Fifty years ago this winter, the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS) held its first-ever Black Summit in Aspen.
“There was an overall sense of camaraderie and connection that pervaded the event then and still holds true with the Black Summits today,” the NBS recounts in its official history. But unofficially, when hundreds of Black skiers from Chicago, Denver, Detroit and Los Angeles converged on Aspen in 1973, that sense of Black power camaraderie wasn’t always welcomed. The brotherhood over the last 50 years has created safe spaces for men, women and especially Black kids to learn and enjoy the freedom of skiing.
“I started with Jim Dandy, Detroit’s Chapter of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, around age 8. ” says Arthur Johnson, 55, native Detroiter and oral surgeon. The avid skier and Laguna Beach resident had his first ski experience at a Michigan winter carnival. “I remember attending Winter Carnival – a small event in preparation for the annual summit. Winter Carnival included daytime events, a skiing clown, learning to ski, ski parties and dinner entertainment. So much fun! I started skiing around age 7 at Mount Brighton, Mount Holly and Alpine Valley in Michigan.”
Aside from providing safety in numbers and normalizing the sight of Black kids in snowy mountain towns, one of the goals of Brotherhood of Skiers was to take as many kids from their neighborhood as possible and put them on skis.
That experience proved to be foundational for Johnson, who still remembers that first time on the slopes. “Skiing is freedom, fun and fast times; it’s God’s country in all its glory,” says Johnson. “There is a rush I get, moving on the snow at unbelievable speed – and if I fall, then it’s hopefully on some soft snow.”
Golden 50th Anniversary Summit
The National Brotherhood of Skiers selected Vail Mountain for its Golden 50th Anniversary Summit, set for Feb. 4-11; the annual Black Ski Summit is still considered the largest annual gathering of skiers and snowboarders in the nation. NBS boasts nearly 5,000 members and all are invited to attend the annual event.
“This year’s Ski Summit included 1,600 registered attendees, likely a similar number of ‘renegades’ or non-registered attendees,” Johnson says. “There will be about 100 attendees from the UK. The Detroit Chapter Jim Dandy estimate is about 50 members.”