Why MLK Day Matters in the Ski Industry

Two industry veterans reflect on what resorts can do to create change on and beyond the slopes.

This weekend, two of us, both lifelong skiers, one Black, one White, were having a conversation about what the ski industry owes Dr. King. Typically, resorts like ours will post something on their social media, quote from his dream speech, and then… well, then we go about our business of reaping the rewards of a lucrative long weekend.

But his memory means something more than “I have a dream,” and it’s more than a social media post. King devoted his life, and then gave his life, simply to get this country to “be true to what you wrote down,” referencing our founding fathers’ lofty yet unrealized ideals of all men (and women) being equal and enjoying liberty and justice for all. He was committed to the constitution, which asked for a more perfect union.

The fact that businesses like ski resorts don’t do more to foster racial equity—and to get more skiers on the hill participating in the vaunted American Dream—isn’t necessarily because we don’t care. But do we really? It’s great we host Black skiers like Denver’s Ski Noir program. But the reality is, even after George Floyd, it’s hard to figure out exactly what to do to make durable change that doesn’t feel performative.

When you look around at ski areas and see what has been referred to as a “wall of whiteness,” meaning the ads, the people, the menus, the books, the posters, the imagery—that’s not a result of racist attitudes or polices at the resort specifically. If only it were that simple. That wall is a result of many generations of racism across the country, racism that has seeped into every crack. It’s not just about money, but let’s start there.

There is just no denying that skiing is expensive. And due to lifetimes of being shut out of generational, wealth-building home ownership (just a few days ago the Department of Justice secured a ‘largest ever’ 31-million-dollar settlement against the LA-based City National Bank for current day redlining practices that block aspiring Black homeowners), good schooling that leads to good jobs, and outright racist hiring practices, for every dollar that White Americans have, Black Americans have 7 cents.

How can we at Aspen Skiing Company help address that national problem? Because as Americans, we need to live in a country that strives to live up to what we wrote down. It is frankly not worth living a life absent that moral imperative.

Ponder this: Besides the cost of getting here, staying here, eating, and skiing, there’s the issue for Black Americans of feeling comfortable, physically and emotionally safe, and just normal.

How comfortable would you feel at a ski resort where almost 100% of the people you saw were Black? The skiers, the wait staff, the lift attendants, your instructor, the people skiing at a level that you will never achieve, the après-ski crowd, the police in town, the cashiers in the grocery stores and liquor stores, the core dirtbag skiers who make fun of “gapers” wearing the wrong clothes (meaning you), everyone. Everyone except the housekeeping staff. Is that the ski resort that you would choose?

Social media posts are fine and good, and we’ll do one too. But here are five actions resorts can take that will move the needle.

We can try harder to diversify our workforce to the extent possible.

We can remake our look and messaging in all public and internal facing media/marketing/PR to just simply represent a broader swath of America.

We can encourage and recruit, then support and magnify events and groups that are diverse—like Burton Culture Shifters or the National Brotherhood of Skiers.

We can support critical state and national civil rights legislation, like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

And last, we can educate ourselves, our guests, our partners and the community about history, about the legacy of slavery, and about Dr. King and his vision, which was a dream, for sure. But dreams are in the future, and King died doing the more important thing: the labor, in the now, of making that dream possible.

About the Authors

Wayne Hare, a Marine combat veteran and former Aspen ski patroller founded and runs The Civil Conversations Project, devoted to ending racism in this country.

Auden Schendler is Senior Vice President of Sustainability for the Aspen Skiing Company. The Sustainability Department is charged with addressing a litany of issues such as climate change, community health, and racial justice.