On a recent day in the lobby of the Kandahar lodge on Big Mountain, about a dozen people milled around eating chocolate chip cookies, talking in front of the fireplace, and clumping in with their ski boots after a day on the slopes.
It was a normal scene for a ski lodge, except for one thing that even the most politically correct observers couldn’t help but notice: Nearly everyone was black.
Montana is an ultra-homogenous state, with a black population of .4 percent. Whites predominate in the skiing world, as well.
But the men and women staying at the Kandahar belonged to Black Ski Inc., a 1,000-member Washington, D.C.-based ski club founded in 1972. The organization this year brought 80 members to Big Mountain for its annual “Spring Fling,” from March 15 to 22. The club has visited ski resorts around the world, but this was their first time at Big Mountain.
Black Ski Inc.’s purpose, according to its president, Russell Bacon, is to expose minorities to recreational and competitive skiing.
“When you’re skiing, you very rarely see African-Americans,” Bacon said at the Kandahar. “My parents didn’t ski,” Bacon said. “It’s not an African-American activity that people did in their childhood.”
“The whole focus now is just trying to get kids into that pipeline,” added Black Ski Inc. member Ted Peters. “Right now, I’ve got my grandson skiing.”
Bacon, a club member since 1974, said that in the early days of the club the group faced some prejudice. But these days, according to Peters, they are well received. “We just blend in and take it all in. We’ve always had good hospitality,” Peters said.
Bacon said in some ways, “blending in” is easier in places like Montana.
“There’s not a culture that’s developed where African-Americans are perceived as something less than white people,” he said.