Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ebony Ice Ski Club
Inside Ebony Ice: Wisconsin's Only Black Ski Club, Changing The Narrative
Suffering from a bit of cabin fever and searching for an outlet for her “energetic young children”, Brenda Dillard was grateful to be introduced to the Ebony Ice Ski Club in Wisconsin back in 1993.
She remembers attending her first Black Summit in 1995, an annual gathering of skiers hosted by the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS); the largest association of Black skiers in the world.
“It was such a beautiful sight because it was the first time I had seen that many African-Americans on snow,” she recalled of the event in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. “And it was the first time my children were inspired to see that many African-Americans on snow. We’ve been doing it ever since, and it’s been pretty much the calling card now that my children are adults.”
Dillard is now the president of Ebony Ice Ski Club. The Milwaukee-based club, which was started in 1989 by three African-Americans, is an offshoot of NBS. Among Ebony Ice Ski Club’s aims is to introduce novices to skiing, foster an engaged community, while also changing the narrative that Black people don’t ski. Their official mission is also “to identify, develop and support athletes of color who will win international and Olympic winter sports competition representing the United States and to increase participation in winter sports.”
Last year, the club welcomed 60 students into their learner’s program, Learn-2-Ski. For those who are more advanced, licensed instructors called ski pros can help raise their skill level. As a year round club they also offer Intro to Sailing with Milwaukee Sailing Club and Bike Around MKE.
According to Dillard, one of the greatest challenges is “dealing sometimes with the threshold of overcoming people’s image of themselves being on the hill”, often branding themselves as people who are not suited for the sport. There’s also the issue of debunking the myth that skiing means enduring below zero temperatures.
“If you’re appropriately dressed your body is not going to be cold. We don’t normally ski in minus temperatures. You’re skiing, and it’s pretty stuff. It’s the fluffy snow coming down, and you have beautiful, amazing views on the mountaintop. It is just so refreshing. But the reason you have the club is that you basically want a buddy on the hill. You don’t have to do this alone.”
This year Covid-19 has thrown a wrench into their programming schedule but they are still finding ways to support fellow skiers and discovering new sports as well. For the first time, the group tried cross-country as opposed to the traditional downhill.
“One of our members is an avid cross country skier, and he drove five hours to get to us, to expose us to cross country skiing for two days,” shared Dillard.
They’ve also ventured into snowboarding and fat bike riding. This year NBS’s Black Ski Summit is going virtual.
Dillard has seen first-hand how transformative it can be to get on the slopes, through the eyes of her children.
“I remember the first time we traveled to a large mountain out West, and this was when we went to Utah. The kids went up to the top of the summit. We got up there, and I remember one of my children saying, ‘Mom, I can see the whole world from here.’ That’s how much it opens your eyes. The kids thought they were looking at the whole world from the top of the summit. It’s just another one of those experiences that expands your mind.”
She continued, “People think that you’re just going fast uncontrollably. No, it’s all about control. It’s about determining that you can control your destiny and the destiny is not flying down the hill uncontrollably. It’s a metaphor for life, too. You’re in control.”