A Guide to Skiing and Snowboarding for Black Travellers

Off Piste
Courtesy of Off Piste


Off Piste are a collective bringing Black culture to the slopes. Here, they share their tips for first timers.

Over the past few weeks, the internet has been gripped by the high-profile case of Gwyneth Paltrow’s alleged hit and run ski crash in 2016, at Utah’s Deer Valley Resort. Retired optometrist Terry Sanderson claimed the actor and Goop founder collided with him and skied away, allegedly leaving him with broken ribs and brain trauma. Paltrow, in return, countersued for one dollar. Ultimately, the jury concluded that Paltrow was not to be held liable for the claims.

The case has whipped up a storm of content, igniting an avalanche of “I wish you well” memes and viral clips. It’s also sparked discussions on accessibility to the sport itself, with people commenting on Paltrow’s fame, whiteness and privilege.

Skiing has long been seen as an inaccessible sport by many communities of colour. Seen as a symbol of white, middle-class identity, the image of the sport itself appears exclusionary. According to the National Ski Areas Association, 88.2 percent of visitors to ski areas during the 2019 to 2020 season were white, while 1.8 percent were Black. Snow sports still have some way to go in diversifying, and collectives such as Off Piste are taking matters into their own hands.

The new initiative is helping to break down barriers that Black communities face in accessing the sport, by actively bringing Black culture to the slopes and “disturbing the piste”. As a new community of skiers and snowboarders, group members range from beginners to professionals. “The black pound is very valuable,” co-founder Karen Grillo said. “And there's so much opportunity to get more people from that background into the sport and on the slopes. It will essentially benefit everyone in the industry.”

She added, “It’s still very underrepresented, and part of it is not having that awareness, maybe not having a path to it. Accessibility is not just about money, it's also about representation and seeing examples of it, but then also feeling that it's an environment that you'll enjoy.”

With a few weeks left to go of 2023’s ski season, the new community demystify some of the misconceptions around skiing and snowboarding, and lend their advice for first timers on how to navigate the slopes.


Ski with someone

Ski with someone that knows how to ski or is better at skiing than you. I found that just from being on Tiktok and being on ski Tiktok you'll see groups go on ski trips but they actually don't book lessons, they just get the equipment and jump on the slopes. But you really do need to learn the basics. It's almost like learning to walk again – learning how to ski or learning to snowboard. Get a minimum of two to three days of lessons so that you're comfortable on the slopes, that you know the basics. Get a friend to try and teach you and take you down. Lessons are probably better because you're having a trained expert and professional walk you through from step one. Then just really go for it.

You're going to fall; even the professionals fall sometimes, but that's how you'll learn. Don't be afraid to fall or feel like you're going to look silly because it's part of the process. Once you get through a tough two days of learning, there'll be a point where it does click. It’s about persevering through that and not giving up. Going with friends is helpful because you're able to encourage one another, pick each other up when you fall, and it's such a great bonding experience. It's nice to share it with other people, and if you don't have friends to do it [with], find a community like Off Piste.


Or go with a group

[Skiing] is relatively inaccessible compared to other holidays because you've got your equipment, rental lessons; then, when you ski, you're on the mountain and resort, and it might be limited in terms of where you can get cheap food. So there are those considerations. But, overall, people don't appreciate that there are cheap and relatively affordable ski resorts, like the ones that exist in Bulgaria; that, yes, it's not the Alps but you get everything that you need to get into the sport – especially as a beginner.

We did a post-trip survey with our community and people were very happy with what they spent and most people were able to stick to their budget. That shows that it's surprisingly cheaper than what you might think. Going with a group, you're able to get access to group discounts, so that's part of why we're keen to grow the community because if we're able to grow this collectively, we're able to pass on discounts to everyone that's involved.

[Ski wear] can be quite expensive, and you're only going to wear it on that trip. We were lucky to be able to partner with Jack Wills this year and we were able to give people 50 ski outfits, so people in our community were able to get free kits. That's another way we were able to bring down the cost for people.


Be brave

When you fall down or get back up that's a part of the process you get used to. It’s a bit like roller skating: the more I roller skate, the more I fall down, the better I get. You need to be confident falling.


Layer up

But to be comfortable falling, layer up. Wear two to three layers. By nature, a lot of the time you’ll be warm, but, just in case, be layered.


Express yourself

Express yourself; it's fine to wear bright colours. That’s the whole point. One thing I love about skiing is the level of individualism. Like, wear a flag. Show yourself, wear a funny hat and stuff like that. It's all about expression, who you are. There's no hiding in this instance.

We brought some Afrobeats to the slopes. Next year, we might bring some jerk chicken to the slopes as well.


Do some stretches

Make sure your hips are in good [shape], your adductors and abductors and all that stuff is also useful. When I was skiing this year, I thought that the sort of stiffness of becoming 30 is creeping.