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Resorts must reach out

Allen Best
Special to the Daily Activists say ski resorts have to make an extra effort to recruit minorities to the sport. Mountain High, shown above, is a resort outside of L.A. that is becoming a model in the industry for attracting Hispanics, African Americans and Asians.
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Roberto Moreno remembers vividly his first visit to the mountains. The son of itinerant farm workers who followed the crops in California’s San Joaquin Valley and along the coast, he was living in East Los Angeles.

“We were a family that ate tortillas and beans every day,” he recalls. “That and bologna.”

His life-transforming experience occurred at age 11, after he joined the Boy Scouts. Through the Scouts he went to Big Bear, a ski resort in the San Bernardino Mountains. The mountains, he says, bowled him over.

“I was hooked,” he says.

For college, he chose the University of California at Berkley, because it had a lodge near Lake Tahoe. More recently, the 55-year-old Moreno has worked as both a ski patroller at Copper Mountain and a ski instructor at Keystone as well as a hotelier.

Now operating a public relations and diversity consulting firm based in Denver’s LoDo district, where he and his wife live, Moreno has made it his mission to carve out the same mountain-based opportunities for other minority youth as he was first offered by the Boy Scouts.

“I cannot imagine what the lives of my kids would be like – I have four daughters – had they not been introduced to snow sports when they were young and shared mountain experiences with my wife and myself,” he says. “There are just incredible bonds formed in mountains.”

Pushing inclusively

His latest effort is a group called Alpino (www.alpino.org), which has a two-fold mission. One, it hopes to help youths who do not have the money to ski or snowboard, Moreno says. Second, it is to continue Moreno’s 12-year push of the ski industry to seek more diversity and inclusiveness.

The aim in all cases is youth-oriented.

To get poorer and minority youths to the slopes, he is seeking sponsors. Among the first programs is centered in Trinidad, in an old and poor coal-mining region of southern Colorado. A corporate sponsor, Evergreen Resources, which is developing natural gas deposits there, is helping pay to get kids to the slopes at Angel Fire, a nearby resort in New Mexico.

The program is somewhat similar to the acclaimed Snowboard Outreach Society, an Avon-based group that for the past 10 years has used the “cool” of snowboarding to attract youth into a character-development program. The program emphasizes such things as discipline, courage and compassion.

“We know we are introducing a lot of youth, including Latino youth, to snowboarding, and they will in turn teach their friends and family members, who will probably remain in the sport for years to come,” says Seth Blackmer, SOS’s curriculum director.

Moreno has also aided in efforts to put students from Denver Public Schools onto ski slopes. He says he hopes even more youth from Denver will get to the slopes through a new program being launched under the administration of Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.

According to recent census figures, 51 percent of Denver – the city but not the suburbs – is now composed of minority groups, mostly Hispanic and African-American.

The ski industry, Moreno charges, doesn’t know how to reach out to youth of color. He thinks he does.

First, ski areas must actively recruit from minority groups. “They don’t discriminate against black and Hispanic people, but they don’t go out of their way to ensure that minorities become part of the work force,” he says. By work force, he means front-line positions such as ski patrollers, lift-ticket sellers and others that the public sees.

Why is this important? He asks that you imagine going to a Vail – or Breckenridge or Snowmass – and 99 percent of the workforce was black. A white person, he suggests, feel somewhat uncomfortable.

Ad adjustments

Similarly, ski areas must aggressively seek to include people of color in their advertising messages, Moreno says. To understand what is happening, he said, go to the Keystone Web site.

In its bid to go young, Keystone is catering to snowboarders and freestylers. Those styles are heavily influenced by the skateboard culture of urban areas, which in turn largely follows the cue of the hip-hop minority cultures.

Yet the Keystone Website shows another reality. “Eighty percent of the pictures are of attractive young white women,” Moreno says. “You will not find a person of color anywhere on that site.

“Is it any wonder that skiing is almost totally irrelevant for minority groups in Colorado?” he asks. “When they hear the ski resorts on television every night, it’s totally irrelevant to them, because they have absolutely no interest in getting on I-70 and going to resorts where they don’t feel welcome.”

If Colorado resorts want to recruit minorities, they should reach out to the hundreds of existing groups and organizations, such as Hispanic MBA associations, black physicians groups and others, Moreno says.

To do this most effectively, ski area marketing staffs should include minority members, he maintains, as they are mostly likely to have established networks in those communities.

‘Environmental justice’

Finally, he sees this not merely as a business issue, but also what can be called an issue of environmental justice. Ski areas are primarily on national forest lands and so there should be a diversity of people using those ski areas. Instead, ski areas using national forests are largely enclaves of more affluent white people.

Moreno says he intends to begin prodding ski areas more explicitly to begin walking their talk of diversity and inclusiveness. He says he will steer customers toward those who do follow through.

Moreno says he has been greatly encouraged in the last year by what he has heard from ski executives at Aspen, Breckenridge and Vail.

He also sees some action. Advised of the paucity of minorities on the Web sites, Vail Resorts’ director of communications, Kelly Ladyga, this spring ordered remedial photographs.

Moreno expects this progress to continue.

