Skiers and snowboarders network on Vail Mountain at 6th Black Enterprise Ski Challenge |

Skiers and snowboarders network on Vail Mountain at 6th Black Enterprise Ski Challenge

Christine Ina Casillas
Vail Daily/Coreen SappEarl G. Graves takes in the scene at Mid-Vail Saturday afternoon. Graves is the founder of the Black Enterprise Ski Challenge.

Mid-Vail overflowed with people Saturday afternoon for the sixth Black Enterprise/AXA Advisors Ski Challenge, an event that brings black skiers and snowboarders alike to the mountain to enjoy the weekend, meet people and conduct business.

“I bet a lot of people are saying, “Why are there so many black people on the mountain skiing?'” said Jeri Kincade, a rental property owner from St. Louis, Mo. Kincade has been coming to the Ski Challenge every year for the last four years. She’s an avid skier but said she still needs lessons.

“I did a lot of the spa this year,” Kincade admitted. “But it is a vacation that mixes good business with good financial advice.”

More than 700 skiers and snowboarders attended the weekend’s Ski Challenge, which also included social events, picnics and financial and business seminars.

Going for the gold

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There are an estimated one million black ski enthusiasts in the U.S. who ski more than 14 days a year. The country’s oldest ski club is an African American organization called the National Brotherhood of Skiers, whose goals these days are to involve people from big cities and urban areas in skiing and also for black skiers to win gold medals in the Olympics and World Cup competitions.

The organization comprises more than 80 clubs in 40 American cities.

“There are so many events and so much to do,” Kincade said. “I come back every year because it’s organized so well. My only worry is how to fit it into my schedule.”

That was part of the plan for the Ski Challenge, said Earl G. Graves, owner of Black Enterprise magazine and founder of the event. When the challenge began six years ago, Graves wanted to provide a venue that excited people.

Graves, a part-time Beaver Creek resident, was on Beaver Creek Mountain the day it opened in 1980. Graves and his wife were the first African American couple in the neighborhood when, more than 10 years ago, they bought a house in Smuggler’s Notch, Vt., next to Stowe ski resort. By the time they sold the house, they finally had African American neighbors.

But Graves was no stranger to Beaver Creek or the Vail Valley. He knew and was friends with Vail’s founders.

“I went to the opening of Beaver Creek when it only had a charter and a tent,” Graves said. “It was only natural that we would move here and it was only natural that we would start the challenge. It’s been a success from the beginning.”

Business tips

The purpose of five-day Ski Challenge is to bring African American business leaders from across the country together to meet each other and share secrets to success, said Andrew Wadium, spokesman for Black Enterprise magazine.

“The purpose of this event is tri-fold,” Wadium said. “People are here to have a good time, network and ski.”

The business seminars were in the morning, ending early enough for the skiers and snowboarders to shred the mountain. Saturday morning, for instance, women were drawn to a financial seminar teaching them that “Man is not a plan,” Wadium said.

“The seminar this morning was designed for women and how to invest their money,” he said.

Successful skiers

Most people don’t think black people ski, said Moses Brewer, manager of the African American market for the Coors Brewing Co., one of the sponsors of the event.

“The biggest thing people talk about when it comes to skiing is income,” Brewer said. “But all the African Americans here are very successful and are able to provide for their families and take lessons. They are all avid skiers.”

Brewer has been coming to the event since it began six years ago and, he said, it gives entrepreneurs a chance to visit with a captive audience and focus on their products.

But the Challenge isn’t just for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Workers of all professions come to meet people and become more successful.

“We have doctors, manufacturers of airplane parts, automobile dealers, advertising agencies and industrial services personnel come to this event,” Wadium said.

“Just a sport’

Linda Carter, a Memphis resident who works for Fed Ex, said she is mixing business with pleasure – and it’s her first time at the Challenge.

“I’m here actually working but I did manage to go skiing this morning,” Carter said. Carter has been skiing for about 12 years and said it’s “just a sport to me.”

But the Challenge was exceeding her expectations, she said, and even if she wasn’t at the Challenge because of her job, she will return next year.

David Branch of the Law Office of David Branch P.C. from Washington, D.C. said he and his wife, Gigi, come to the seminars after a trip to Aspen.

“Now we’re hooked,” Gigi Branch said.

“We come back because of the atmosphere,” David Branch said.

The event this year was so popular that people were being turned away “left, right and center,” Wadium said. The event sold out in December.

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or at

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