National Brotherhood of Skiers

In February 1973, there were few African Americans on the ski slopes and black ski clubs were a rarity, according to Art Clay and Ben Finley. At the time, both men were ski enthusiasts and leaders of their local ski clubs. Clay and Finley envisioned an organization that would bring together the 13 black ski clubs across America. That vision launched the first “Black Summit” on Ajax Mountain in Aspen, attended by over 350 skiers. The historic event was so successful that Clay and Finley called a meeting in Salt Lake City during the subsequent Thanksgiving weekend to form the National Brotherhood of Skiers. According to Finley the purpose of the organization was “to identify and discuss problems and subjects which were unique to the black skiing population, ski and socialize.” Chartered in 1974 and incorporated as a non-profit the following year, the National Brotherhood Of Skiers has grown and broadened its reach over the years.

Photo: Courtesy of Dallas Morning News

Photo: Courtesy of Dallas Morning News

In 1984, Bonnie St. John became the first African American to win medals in the Winter Paralympics, held in Innsbruck, Austria. With sponsorship from the NBS, St. John won bronze medals in the slalom and the giant slalom, and was awarded a silver medal for overall performance. That year, St. John earned the distinction of being the second fastest woman in the world on one leg. More recently, downhill skier and skicross racer Errol Kerr spent nine years as a member of Team NBS before finishing ninth overall in the 2010 Winter Olympics as part of the Jamaican Ski Team.

NBS founders Clay and Finley were in attendance, along with several thousand members and followers, when the organization held its 40th Anniversary in Snowmass in February 2013. In addition to celebrating four decades of skiing and snowboarding, the event was a fundraiser for NBS Olympic Scholarship Fund, which supports athletes of color pursuing winter sports in the Olympics and international competitions. In attendance were over 100 members of Black Ski, an 800-strong Washington, D.C. club. Among the other 59 groups were the Sugar & Spice Snow and Social Club, whose logo features pink high heels, and the Winter Fox Ski Association, an L.A. outfit with an active Youth Group founded in 1978.

With 3000 members in 43 cities, the National Brotherhood Of Skiers continues to play an important role bringing winter sports opportunities to young people. While a lot has changed since 1973, some things remain the same, as Washington Post reporter Nikita Stewart notes, “There was this incredible sense of camaraderie and unity. Folks who spend all year long climbing the corporate ladder, often alone, were helping each other scale mountains. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, presidents, vice presidents, executive directors, and entrepreneurs from all over the country were transformed as they donned helmets and goggles and ski boots.” This winter the group returns to Sun Valley, Idaho for a 41st memorable week of skiing and fun, February 22 to March 1, 2014.

Comments

  1. rtatsuno@hotmail.com' Rod Tatsuno says:

    I am eagerly awaiting the presence of NBS members and their families on the slopes of my adopted home of 45 years, Sun Valley. Especially Mamie and Art Clay, The Gang members that embraced me into their fellowship back in 1975 during their inaugural visit to The Valley.

    BTW, the little kid who so enjoyed the gatherings in the Limelight Room, my son Chris, is featured on the cover of the next (February) issue of POWDER magazine’s FUN issue. He appeared with the wounded warrior competitor he’s been coaching for Challenge Aspen in the new Warren Miller film, shortly after the skier pulled off the world’s first successful back flip on a sit-ski.

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