Is there any more incredible view from Metro Denver than the skyline of the Rocky Mountains? According to many, yes. From atop the peaks of those mountains. Some reach those peaks by air lift, hiking or mountain biking. Numerous more however reach them by way of chair lifts and gondolas.
Once disembarked from their ride up, they ski or snowboard a few feet down to gather their thoughts and/or to await friends who are also on their way up the mountain. The moments provide a panorama of other mountains, landscapes, and beauty that inspire awe and faith.
Then comes the moment of setting one’s skis or board in a particular direction, and swoosh, heading down the mountain. All the way – the speed, the turns, the scenery, the sometimes jumps, the challenges, the friendly races, the new trails – it’s Yes! Yes! Yes!
And back to the lift up as quickly as possible. At lunch time, it’s happy exhaustion, meeting friends in the lodge for an hour of refueling and tales of morning adventures. Then its boots re-buckled, helmets back on, and out for more of the mountain’s magic for two or three hours. The smart ones stop for the day before they’re exhausted and injury prone.
The fortunate ones will be able to return – or seek out another of Colorado’s nearly 30 ski resorts – tomorrow. Alas, if you haven’t experienced it, there’s really no way to adequately convey to you the sense of freedom, challenge, joy, exhilaration, and just plain pure fun of skiing or snowboarding.
Slippers-n-Sliders, Denver’s African American ski club, is an excellent source of information, well-organized ski trips, lessons, fellow-skiers, year-round outdoor activities and gatherings. The club is rich in doers, starting with its hundred-plus members. The club’s mission – to identify, develop, and support under represented youth interested in participating in winter sports – is exemplified by the tireless work of its board members, including Michael Moore, who serves as president.
He points out, “It’s truly a team effort. For example, Armand Dilworth, who serves as youth program director, and those who work with him tirelessly volunteer their time, energy, and resources to help build the skiing and related skills of our youth. Their contribution is vital to increasing African American involvement in winter sports…one of our club’s foremost goals.”
A commitment by a collective of professional African American Coloradoans to assure that the opportunity to experience and enjoy skiing is available to children of every background and circumstance is exemplified in the 2014 season of the Slippers-n-Sliders Ski For Kids program.
Melodie Brooks, a native Coloradoan, graduate of George Washington High School and University of Denver, and longtime S-n-S member, has volunteered as the program’s director for 20 years.
“I’ve loved every moment,” Brooks declared while managing this year’s registration evening at Park Hill United Methodist Church for 50 eager boys and girls and their families.
Now even Brooks’ family – husband, son, daughter, sister – pitch in…along with a cadre of additional S-n-S volunteering members. With the assistance of local ski areas and businesses, such as Winter Park, S-n-S sponsors and funds Ski For Kids with fundraisers, such as the recent Parade of Elegance tea and hat fashion show at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library. It was produced and hosted by club board member Bonnie Smith, and her husband, Charles Smith, the club’s historian. All of the ski wear and equipment is loaned to the children at no cost.
They all also receive round-trip transportation to and from the slopes, on the group bus, each of the programs’s six consecutive Saturdays; the six intensive yet fun-filled Saturday lessons and lunch. The end-of-the-ski-season awards banquet recognizes the youths’ achievements, and celebrates that since 1974 the Slippers -n-Sliders have introduced more than 1,400 inner city youth to the joy and accomplishment of skiing.
Ski For Kids participants are 7 to 11 years old, and referred to Slippers-N-Sliders by local agencies such as Red Shield Community Centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, elementary schools, churches and by concerned individuals. The size and viability of this important Metro-Denver endeavor “to give something back” is directly dependent on the amount of financial support it garners from supporters.
African Americans and the History of Skiing
Skiing – traveling over snow on skis (ski…from the Old Norse word “skio” meaning stick of wood or skis) – may have been practiced as early as 6000 B.C. in the northernmost area of what is now China.
Modern skiing has its roots in Scandinavia, as a means of transportation and pursuing game (hunting).
In the United States the first skier of record was a mailman originally from Telemarken, Norway and “Snowshoe” Thompson, who, beginning in 1850, delivered mail by skiing from northern California to Carson Valley, Idaho through 20 successive winters.
In Colorado, where by the late 1800s the mountains were bustling with miners, skiing provided a way to town for supplies, to school, and to visit friends. The first major ski area in Colorado was Winter Park, dedicated in January, 1940.
In 1941 the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division (combat skiers) was stationed at Camp Hale, near Leadville, Colorado. The 10th’s World War II tour of duty in Italy led to the Germans’ surrender. After the war many 10th Mountain soldiers returned to Colorado and opened ski areas or helped to operate them. Over time skiing has evolved into competitive sports, businesses, and an array of recreational choices.
The first African American ski club – Jim Dandy Ski Club – was founded in 1958 in Detroit, Michigan.
At the same time a group of African American Denverites – including Bryce and Felda Parks, Floyd Cole, Val and George Tanaka, Floyd Jackson, James and Bernice Jenkins, and others – were also skiing here in Colorado. They dubbed themselves The Sippers and Sliders.
Cole, who taught dry-land ski classes during the early 1960s at the Glenarm YMCA, extended an invitation to the Jim Dandies. As recollected in the Jim Dandy history, “By train, the Dandies arrived in Denver, Colorado on December 26, 1964. This is the first documented organized gathering of African American skiers in the United States. There were 40 to 50 participants who skied at newly opened Vail, (also at) Winter Park, Loveland, and Berthoud Pass. Continuous social activities consumed the evenings.”
In 1972, 13 African American ski clubs came together to form the National Brotherhood of Skiers. The resulting historic gathering took place in 1973 in Aspen, Colorado, attended by more than 350 skiers. Today the National Brotherhood of Skiers is the umbrella organization for more than 60 African American ski clubs with a growing membership of 3,000 black skiers. The two Colorado clubs are the Ski Ambassadors in Colorado Springs, and the now Slippers-n-Sliders in Denver.