Racial Justice

Racial Justice - our stance at Aspen Snowmass

February 24, 2021
When our friend Quincy Shannon visited Snowmass, he asked us how he’d know if he’d be safe in our community.

Q, as he is known, is a leader in the Denver community who is also Black. He is an avid skier and runs an organization called Ski Noir that brings Black youth and community groups to the mountains.

The truth is, we didn’t have a good answer. But our conversations with him, and with half a dozen other Black leaders and friends and employees and colleagues, was step-one as we recommitted to a range of actions around racial justice, and the challenges and inequities that Black Americans face. We did this, as did many businesses and individuals, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. And we did it with the understanding that Black Americans face specific injustices that are not faced by other citizens — which is the reason for the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” Injustices like not being sure if you will be safe in a given community, and having good reason for that concern.

What Our Recommitment Looks Like On The Ground

The broad focus of our approach is straightforward: our goal is to learn, and teach employees and guests about racial injustice; to create a more welcoming environment for our Black brothers and sisters, friends and guests; and use our influence to promote equity. But what does this mean, on the ground?

In part, it has meant opening our eyes. Riding up the lift, for example, we have an ad for our ski shops, Four Mountain Sports. It shows ten people, most of them men, none of them Black. How might a black visitor feel seeing that picture? How else does our homogeny manifest?

Mike and Q atop Aspen Mountain
Little Libraries
Well, certainly in our workforce writ large. So we embarked on a program to expand hiring pipelines in the Black community in Denver, offering subsidized housing, mentorship, and new guest markets. But that program struggled. It was our first year. Neither group knew each other, or the requirements. So it will be a building process that starts with relationships, with the ultimate goal of diversifying our workforce and exposing new people to our industry.

We launched a community read. Partnering with Aspen Words and Roaring Fork Show Up, we built and filled Little Free Libraries with copies of “Between the World and Me.” We ran out of books. Fast. So now we’re refilling the libraries with Black-authored and anti-racism books to help our community educate itself. Some of these books, like “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson, teach about structural inequity. Others are phenomenal poetry, autobiographies, and fiction by Black authors whose voices should be amplified and appreciated. In the future we’ll add Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Tayari Jones, Ernest Gaines, Walter Mosley, and John Edgar Wideman.

Through our relationship, we delivered three Subarus worth of coats and dozens of new helmets to Ski Noir in the winter of 2021. And the equipment will keep coming, as we know that ski gear costs add up and are a barrier to accessing the slopes.

Not A One-Way Relationship

Mike and Auden in Denver
But as Q said, this isn’t a one-way relationship. So a team of senior executives spent a weekend with Q and friends in Denver. Visiting with Black real estate developers; handing out sandwiches to homeless people; and better understanding this history and sense of place in the Five Points District of Denver. We also scarfed down fried plantains, red beans and rice, catfish and banana pudding from a Black-owned restaurant in a Black-owned cross-fit gym on a Friday night just before COVID shut down Denver.

We are in conversations with others, too. Henri Rivers, the president of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, which first came to Aspen in 1973, has been generous with his time and counsel. Old friend Wayne Hare of the Civil Conversations Project is now on board in a range of ways, and hosted us on one of his podcasts. Denver businessman and avid skier Tele Mike Russell has become an advisor and friend. ASC employees, including Randy Dube and Darnell Rose, have provided feedback to help us move forward on ideas.

We are grateful to have good friends and advisors to be sounding boards, unravel our role in racial justice over Limelight beers, and take a few Alpine coaster laps just for fun. Their willingness to respond to questions that might be awesome, dumb, or tokenizing is critical in this work and in building a strong relationship. We make mistakes. They make mistakes. We remain friends.

The Road Ahead

Getting to the place we want to be will take a smattering of changes big and small: menu items that make our Black guests feel at home; major financial and organizational support for organizations taking Black kids skiing; a Black Ski Week in Aspen and continuing to host the National Brotherhood of Skiers; renaming a ski run celebrating Black historical figures; art by Black artists (we’ve been doing this for years — check out Elk Camp at Snowmass — but can expand that program); more unconscious bias trainings and the understanding that trainings are not enough; playing a role in the national conversation around systemic solutions, fighting voter suppression, and supporting voting rights legislation like the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act; fill in the blank [no seriously, if you have suggestions, please feel free to submit them here]; continual learning about racial inequity at both an interpersonal and structural level, and hopefully more banana pudding.

So we’ll keep listening, learning, and doing, and we hope you’ll join us. As Satchel Paige said: “Ain't no man can avoid being born average, but there ain't no man got to be common.” In short: it’s on us to become a special, enlightened, and better form of ourselves. And we are up for it.


Top photo: Pyramid Peak
Second photo: Mike Kaplan, CEO of Aspen Skiing Company, and Quincy Shannon, president of Ski Noir, at the top of Aspen Mountain.
Third photo: A little library at the Aspen Institute
Fourth photo: Auden Schendler, SVP of Sustainability; Rich Burkley, SVP of Strategy; and Mike Kaplan making sandwiches with Ski Noir in Denver.

Expand Your Horizons

Learn more about the National Brotherhood of Skiers
Contribute to restock our libraries with anti-racism or Black-authored books
Listen to Seeing White, a podcast that describes the impacts of whiteness on society
Engage with former Buttermilk and Snowmass Patroller Wayne Hare’s Civil Conversations project

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