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In Vail, 2,000 Black Skiers and Snowboarders Hit the Slopes

In Vail, 2,000 Black Skiers and Snowboarders Hit the Slopes

In the weeks leading up to my February trip to snowy Vail, I was told by several people — promised, really — that I would “feel the magic” of the 50th anniversary gathering of the National Brotherhood of Skiers before I even arrived in Colorado.

“There’s a palpable excitement in the air,” said Mackenzie Phillips, 46, a fitness instructor and avid skier and snowboarder who has attended Brotherhood gatherings, which they call summits, since 2001. “Just seeing the faces in the airport and people coming in is really something magical,” she added. “I hope you’ll feel it.”

I wasn’t sure exactly what everyone meant, but I was looking forward to finding out. I quickly came to understand: At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, I saw Black skiers and snowboarders checking in their skis, boots and boards. When I landed in Denver, there were groups of mountain-bound people in their matching ski club jackets. By the time I got to the Hythe Hotel in Vail, I had a sense of the vastness of the event I was attending.

“There’s something special about this week and the way we all gather here,” said Michele Lewis, 72, a member of Philadelphia’s Blazers Ski Club, as she stood atop Vail Mountain on the second day of the summit. “When I started skiing, I didn’t know that so many Black people skied, but here we are.”

This year’s gathering, called Soul on the Snow, drew 2,000 people to Vail from Feb. 4 to 11. Newbies took lessons, while the old-timers got their regular runs in. Some people broke off into groups for snowmobiling and tubing. There were chances to participate in ski races, learn about new gear and try different kinds of skiing.

The hub of the weeklong gathering was the Hythe, a short walk from the Eagle Bahn Gondola and the Born Free Express and Pride Express lifts. Its lower level hosted banquets and dinners throughout the week. Happy hours and panels on the main floor were hard to miss, and families gathered in the outdoor firepit area every evening to make s’mores.

Outside the hotel, the Tavern on the Square, with its large outdoor patio, seemed to have a constant waiting list of people hoping to go straight from the slopes to the bar. Before skiing, after skiing and even after the parade kicking off the week’s celebrations, where each ski club showed off its jackets and spirit, Garfinkel’s bar was the place to be. This year, the singers Ne-Yo and Anthony Hamilton popped into town to perform, too.

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