It is no secret that the ski community is dominated by white athletes, but Black athletes are working to change the narrative by providing resources to communities that struggle with access and opportunity.
According to Snowsports Industries America, a trade group for the winter outdoor industry, non-White skiers accounted for 31.3% of all skiers in the 2019-2020 season. Of that minority, only 6.9% were Black. When the group’s study looked at skiers who skied more than twice a year, that number dropped to 3.3%.
“There’s just so much emotion when it comes to this sport for me,” said Henri Rivers IV, a Black high school athlete training to be an Olympic skier. “I feel happy. If I fall or have a bad run, I feel angry. When I’m in the air, there’s no feeling at all.”
The emotion is what drove Henri to pursue skiing competitively when he was 4, but in the years since, it has evolved into a more serious undertaking as he’s working to become of the few Black athletes representing the United States in the Olympics.
“The mountains that I go to, I see one or two Black people on the mountain, so you walk around and you’re just seeing all these people who look like you [at group summits] and it’s just crazy,” said Rivers. “Like, I never really got to see that. And then, when I come to summit, I’m like, 'Wow, there’s so many people who look like me,' and I never really wanted to miss one.”
“In the White community, you have what you call ski pedigree, where the skiing has been passed on from your great grandparents right down to your parents to you. In the Black community, that’s not so true or prevalent,” said Rivers’ father, Henri Rivers III, who is also the president of the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS).
NBS says its members are set on not only breaking the stereotype that Black athletes do not exist in the snowsports industry but the mold. Through grants, memberships, and sponsorships, it helps provide access and gear to communities where that ski pedigree is not as common.
The hope is one day, those they attract will get to the level of Rivers' son, so more representation can occur at the sport’s highest levels.
“It’s huge,” said Henri Rivers III. “It says that you can do that. You can achieve that status. It says you can be in that sport.”
“It feels great, you know?” added Rivers IV. “The way I inspire kids is just, I don’t know it’s crazy. I never really thought I would have this at such a young age but here we are.”
For a sport built on the idea of freedom, it has thrust a weight of expectation on these kids’ shoulders, but it is not like you would know that as they continue to defy gravity in the most spectacular ways.