Guest Post a Black Girl in Aspen: Black Ski Summit 2013 by Christian McKenzie

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Black Ski Summit 2013
Black Ski Summit 2013

Black Ski Summit 2013

When I invited a few girlfriends to the Black Ski Summit in February, most of them said “There’s a Black Ski Summit?!?!” I’ve known about it for a while but never had a group of friends to go with me. I grew up in Littleton, Colorado (city of the Columbine tragedy) where I had no friends that looked like me and racial tensions were high. I would meet a Black kid my age briefly at church. But I was shy and didn’t have consistent opportunities to forge friendships. When I did have the rare conversation with a contemporary, I was often informed that I wasn’t Black in fact because of my prep school accent/my suburban zip code/lack of in depth hip hop knowledge. And at the age of eight, this seemed to make sense and (sadly) I agreed with the critical words of the other kids. So when I finished high school, I went to Spelman College to give myself a chance to be a part of a community and legacy that I’d never experienced.

Now I’m living in New York and meeting people that not only look like me, but snowboard. One friend actually said I needed to get my weight up before we went to Summit or else I’d embarrass him (I forgive you Kennis). So I got a part-time job at an outdoors store in Soho to build my very expensive snowboarding wardrobe, with an employee discount. When I wasn’t working and shopping for gear, I met my friends at 6 am on Saturday mornings to listen to Nirvana and drive to Hunter Mountain for snowboarding lessons and street meat.

When I clicked the link to the Summit, I was a bit disappointed. The website had a few pictures of an older crowd, networking and looking pretty serious, in very static poses. I didn’t know if this would be the crowd for me. But when have I ever had a group of friends who wanted to take a 4-hour flight to Aspen just to snowboard? I logged on to and booked my flight.

When I got to the Summit, I loved it. It was a lot like an HBCU homecoming. At night, the bars at base camp (the base of the ski slopes), turned into happy hours and clubs. Greeks stepped, the DJ played old school hip hop (Unk, 2pac, Bone Thugs N Harmony, 69 Boyz, UGK), promoters passed out flyers for after hour parties. I met a lot of people from Detroit and Houston, where a few of the ski clubs that support the event were based.

Happy hour and clubs at Black Ski Summit 2013

Happy hour and clubs at Black Ski Summit 2013

There were too many run-ins with cute guys, drunk friends, ‘New Yorkers with a bad sense of direction but unwilling to share the car keys with the rest of us’ to describe here. So I included a recap, in the form of ‘travelling lessons learned,’ below. Here is what helped me get through the trip with my friendships intact and avoiding overdraft fees on my checking account.

1. Sadly, fros do not fit under snowboarding helmets. Plan your hair care regime accordingly.
I pulled back my fro into a small afro puff at the nap of my neck on our first trip to Hunter Mountain. When the girl at the counter helped me smush my helmet onto my head, I knew it was too tight. But I heard the horror stories of hard falls and headaches, so I knew I needed the helmet. Not surprisingly, I fell on my back, with my head hitting the ice during the fall. The helmet went flying, probably because it was too tight to begin with. But the fall could have been much worse without it.

2. Bring a spare change of clothes and park in the deck closest to the slopes to change from snowboard gear to more comfortable clothes for after hour events. Don’t go home to nap/relax/change clothes or you could miss great opportunities to make friends.

When travelling with a group, there are too many debates about who is using which car and where they plan to go. So to avoid lengthy discussions on when to go back to the hotel, how long you should stay, and when to head back to the parties, just don’t use the car during the day at all. Pack for a full day. You can always find a place to freshen up once you get to your destination.

3. If you leave the parking deck after 9pm, the attendants go home and you don’t have to pay the day rate.

We accidently found out that leaving and coming back to the parking deck throughout the day cost $25 and up. So we parked in the deck in Snowmass ski resort by 9am and left at about 9pm. But there was no attendant there when we left. We decided to stick to this plan for the rest of the week.

4. Book your gear rental at a chain (we used Breeze) on so that you can pick-up/drop off outside of Aspen for a cheaper rate.

You can check out gear rental rates at your destination in advance online. But the closer you are to your destination, the higher the prices are. Since we flew into Denver, we had to drive to Aspen. So we decided to pick up our snowboards and boots on the way, which saved us about $50 each. Plus, we could return our gear to any location in the state.

5. Not all friends travel well. Bring snacks to make them smile.
There were some disagreements among friends. Snacks broke the silence and killed the tension in car rides.

6. Ask your hotel/lodge if they offer discount lift passes.

We stayed at Aspenalt and saved about $25/day on our lift tickets by picking them up from the reservation desk every morning instead of at Snowmass.

7. Hydrate. Drinking at night and skiing all day can make you sick, especially in high altitudes.

There are numerous stories with predictable endings to tell here. Just drink water/Gatorade throughout the week.

8. Spend a day in the town of Aspen seeing the clean streets, shopping, eating Mexican food.

We ate at the Taqueria Karely food truck in a Rite Aid parking lot. I got a $6 burrito adobada (which I was not able to get a definite English translation for). But the guy in the truck hurriedly put on plastic gloves before he accepted my cash even as a steady row of cars pulled up just to get a meal. I wish food trucks in New York were as hygienic. On our last day we had my favorite Mexican dessert for lunch, sopapillas from La Palapa. It’s a sweet and light puff pastry, drilled with honey and whipped cream. You can’t get that in New York City.

Now that I’m back in New York (and missing sopapillas), I realized that Aspen was more than a chance to snowboard on fresh powder and visit high school friends. It was an experience that will be harder and harder to replicate with a schedule that grows with more weddings and baby showers each year. It was a chance to be with people I love, doing something I love. So glad I saved up for it because certain experiences cannot be rescheduled or postponed.

Black people in Aspen

Black people in Aspen

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