On the Rise

The National Brotherhood of Skiers is creating a new funnel for the next generation of Black wintersport athletes. Meet some of their bright stars.

Young skiers with the National Brotherhood of Skiers

By Jessi Hackett
In the winter of 1973, 13 Black ski clubs congregated on the top of Aspen Mountain for the first time ever. The goal? Take some runs down the slopes as a collective; socialize; and in turn, create visibility for Black skiers. Some in the crew casually called the meeting “A Happening,” but over time, the annual gathering would come to be known as the Black Summit, held by the National Brotherhood of Skiers—the largest Black ski group in the country.

Though the idea of a group of clubs from Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, and beyond getting together to party and ski was nothing new by the early 1970s, gathering 300+ Black people on a ski slope—a notoriously homogenous space—was considered radical.

Fast forward nearly 50 years later, and one thousand people from 33 clubs were in attendance for their 49th annual Black Summit held at Aspen Snowmass from February 5th through the 12th, 2022. Five minutes into the event’s opening parade, the pride felt by each person repping their home club was palpable. Banners, flags, synchronized marching, and matching outerwear—like the bright red bombers worn by the Jim Dandy Ski Club out of Detroit or the easy-to-spot teal jackets adorning the ONYX Ski and Sports Club hailing from Tampa Bay—decorated the crowd. Generations of skiers belonging to their own hometown club, yet unified as members of the National Brotherhood of Skiers.
Though the conversation around diversifying the mountains and getting more Black folks out on the ski slopes has become amplified in recent years, the National Brotherhood of Skiers has been carving the way for decades, providing programming, scholarships, and funding to athletes via its Team NBS program. And while the Black Summit is framed as a social event, it acts as a major fundraiser to support up-and-coming athletes within the organization.

“We have supported four Olympians,” says NBS President Henri Rivers. “Currently, we have nineteen team members on Team NBS. In order to participate, they have to be 11 –years old and meet the criteria established by Team NBS along with US Ski and Snowboard guidelines.” Team members hail from all over the country and are involved in their own club, academy, or athletic programs with Team NBS acting as additional support.
“We have supported four Olympians,” says NBS President Henri Rivers. “Currently, we have nineteen team members on Team NBS."
National Brotherhood of Skiers BBQ at Aspen Snowmass in February 2022 - Man in a cowboy hat on the slopes
National Brotherhood of Skiers BBQ at Aspen Snowmass in February 2022 - Woman in red with sunglasses
As both snowboarding and skiing are beginning to diversify, the NBS has positioned itself as a space for competitive Black wintersports athletes to build community—which in turn is helping to create a new funnel for the next generation of high caliber skiers and snowboarders prepared to compete on the world’s stage.

“The greatest impact I feel the NBS has had on the ski industry is the general increase of Black participation in wintersports,” says Rivers.

Meet The NBS Athletes to Watch

National Brotherhood of Skiers youth athlete program at Snowmass recently

National Brotherhood of Skiers youth athlete program at Snowmass recently

“This is my first year attending the Black Summit, but it’s really cool getting to meet the other kids and represent the Black community,” says 11-year-old Ava Keenan, who is from Denver, Colorado but currently lives in Vail competing as a freestyle mogul skier for Ski and Snowboard Club Vail.

This season, Keenan is officially a member of Team NBS, and her eyes shine with excitement as she talks about working to dial in her backflips and 360 mute grabs—both of which she’s able to do but hopes to master with style. “I started skiing when I was two, but I started mogul skiing when I was eight. My goal is to go to the Olympics three or four times, and I want to win them,” she says with a smile. “I’m shooting for 2030, 2034, and 2038.”
“My goal is to go to the Olympics three or four times, and I want to win them.”
When Bryce Welch was five, he fell in love with riding on snow—so much so that he and his mom picked up their lives in Annapolis, Maryland and moved to Colorado so he could pursue snowboarding seriously. They moved around the Vail Valley, and then around Summit County, before finally landing in Breckenridge. Welch is a member of Team NBS and spends his weekdays on the snow with coaches and his weekends catching up on school.

“This is my first real year of committing to riding halfpipe, and I started on slopestyle last year,” says Welch, who is now 15 –years old and qualified to compete in the Rev Tour at Aspen Snowmass this February after nabbing fourth at the Futures Tour at Copper in January. Considering he hadn’t competed in halfpipe at all until this year, his progression is impressive: he’s already working to land Front and Backside 720s, Switch Back side5s, and Cab 540s.
“I thank my mom for helping me make it all happen,” says Welch. “It’s just us two and a puppy and our lizard.” Welch has dreams of going to X Games and the Olympics, and also wants to be a biochemist one day.

“If I can make it to the Olympic level that would be great, but that is a very big goal at such a young age, so I’d like to ski D1 or on the college team so I can continue my academic life as well,” says high school freshman Jayna Davis, who is an alpine skier competing across slalom, giant slalom, and super G for Holderness School in New Hampshire.

“I’ve been involved with the NBS for three years,” says Davis. “They’ve made it so I could continue my life as a ski racer. My mom is a single mom so money definitely doesn’t grow on trees for us, and the NBS gives us that financial stability that will let me continue my dream of ski racing.”

When asked what they hope for the future of skiing, Ava, Bryce, and Jayna echo one and other: More people of color out on the hill.

“The NBS makes us feel supported—especially in a predominantly white sport,” add Davis. “So, when we come all together we don’t feel alone and like we’re the only black skiers out there.” And that can make all the difference.

“You only live once,” says Bryce. “Even if you’re intimidated, just go out and try it. You don’t know if you don’t try.”