Diversity in the sporting community has been steadily improving over the years but there’s still a lot to do

Snowsports have a lot of catching up to do in terms of participation amongst different communities and getting more athletes from different walks of life involved in the sport.

One of Snowsports' big challenges is accessibility and perception it’s an old rich man’s sport. How can the sport be easily participated in? How can the ski industry make it more inviting to younger and more diverse members of society?  
 
Let’s face it. Snowsports have a stereotypical look. Whether it’s a white middle-aged man shredding powder or the high-class champaign-flute-drinking family near a 5* chalet, this is the imagery used amongst most ski brands and tour operators. This has been the case for many years. There’s definitely a big barrier and perception to break. Actions are needed to break the mold and it won’t just change overnight, but changes are needed now more than ever.  
 
We highlight key points from around the UK and international snowsport community that are affecting diversity.  
 

Governing bodies  

Since the tragic death of George Floyd, Snowsport governing bodies in the UK have released statements and initiatives highlighting their hope to improve diversity in Snowsports.  
 
CEO of GB Snowsport Vicky Gosling released a statement: “When I joined GB Snowsport, I wanted to bring change within the organisation but also externally.  We know that Snowsports can appeal to anyone, reach everyone and be inclusive, but we must increase our efforts to make sure that this really happens. We are going in the right direction, but we all need to challenge ourselves and to ask how we can do better.” 
 
Snowsport Scotland have created a 4-year Equality action plan, the governing body explains: “Each objective set out, aims to make sure that no athlete, coach or member faces additional barriers of gender, sexuality, race or age. 
 
Snowsports England has joined other National Governing Bodies in UK Sport and recreation by becoming a co-signatory of a statement issued by the Sport and Recreational Alliance (SRA) that has pledged a sector-wide commitment to tackle inequality and bring about a meaningful change.  
 
It’s encouraging to see positive steps by snowsport governing bodies but it’s important to see the actions being implemented successfully in the future too.  

 

Charities and Communities 

Urban Shredderz

There are charities and communities within the snowsport world that are already promoting and giving people from different backgrounds, opportunities to participate in the sport.  

Snow-Camp is a charity programme that provides an accessible platform for young inner-city individuals to be involved in Snowsports. It aims to engage with young people in a positive environment, using snowsports as a tool to do this. The programme takes place at indoor snowsports centres in London, the North West, the Midlands and Scotland. 

Snow Camp’s programme starts from July-June each year and only takes on students with zero snowsport experience. Promoting the sport to a new and diverse young audience. There’s an opportunity to get various work experiences and qualifications in the snowsport industry, that will later help the lives of the young participants in the job market.  

In 2017, a snowsport community called Urban Shredderz was formed to encourage those of pan-African heritage and urban communities to participate in snowsports. Darryl George the founder of the snowsport community formed Urban Shredderz to help bridge the gap of the lack of diveristy in snowsports.  

George explained to GB Snowsport in an interview: “I aimed to build a community of likeminded people that shared my vision of overcoming stereotypes and cultural taboos. I wanted to dispel the urban myths associated with snow related activities. 

Urban Shredderz have connected 600+ people to try snowsports in a positive environment for the first time at indoor snow centres. In addition to this there have been trips to the Alps and now even merchandise sold with the Urban Shredderz logo.  

There are only a few examples of charities making a real difference in terms of diversity in snowsports. The wider snowsports industry needs to take note of these organisations and help towards the goal of equality in the mountains.  

 

Disability Snowsports

DSUK

One area that Snowsports has thrived in, is access for disabled skiers and snowboarders. There are many charities and schools that use snowsports as a great platform for disabled people to enjoy physical activity. Disability Snowsports UK and Snowbility are currently using snowsports as a platform for their students. Whether it’s a physical or mental disability, these initiatives have been at the forefront of allowing access to snowsports to these individuals, with the best coaching and care.  
 
The DSUK delivered 407 lessons across the UK and in the mountains in February 2020. An incredible amount of lessons hosted for a variety of different needs across the country. The organisation for many years has been leading the way in how to coach skiers or snowboarders with disabilities.  
 
Snowbility focuses on the incredible benefits that can be achieved for people with additional needs and mental health challenges through ski and snowboard coaching. Lessons are based in Hemel and Tamworth snow centres. The lessons promote a safe environment with an infinite sense of adventure and fun, where each student feels special and every course is tailored to deliver a unique personal experience. 
 
The recent Winter Paralympic and Special Olympics have been a huge success and have motivated disabled skiers and snowboarders to go to their local slopes. Whether it’s to enjoy it recreationally or fulfill a sporting dream, these international events have showcased the talents of incredible individuals.  
 
More than ever these organisations need support through fundraising and promotion of their causes. DSUK in particular had a urgent fundraising effort because of COVID-19, at the time of writing they are 80% near their £40,000 target. To donate click here.  

 

Professional level 

Chloe Kim

On a competitor level, most top snowsport athletes are white and have been throughout the sport’s history. There are some exceptions in recent times. The last and the next Winter Olympic Games are in Asia and this has seen a big increase in participation across the continent in Winter Sports.  

PyeongChang saw South Korea showcase their Winter Sports community and tourism. US Snowboarding star Chloe Kim has South Korean parents and was the high profile medal prospect for the US Ski and Snowboarding team at the last Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Kim won gold in the women’s snowboard halfpipe and became the youngest athlete to win a gold medal at a Winter Olympics. Kim has now become a role model for future snowboarders and broke the stereotypical image barrier of the sport.  

Every Winter Olympic year, athletes represent African nations in the snowsport disciplines, and they are reported as almost a novelty to the event. Yes, a lot of these athletes aren’t going to be anywhere near the top of the podium presently, but the tone of reporting must be careful not to trivialise their participation. It should be encouraging that athletes from different nations can develop for future snowsport events and potentially be top competitors of the future.  

Another high-profile story was freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy announcing to ESPN that he was gay and hoped he could: “Help kids that are in the same position I was.” Kenworthy was labeled in the press as the “first action-sports star to come out”. This interview was only in 2015, so it’s a relatively new development in the sport that an athlete feels comfortable to share his personal sexuality to the world. Hopefully, more athletes feel comfortable doing so in the future and it will become the norm to be able to express LGTBQ+ views more openly in snowsports.  

The highest level of snowsports and the athletes showcase incredible talents to the masses. It will be great if we had a variety of personalities and backgrounds performing at the top level.  

The Future 

It will be interesting to see how governing bodies, communities, and charities come together in the years to come to promote diversity in snowsports. Significant change will come when the snowsport industry and resorts understand that better access will be better financially for everyone. The cost of the sport and appealing to different ethnic backgrounds has been and will continue to be a problem. However, any progress is still progress. All aspects of the snowsport community, not only in the UK, need to come together to include more people from different walks of life.  

If you have any thoughts on this topic, we would love to hear from you, please email us at information@skiclub.co.uk  

Useful articles and content

James Gambrill MTN LinkedIn Article – Mountains for all? To what extent have we assured the shrinking of the market by ignoring so many segments and demographics 

The history of skiing (And why it’s so white) Instagram post 

The Rising Phoenix Netflix documentary 

Equality in Alpine Ski Racing US Ski and Snowboard  

BIPOC Snowsport athletes you can follow on social media

Brooklyn Bell

Dennis Ranalter 

Jake Mageau

Parasnowsport athletes, you can follow on social media  

Millie Knight

Kelly Gallagher

Trevor Kennison