It was the mid-50s. Racial tensions were high across the U.S. as civil rights movements brewed and Black Americans began to push for equal treatment.
A group of Black men from the Detroit area wanted to ski. And they would venture across Michigan, with friends, to mountains. They were often denied hotel accommodations and met with racism.
“When they realized they were Black people they were denied a room,” said Jim Dandy Ski Club president Janice M. Jackson. “They just slept in their cars, got up the next morning, and went out there and skied on the mountain anyway. They persevered and that’s what caused them to start the ski club. They said we need to have our own group and hang out together at the mountain and we need to come in numbers.”
Frank Blount, William Morgan, and Reginald Wilson founded Jim Dandy Ski Club in 1958 to encourage fellowship among Black people who enjoyed the winter sport including showing up in numbers to fight racist attitudes.
The club, named after the musical hit, Jim Dandy to the Rescue, by Lavern Backer, started with about two dozen skiers in Detroit, Mich. That number grew to hundreds over the years and in its heyday, Jim Dandy boasted 500 active members.
Over the years membership has declined while organization leaders work to figure out how to bring in more younger people. They currently have about 200 active members who are mostly between ages 55 and 70.
About 88 percent of visitors to ski areas during the 2019-2020 season were white and 1.8 percent were Black, according to The National Ski Areas Association.
“We really want to change that,” Jackson said. We’re trying to bring in younger people who can take our place…it’s coming really slow. A long time ago (being in a club) was the best way to ski because there was so much discrimination back then…But that’s not the case now. Racism still exists but it’s not nearly as bad. Young people don’t feel like they have to be in a club to ski.”
Bethany Collins can remember growing up skiing. As a small child, she was one of the youngest members of her father’s ski club, the Flint Snowbirds.
“On Fridays, after school, we would be out at Mt. Holly (in Michigan) getting our patches,” Collins said. “The patch program would make sure we knew how to do certain things and skiing would be safe.” Collins, 50, started skiing at four years old. The Flint Snowbirds have dissolved. Collins now helps run Soltice Sports, a virtual club supporting various sports.
“It’s a virtual club so you can be anywhere in America to be part of the club,” Collins said.
Despite a gap in Black people who ski, both Jackson and Collins say there is still a healthy population of Blacks interested in the sport.
“We are all part of the National Brotherhood of Skiers,” Collins said. “What’s nice (about) being part of a ski club is there is always someone out there helping you make it affordable and helping you with clothing as well. It’s always a benefit to joining a club.” Collins said it could cost an average of $600 per person for a weekend ski trip.
The National Brotherhood of Skiers has about 52 ski clubs scattered throughout the nation who are members of the organization.
Black skiers from all over show up annually for the National Brotherhood of Skiers Summit. Hundreds of Black skiers show up for the annual event. Clubs like Jim Dandy also hold events throughout the year including some events in other countries.
“When you support a club you get better prices and service and somebody to back you up financially,” Jackson said. She along with a number of volunteers work with children ages 5 to 18 where they provide skiing and snowboarding lessons to youth.
“They have a learning session (where) the mountain will provide someone who tells them about the jobs on the mountain, even how they make the snow...to educate them on the world of skiing,” Jackson said.
The youth program is a recruitment method in hopes of bringing younger people to Jim Dandy. Jackson said she is hoping more Black people will try different things.
“The more that they expand their horizons the better their life would be. I like to see our people get beyond their neighborhood…you don’t know what life has for you if you don’t get out there and try something different,” said Jackson.
The National Brotherhood of Skiers is set to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2023. Here is a list of Black Ski Clubs that are part of the organization.
All Seasons Ski Club
Blade Runners Ski Club
Camellia City Ski Club
N. Highlands, CA
Ebony Ski & Racquet Club
Executive Board Snowboard Association
Los Angeles, CA
San Jose, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Inland Empire Ski & Sports
Mountain View Ski Club
San Diego, CA
Sierra Snow Gliders, Inc.
Las Vegas, NV
SnowBusters Ski Club
Snow Pros Service Club
U2 Can Ski Club
Winter Fox Ski Association
Los Angeles, CA
Colorado Springs, CO
Avalanche Ski Club
Chicago Ski Twisters
Diamond Ice Ski Club
Gem City Gliders, Inc.
Inner City Ski Club Inc.
Bedford Hts., OH
New Orleans, LA
Show-Me Skiers Ski Club
St. Louis, MO
Umoja Ski Club
Charlotte Breezers Ski & Sports Club, Inc.
Ice Breakers Ski Club
Valley Stream, NY
Jersey Ski & Sports, Inc.
Miami International Athletic Ski & Sports Club, Inc.
Onyx Ski & Sports Club of Tampa Bay
Tampa/St. Petersburg, FL
New York, NY
New York, NY
Ft. Washington, MD
Miami Gardens, FL
The Sandblaster Skiers, Inc.
Atlantic City, NJ
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