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Culture Shifters event aims to ‘make the mountains more colorful’ by diversifying snowsports

Christina Granville snowboards down a run at the Elk Camp Meadows learning zone at Snowmass Ski Area on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. Granville was participating in the Burton Culture Shifters program, which aims to get more people of color into snowboarding; she chose the nickname “Shauna White” to channel the energy of an X Games star for the event.
Kaya Williams
/
Aspen Public Radio
Christina Granville snowboards down a run at the Elk Camp Meadows learning zone at Snowmass Ski Area on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. Granville was participating in the Burton Culture Shifters program, which aims to get more people of color into snowboarding; she chose the nickname “Shauna White” to channel the energy of an X Games star for the event.

The snowsports industry is disproportionately white. And according tolast winter’s data from the National Ski Areas Association, only 1.5% of surveyed resort guests identified as Black.

But you’d never guess those numbers if you went to Elk Camp at Snowmass this week, where Burton’s “Culture Shifters” event focused welcoming more people of color to the mountains and encouraging them to try snowboarding.

On the first day of lessons on Tuesday, X Games gold medalist Zeb Powell offered some pointers to a tall, athletic woman at the Elk Camp Meadows learning area.

“It’s a little dance,” he told her, as they paused next to the magic carpet. The look on her face was focused, and determined, as she channeled the persona of another X Games star who inspired a nickname on the slopes.

“‘Shauna White’ is back in full effect,” Christina Granville explained at the base of the hill. “And last year, I was able to do a 180 — I learned it the first day. This year, I'm going to try and do a 360.”

Granville used to play semi-pro basketball, and now works in sports media; she’s also a model and social media influencer. She came to Culture Shifters for the first time last year, with encouragement from the company Red Bull, to experience something she’d never tried before.

“I'm from Atlanta, and I (had) never been snowboarding in my entire life,” Granville said. “I've never had the idea to go snowboarding because I always said, ‘well, Black people don't snowboard.’”

Granville said it’s a pretty common misconception. People figure it’s too cold, or too far to travel; there are plenty of barriers to entry.

But this week, she was part of an event that defied those perceptions. The Culture Shifters program invited more than 80 participants (plus a crew of content producers and support staff). Almost all of the invitees are Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. And many of them have high profiles — with the ability to share their experience with the masses.

When Granville posted about Culture Shifters on social media last year, she said some of her followers were surprised. Their response was something to the effect of, “you did what?”

But she also saw a lot of enthusiastic support from people who felt inspired to experience the event for themselves.

“Like, ‘Girl, I gotta try this. I want to come with you next year. What is this? What is Culture Shifters? Again, can I come? How do I get involved?’” Granville said. “Even different companies are like, ‘Okay, what is it that you're doing? How do I get it? How do I get involved? How do I be a part of it?’”

This kind of reaction — and the ripple effect of it — makes Zeb Powell feel pretty good about what he’s doing here.

“Seeing is believing,” Powell said. “And that's what we're doing. … Just get the crew together and the rest will do the work.”

Powell is one of the visionaries behind this event, along with sports commentator Selema Masakela — the face of the X Games.

The concept was born four years ago, when team Burton invited hip hop artist A$AP Ferg to Snowmass for some lessons.

They figured that it could help change perceptions of snowboarding — that if people could see a rapper from Harlem having fun on the bunny hill, it might encourage other folks of color to try snowboarding too.

There were about two dozen people in the initial crew; Powell said it was an “aha” moment that encouraged him to think bigger and work with other organizers to develop Culture Shifters into the event that exists today. The size of the posse has essentially quadrupled — it includes a mix of athletes, influencers, advocates and creatives, and they’re all pretty diverse in their identities and backgrounds.

“There are so many different people riding with us, like all body types, like all different colors of people, all different cultures,” said Ashley Laporte, the vice president of purpose and impact at Burton.

Her job is focused on using the company’s power and influence to effect bigger-picture change. As a Black snowboarder herself, she’s passionate about the value of inclusion and diversity in mountain culture.

Laporte said this event is all-inclusive, so participants don’t have to worry about the cost of travel or whether they’ll have the right equipment. They can just be themselves and enjoy the thrills and beauty of the experience. And because they’re surrounded by so many other snowboarders of color, they don’t feel as much pressure to “code-switch,” or change how they speak and interact, to fit in.

“To me, it's completely natural that I'm out here riding, but I think like when I'm in line, I catch people sort of like turning their head a little bit and being like, we haven't seen that before,” she said.

“Whereas right now, … it's like we stand out, but as a collective,” she added. “It's hard to explain. You just feel like you belong.”

People at the Burton Culture Shifters event connect at Snowmass Ski Area on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. The program brings together athletes, advocates, influencers and creatives for snowboarding lessons and community events, in an effort to change perceptions about the diversity of the snowsports industry.
Kaya Williams
/
Aspen Public Radio
People at the Burton Culture Shifters event connect at Snowmass Ski Area on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. The program brings together athletes, advocates, influencers and creatives for snowboarding lessons and community events, in an effort to change perceptions about the diversity of the snowsports industry.

Selema Masekela said he treasures that sense of community, and the celebration of more visibility.

“You don't know what you're missing sometimes, until you have it,” Masakela said. “You know, I love snowboarding. It's given me so much over the course of the last three decades. But I rarely, rarely got to share it with people who have a similar experience as me.”

Masakela talks a lot about being “the only” — as in, the only Black snowboarder on the mountain. He’s felt that way for much of his career, but events like this one are changing that experience.

“Being able to just to look around at any given time on the mountain, and be like, ‘Hey, that's another person who looks like me, and look at how much fun they're having and the joy they're having in the outdoors.’ It’s magic,” Masakela said.

Masakela believes there’s still a long way to go to ensure the mountains are welcoming for people of color. Other folks at Culture Shifters talked about the importance of diversity in snowsports corporations too; they said that while some companies are making strides forward, others are shrinking away from the idea of “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” because those concepts have turned into political buzzwords.

“When I tell people, I'm trying to diversify the mountains, if it comes off as if it's that same buzzword that some have heard, they actually think of it as a negative thing. … But in other areas, I feel super comfortable,” said Quincy Shannon, who advocates for equity and inclusion through ski clubs and resort initiatives.

“We have certain resorts, and certain people in those resorts are really helping us to push the needle forward and getting more people on snow,” Shannon added. “And unfortunately, we have a society that in some areas is reverting back to what we came out of (in recent years).”

Shannon has collaborated with the Aspen Skiing Company on some of their diversity work; he previously admired the Culture Shifters event from afar, then connected with Powell and Masakela at other events and scored an invite to this program for the first time this year.

“That's why Culture Shifters is so phenomenal to me,” Shannon said. “It's like, I was here when it started and wasn't invited, and wasn't a part of the cool kids club, and because of some of the work I was doing, and because of their growth, those two roads came together, and it just feels incredible.”

And, if you ask Masakela, the event is living up to its name.

“We're making a difference, I believe in the industry, and, you know, slowly but surely, we're starting to take up more space,” he said.

“We want to make the mountains more colorful, because everyone … just needs to feel this,” Masakela added. “You need to feel what this gives you in your life.”

For him, this work isn’t just important because snowboarding is fun, but because it’s one of the things that makes life so worth living.

“It's how I tap into the totality of my being,” Masakela said. “You know, I get to feel my most awake and most alive.”

Culture Shifters wrapped up Thursday, after several sunny days of snowboarding, parties and fireside chats. The program also involved several nonprofits that focus on race, equity and inclusion in the outdoors year-round.

Copyright 2024 Aspen Public Radio . To see more, visit Aspen Public Radio.

Kaya Williams