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Hitting the Slopes: Howard University Students Explore Outdoor Sports

A group of 15 Howard Students traveled to West Virginia as first-time skiers and snowboarders

 The View of Timberline Mountain Lodge from one of their slopes

It’s no secret that Black people are scarcely found in extreme outdoor sports such as skiing and snowboarding. The National Ski Areas Association found that Black people are only 1.5% of skiers found at American resorts.  

On February 10, a group of 15 Howard University students left the cityscape of Washington, D.C. for the mountainside town of Davis, W.Va. as many embarked on their first time “hitting the slopes.”   

Their visit was sponsored by the non-profit organization Soul Trak Outdoors and Arc’teryx, an outdoor and technical apparel company. 

“I didn’t want to sacrifice being around Black people for being outdoors anymore,” said Tyrhee Moore, the organization’s founder and executive director. “I spent many years as a mountaineer all over, in places like Alaska and others and I grew up around Black people, so it was something I decided I did not want to sacrifice anymore.”  

Moore’s love of the outdoors began with a summer program in Jackson, Wyo. when he was 13. “I fell in love with the limitlessness and vastness of the Rocky Mountains, it felt like there were limitless opportunities there. It was something I wanted to bring back to D.C., my home.”  

Trading their metro cards for ski lift passes, the group spent the day shredding snow and fostering community on Timberline Mountain for the low cost of $25 for equipment, transportation and gear. Soul Trak Outdoor experiences like these are commonplace for participants as the organization seeks to connect communities of color with outdoor spaces.

In partnership with Arc'teryx and Soul Trak Outdoors, Howard University students pose before hitting the slopes to learn ski and snowboarding techniques. (Source: Autumn Coleman)
 The View of Timberline Mountain Lodge from one of their slopes in Davis, W.Va. (Source: Autumn Coleman)

The View of Timberline Mountain Lodge from one of their slopes in Davis, W.Va. (Source: Autumn Coleman)

Program volunteers on this trip all contained multiple years’ experience on the slopes and offered their expertise to teach a new generation of skiers and snowboarders the technique behind the sports. Students had the choice of skiing or snowboarding as their activity for the day. Heavy and oblong gear was strapped onto their bodies as each group set off on the different challenges facing them in the sports.  

“That experience [going down the hill] was very scary,” said Alexia Godinez-Thompson, a graduating senior from Raleigh, N.C. “I went into it headstrong, and it wasn’t until I got to the top of the mountain that I realized that I am absolutely terrified of dying. I thought that the advanced trail was the only way to go down, but then I realized there’s a much easier slope. I only fell like three times, but I would definitely do it again.”  

Student ambassadors for Soul Trak were integral to connecting participants to the activities and other students. These students who chose to further their participation with Soul Trak Outdoors, get a well-rounded education in outdoor activities.  

“Having the support of my friends and Soul Trak as an organization and the coaches having that energy of was great,” said Ashanti Ash, a third-year architecture student from Fairhope, Ala.  It’s OK that you’re a beginner, it’s OK that not everybody looks like you, but we’re here and we’re all in this together. So that was just that was amazing. I don’t think I would have had as much fun if I went with anybody else.” 

Ash has been a member of Soul Trak’s College Ambassadors Cohort since last fall after interning with them in the summer. Growing up in rural Alabama, Ash began to miss the outdoor outlet she had been used to. “I took a wilderness first aid course when I was interning with them. It was this three-day class in the middle of somewhere in Virginia, but just being out there every day, and learning about how to save yourself and how to be competent in those situations, made me feel really empowered.” Ash said. 

Soul Trak, now in its fifth year, has created a team dedicated to educating communities about the great outdoors.

Connecting students to the outdoors is one of the main goals of programs hosted by Soul Trak Outdoors. Many enjoy the physical activity and the community found amongst people with similar interests.  

“I met a lot of great people and I learned how to ski in literally just a matter of hours,” said Godinez-Thompson. 

Soul Trak Outdoors also hosts events for participants such as scuba diving certification, kayaking pool sessions, ice skating, and climbing clubs to broaden one’s education of the outdoors and help gain confidence in these sports.   

“It was nothing short of a humbling experience,” said Katiana Carter, a senior from North Plainfield, New Jersey. “I learned a lot about myself and overcoming my fear, even though we were only there for a couple of hours I left feeling better about myself. This was my first time skiing and I’m ready to do it again.”

The experience was one of bonding and community. Extreme sports aren't without their challenges. Many passing strangers offered useful tips and words of encouragement for new skiers and snowboarders.  

“It was really fun,” said Joy Smythe-Macauly, a graduating senior from Austin, Texas. “I overcame a fear of mine and felt very brave for doing something I haven’t done before. Everyone was helpful, kind and supportive. Most of the people there were willing to lend a helping hand and offer support or encouragement. It was a good environment to learn in.”