“I’m not saying they’re going to solve the problem overnight,” he says, “but I am encouraged. They are willing to spend the time, energy and money to get this done.”

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Teacher taking new skiers to the slopes

In Colorado, ski areas have discovered reaching out to potential new skiers means more than just putting out an open sign.

For example, while Colorado Ski Country USA has for several years allowed fifth-graders to ski free, youngsters do not take advantage of it equally. Those who have parents or other relatives who ski are much more likely to take part.

That means fewer students – even when there is no cost – from Denver’s Hispanic and African-American neighbors.

But a program at Martin Luther King Middle School in Denver overcomes some of that resistance. There, a math teacher, Hank Lamport, has taken small groups of students, mostly Latinos and African-Americans from low-income neighborhoods to Eldora Mountain Resort, a smaller mountain west of Boulder.

A grant from the Sierra Club defrays transportation costs and Eldora provides a $30 package of lifts, lessons and equipment. His program has grown to 500 students and he hopes to expand it to 5,000 students.

Rob Linde, marketing manager at Eldora, says the program works well for his resort.

“To do an advertising campaign to target an ethic group doesn’t really make sense,” he says. “We just don’t have the money for such a campaign.

“A more grassroots effort, with the schools putting them on a bus, makes sense from our perspective,” he adds. “And because we’re the closest resort to Denver, it makes sense for the schools.”

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Hispanics bridging the ‘snow divide’

By Allen Best

Special to the Daily

Those of the Hispanic culture have long been wary of skiing. Teachers in the Vail area say that for decades Hispanic youth in the Eagle Valley have shied away from free-skiing programs offered local students.

“We used to have to get somebody who could speak Spanish to call the parents to encourage them to go through the program,” says Cathy Casper, a former teacher at Meadow Mountain Elementary School.

Another Meadow Mountain teacher, Lorraine Lopez, made those telephone calls. Whether natives, longtime residents or immigrants, Hispanic parents had the same concerns. They feared the cost – $20 to $30 to get into the program – they feared for the safety of their children and they feared the lack of necessary clothing.

But the parents also feared something more fundamental – that they just didn’t fit in. Parents, recalls Lopez, now retired to the San Luis Valley, had a basic lack of confidence.

This reluctance of Hispanics seems to be changing, not only in the Eagle Valley but also from Jackson Hole to Aspen to Telluride.

Facing fears

At Beaver Creek, a three-year program seeks to overcome what might be called the “snow divide” by first introducing parents to board sports. The idea came from Leticia Harrison, a ski instructor originally from Mexico City. Vail Resorts agreed to provide equipment, lift tickets, bi-lingual lessons, even the clothing, if necessary.

Harrison then went to the burgeoning immigrant community of Avon and Edwards, soliciting interest from parents of children at elementary schools in those two communities. Interest has grown to include 27 parents at the session held this year in late February.

The fundamental problem is that the immigrant parents live in the community, but are not really part of it, explains Harrison. Although working as maids in hotels and other service-oriented jobs in the tourism industry, few Hispanic parents understand skiing.

Like Lopez, she also reports a more general fear – fear of going where they don’t belong and also wariness of a sport they don’t understand.

This fear dissipates during the lesson, Harrison says. “They are like children,” she reports. “They just get so excited about skiing, they don’t want to stop.”

She recalls her students this year, sitting in the base-area cafeteria at Beaver Creek, beaming with pleasure while eating lunch, relishing their newfound role of being on the other side of the service industry.

Some of these briefly trained parents have then continued to ski on their own. The cost of the equipment isn’t really prohibitive, she says. And many Hispanic employees have ski passes, if they want them.

‘A new life’

It’s not clear what difference this program makes in terms of participation rates by children. At Avon Elementary School, school officials report only 20 or so students have not participated in the learn-to-ski program and not all of those are Hispanics. No report was available from Edwards Elementary School.

From the perspective of Vail Resorts, the goal is not necessarily to teach parents how to ski, but rather to give them an opportunity to understand the sport better, says Kara Hyde, who manages community contributions for Vail Resorts.

Harrison seems an activist by nature. A 10-year resident of the Eagle Valley, she helped organize Hispanics at the Eagle River Village, a trailer park at Edwards, to secure a stoplight to improve safety for pedestrians crossing a perilous stretch U.S. Highway 6.

She has also been heavily involved in school activities at Edwards Elementary School, where she has a daughter attending classes. The school is 60 percent Hispanic and overall, 40 percent of students in the Eagle Valley are Hispanic.

Curiously, there’s a marked difference in participation between the elementary schools in Edwards and Avon. Parents in Avon are much more receptive to learning to ski than those in Edwards, Harrison says.

Harrison theorizes that in Edwards, many parents rent trailers, with the expectation that they will return to Mexico after two or three years. Many of the Avon parents have purchased their trailers and some even their own condominiums. They have sunk roots and learning to ski is part of that commitment.

Recalling her years at Meadow Mountain, Lopez says that the learn-to-ski program created a remarkable change in those Hispanics who participated. “The children loved it, and wanted more,” she says. “They saw a new life, that even skiing could change their lives. It was really neat to watch.”

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