Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: December 2007/January 2008
BM&T Annual Ski Focus
By: Darlene Donloe


 If the large membership in the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS) is any indication, African-Americans have warmed up to the idea of having fun in cold weather.  In the last two decades the ski industry has seen an enormous increase in African-American participation.  Thousands have strapped on skis, spending millions on everything from ski equipment, clothing, lodging, transportation, food, lift tickets and more.  Maybe it’s the lure and seduction of the powder!

Whatever the reason, African-Americans are taking to the slopes like never before.  As a result, a number of cities and ski resorts have benefited greatly from the infusion of African-American megabucks into their respective communities.

The African-American skier has become a fast-growing segment of the ski industry, forking up a significant portion of the estimated $10 billion-plus spent annually on all snow activities in the United States. And while the exact amount generated by African-Americans is not known, everyone involved in the industry agrees it’s mammoth and impressive.

Billions of dollars are spent annually on all of the snow activities in the United States. The African-American skier is a big contributor to the snow industry’s growth.

The NBS, whose annual summit is a convention of African-American ski clubs, has played a major role in the increase of African-American skiers. With a steadfast mission to promote skiing within the African-American community, the NBS is committed to finding, selecting and funding high potential youth who have the ability and desire to secure a berth on the United States Olympic Ski Team.  You could say the NBS skis for a cause!

NBS, which began in 1972, has 8,000 members from more than 77 ski club affiliates in 41 cities and 32 states, making it the largest ski club in the nation. At one time, the NBS profile included 66 percent of its members with college degrees or postgraduate work; 16 percent self-employed; 34 percent professional. Incomes ranged from $25,000-$149,999.

At any given summit there are thousands of attendees and a number of activities from youth/adult races, concerts and dances, to business meetings.

The NBS, which has a quarterly periodical called, The Skiers Edge, gets help and support in fulfilling its mission from its title sponsor Subaru, as well as other sponsors like American Airlines, Glory Foods, E&J Winery, Nepsa, and partnerships with ski resorts like Steamboat Springs, Snowmass, Co., Vail Resorts (five resorts) and Intrawest.

NBS is big business. A savvy organization, it has learned the art of negotiation when sending out bids to prospective destinations.

“We look at rates, lift ticket cost, meeting space, social venues, support that resort will provide to NBS and what type of programs they’re going to provide for our youth,” said Rose Thomas Pickrum, current NBS president. (She was also NBS president from 1996-98) “They usually provide some kind of racing camp, and make a sizable donation like $25-75,000. They may give $25,000 and two percent of all lift ticket sales. You have to learn how to get what you want.”

While the NBS enjoys the pure splendor of skiing, it’s also concerned about the big picture.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, when it comes to negotiating, the NBS because of its size, is almost forced to deal with certain ski resorts. The group has outgrown a number of venues.

“We represent a large number of skiers,” said Thomas Pickrum. “We also realize our potential. We support the ski industry, why shouldn’t we expect them to support us?  I long for the day I start meeting African-American managers at venues, along with African-American ski instructors and safety patrol officers.”

Thomas Pickrum concedes that managers and ski instructors don’t have to be part of an ethnic group in order for minorities to enjoy the sport of skiing. However, it’s been proven that people respond better to any situation when they can see people and interact with people who look like them.

“That’s just natural,” said Pickrum, who adds that if ski resorts want to make an impression on African-American skiers, they could start targeting the African-American market through the use of marketing materials geared toward them.  “They could organize FAM (familiarization with area) trips to expose that segment to numerous resorts and they could advertise in African-American publications,” she said.

Ski industry insiders will be the first to reveal they do not target Black skiers or any other ethnic group for the matter. The party line is that they target skiers with no ethnicity in mind. They advertise in ski magazines and, some on cable television. But when it comes to advertising in the Black media, i.e., Ebony, Essence, Black Enterprise, Jet, Black Meetings & Tourism, or Black Entertainment Television, the advertisements are missing in action. Instead you’d have to read industry targeted magazines like Ski or Skiing magazines.  Unfortunately, many resorts cry poor when it comes to including African-Americans in their marketing and public relations budgets.

Mammoth Mountain, which enjoys about 1.4 million revelers on it slopes annually, is a popular California ski community with four lodges, 10 sport shops, three food courts, a ski and snowboard school, hotel and condominium accommodations. There are 150 named trails, and a three-mile run. The season stretches from November through April 2008. Lift ticket prices usually run between $64-$79 daily during the season.  Although African-Americans frequent the mountain, no real concerted marketing effort is put forth to attract them.

“We do not do any targeted advertising,” says Joani Lynch, marketing and communications director for Mammoth Mountain in Central California. “We reach them through mainstream publications like Ski. We have a limited budget.”

That same refrain can be heard across the country, as one by one CVB representatives and mountain resort reps blame budgetary limitations for not reaching out to a segment that has proven it can generate millions in a short period of time.

“One of the things resorts are starting to realize is that African-American skiers have increased, while the number of majority skiers are decreasing,” said Thomas Pickrum. “Now resorts use us more in their marketing material.  They’re not all the way there yet. You try to instill in them the importance, but it’s a slow, evolutionary process. Slowly we’re starting to see more of us in their advertising and periodicals.”

While Mammoth doesn’t actively support NBS monetarily, it does have a relationship with the Four Seasons ski club, which frequently skis at the mountain.

After more than 10 years of  reporting on and updating the impact of African-American skiers on the industry, Black Meetings & Tourism magazine has found there has been very little progress to report  when it comes to resorts making the African-American skier a priority.

When asked why he thinks there has been slow progress, Shawn Stinson, director of communications at the Salt Lake City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said “it’s a good question.”

“I assume they figure Black skiers and white Skiers  read Ski and are not familiar with Black ski publications,” said Stinson. “I’m sure they spend money in Powder and Ski.   Aside from NBS most destinations don’t know how to target the specific African-American skier.  Trying to buy an ad in Ebony would be like buying one in Sunset – that’s pricey. They just don’t have a big budget.”

“There’s been no change in our strategy,” said Bill Malone of the Park City Utah Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We still look at marketing as geographic. We are in vertical publications.  We don’t break it down in any smaller increments. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t target the Black market in the future. If our research sees big numbers coming out of a specific area, we just might target that area. Our goal is to reach the maximum people on a per dollar basis.”

Salt Lake City has played host to the NBS on numerous occasions. The city has more than 17,000 hotel rooms, with more than 7,000 rooms located within walking distance of the Salt Palace Convention Center. Ten major ski resorts are within 90 minutes of downtown.

The NBS has historically generated millions of dollars at ski destinations. Some summits have boasted $10 million, while mini summits have generated as much as $4 million.  And let’s not forget the money generated by the NBS chapters across the U.S.  Each chapter generally plans six to 10 local outings per year.

The NBS is more than a ski club.  Its local chapters also plan activities like family outings, cruises, picnics, skating, cycling, concerts, golf and canoeing. These activities are designed to not only keep its members interested and active in the organization, but to also keep them in shape for the ski season.

If that were not enough, there are the several regional conferences that take place each year with as many as 1,500 or more African-American skiers participating.

Jan. 12-19, 2008, NBS’s Annual Meeting Challenge Cup (AMCC) Mini-Summit takes place in Breckenridge, Colorado. Thousands are expected to attend. Once, again, millions of dollars will be poured into Colorado’s economy. The AMCC is always held during even years.