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Breaking Barriers for Black Athletes in Winter Sports: Reclaiming Nature

Credits: NBC News

At Mountain Creek, a ski resort in New Jersey, teenagers from New York City, many of whom have never snowboarded before, eagerly anticipate their first descent down the slopes.

Clad in warm but cumbersome gear, their enthusiasm fills the learning area as they practice, fall, and then pick themselves up, preparing for their inaugural ride—a moment that could potentially change their lives.

For 19-year-old Raquel Hamblin, the prospect of snowboarding for the first time was daunting, with fears of falling, not being skilled enough, and struggling to make friends. Raised in a West Indian household, she was also unsure about how well she would adapt to the snow and cold.

Black Athletes (Credits: ABC News)

However, Hamblin’s perspective shifted after she became involved with Hoods to Woods, an organization that aims to eliminate barriers so that children from underserved communities can experience the outdoors.

“Snowboarding is incredibly important to me,” she explained in an interview with ABC News. “It relieves stress and allows me to have fun. Now, I get to teach other kids how to snowboard and have fun too.”

The excitement among the Hoods to Woods participants is tangible as they cautiously make their way onto the lift, bundled up in their winter attire. Yet, sports like skiing, snowboarding, and ice climbing demand more than just a willingness to learn.

Outdoor recreation can appear inaccessible to athletes of color, with numerous obstacles such as cultural differences, location, transportation, cost, equipment, and the required skills.

According to Hoods to Woods co-founders Omar Diaz and Brian Paupaw, these sports can be expensive to pursue without prior experience and resources. Additionally, lacking a support system or community can also hinder new participants.

Paupaw, who once hesitated to try snowboarding, understands the apprehension. “At first, I was skeptical,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘This isn’t something we do from the projects.’ But I kept trying and never looked back.”

A 2022-2023 study by Snowsports Industries America indicates that winter sports participation is gradually becoming more diverse. Black participation increased from 9.5% in 2022 to 11.2% in 2023, while Hispanic participation rose from 14.9% to 15.2%.

This shift is largely driven by a growing number of young adult athletes between the ages of 18 and 34. This new generation of athletes has a burgeoning group of role models to look up to, including X Games gold medalist Zeb Powell, offering them a vision of what they can achieve in these sports.

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