skied with four skiers of color.

At the next Summit I got to meet a lot of athletes, and seeing their passion made me want to be a part. Then I decided to become a USSA-certified alpine coach, then I began as a comp director for the midwest region. From that point, I became the OSF administrator, then the National [Competition] Director. At that point, we had grown our team to 15 athletes. In 2020, I was elected president of the NBS. And that’s my 26-year career with the Brotherhood.

How many ski clubs does the NBS support? And how many members are part of the NBS?

It’s grown to 54 ski clubs across U.S. and U.K., and we have 3,500 members.

We have four regions: West, Rocky Mountain, Midwest, and Eastern regions. These are usually year-round clubs too. So not just skiing, but mountain biking, kayaking, camping, and festivals. So we have activities all year long that keep NBS members involved. Each region also has a regional event — the western region has an MLK weekend, the eastern has an early-season warm-up event, and the Rocky Mountain and midwest regions usually partner up for an end-of-season ski event.

Some of our ski instructors are scuba instructors, sailors, or divers. We have certified dance instructors. It’s very diverse, and it’s cohesive.

What did NBS’s growth look like over the past year or two?

We had 614 registered participants in 2020 in Sun Valley, Idaho. But COVID struck us there and struck hard. So the following year in 2021, we had a virtual summit, about 600 participants as well. People wanted to be involved, people wanted to ski, and knew they couldn’t. So because of that, we were just really unsure what it would look like.

For 2022, we wanted to welcome in even more people, and expand the opportunity for members to not just downhill skiing. So snowshoeing, backcountry, uphill, and nordic — we wanted people to have options. Come outside not just to ski, but come outside with us and enjoy it. We had over 1,200 people at this event; almost a 50% growth from our last summit. And for 2023, I am hoping for 2,500 attendees.

National Brotherhood of Skiers participants Jayna Davis, Helaina Rivers, Henniyah Rivers, and Henri Rivers IV — in Aspen, Colorado, for Warren Miller’s Winter Starts Now Film.

How does the NBS work at and for representation and inclusion of Black and BIPOC skiers?

There are so many Black skiers, male and female, who are not highly recognized for their accomplishments and in the greater ski industry. We have Lauren Samuels, captain of a Utah ski team, and she won a National Championship and made the National Collegiate All-Academic Ski Team. We have Danielle Govan, a coach at Vail Resorts. And Seba Johnson: she was an NBS member who went to the Olympics back in 1988.

And then we’ve got representation in that younger demographic. Jayna Davis, who’s only 15, and the Rivers triplets who skied in the Warren Miller Film Winter Starts Now , and kids like Brian Rice who’s trying to make the Olympic snowboard team, and the Loriaux brother and sister who are only 13. And Ava Keenan, a [much] younger skier on our team who is an exceptional mogul skier who is frequently beating 16- and 17-year-olds in competition.

We are now working with an organization with grants specific to enhancing clubs for youth and young adults to expose them to skiing, snowsports, riding, and the industry. The NBS has a database of 45 certified instructors, but I’ve personally seen at least 125 instructors of color across the country. So we want to develop that database; find and reach instructors and coaches where they are at.

And it’s not just that. After the murder of George Floyd , and the past year, we saw that we have to support our members not just in skiing. We have to stand up and speak up about racial injustice. I was seeing letters that came out from Vail, Alterra, Burton aligning themselves with BLM, that’s great. But what we’d really like to see is some action. That’s what we really need.

So that’s really how we got to being more involved with the social justice aspect, to really moving on creating inclusion.

What is your favorite part of the summit each year?

My favorite part of the summit is any moment I can get out and ski. For the majority, I think the favorite part for our members is our opening ceremony event. We had 45 participating clubs at this past Summit — and they have their banners, their club insignia, their members, music, and they all parade through. It’s just great seeing everyone together.

Ski club members parade during the opening ceremony at the NBS Summit in 2022.

What are you most excited about for the 2023 year/season?

I’m really looking forward to our 50th-anniversary celebration. And I’m looking forward to the opportunity to [show] our past presidents appreciation for everything they’ve done in what they’ve created and accomplished. And how we are evolving.

Our number one goal is to increase our membership. But also, to increase awareness in the snowsports industry and facilitate change in snowsports as well.

What is something most people don’t know about the National Brotherhood of Skiers?

We aren’t exclusive; we do have white members. Also, we have many, many accomplished Black skiers in our organization. I don’t even want to say it, but, fighting the stereotype that “Black people don’t ski.”

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Attend the 50th NBS Summit

In what began as a historic gathering in 1973 when 13 Black ski clubs across the country gathered in Aspen for what was then called “A Happening,” the NBS — which has now grown to over 50 member clubs — unites every year under a shared mission. And this year, it’s celebrating 50 years of sharing that mission with a “Soul on Snow” theme. Over 2,000 Black skiers across the country are expected to attend.

In addition to its annual Summit, NBS has plenty of other outreach and events year-round. The NBS is going into its second season as a PSIA-certified traveling ski school, and expects to reach over 1,000 new participants this upcoming year.

As Henri Rivers put it, “The NBS is a testament to refusing the myth that ‘Black people don’t ski’.”

The NBS Summit and related Summit events and activities run February 4-11, 2023, in Vail, Colorado . If you plan to check it out, there’s a tentative schedule of races, competitions, live music, and events already online, or you can learn more through NBS.

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