By Stan Evans
I AM SNOWBOARDING is something my late friend Jeff Anderson used to say. It’s how he identified himself and others that had a love of sliding downhill sideways. Somewhere along the way, in this lifestyle that bred itself among the camaraderie of rebellion and fighting for equality of snowboarders with skiers at resorts, the message got lost. A long, long time ago you actually had to get certified to be able to snowboard at a ski area and if you saw another shredder on the slopes, you knew they had passed their test. It was the unwritten rule to wait at the bottom of the liftline because in a sense, you both were outcasts. We knew then, snowboarders were stronger together. Fast forward to the late 90s and snowboarding had become a cool thing to do. Money, power, status, and qualifying for the Olympics became big business. Exploring nature, respect for the outdoors, friendship, and embracing your community fell by the wayside.
Snowboarding largely became a rich man’s sport and thus was the beginning of “The Elephant in the Room.” How could riders speak to the equality of allowing snowboarding at resorts, yet not be equal as an open playing field for minorities to explore? The premise of snowboarding was good in theory; individualism, creativity, self-expression all remained at the ethos, but $100 lift tickets barred the doors of entry. Resort towns became the equivalent of country clubs.
As my interest peaked and my love for snowboarding grew, it became apparent there were not a lot of Black faces in the spaces I yearned to explore. Often the fact was that when I finally got to those places through hard work, determination, and talent, many people still believed I shouldn’t be there. I couldn’t tangibly tell you which was worse? Instead of posing hypotheticals, I’d rather just share a few of my stories.
TOKENISM IS NOT INCLUSION
As an independent snowboard photographer I used to get paid on assignments and photos published or licensed for ads. The best way to maximize my time and effort was to be embedded with a ﬁlm crew. They usually had the best riders and their photos were in demand. Because of this, I had to work extra hard to ﬁnd new spots and features.
There’s an unwritten rule in snowboarding that you don’t go to spots without the people that found them or shoot the same tricks that had been done there before. There was this one photographer who always used to barge in on shoots I’d be spearheading in my own backyard or at spots I’d discovered. I’d be working on something with Keir Dillon, Trevor Andrew, or Nicolas Müller, sometimes hiking, shoveling, sledding for days to create something unique. Since he shot for their biggest sponsor, he’d just ﬂy in the night before the session was about to go down, rent a sled, then grab as many photos as possible and split. The message, I felt, was that Black photographers are unqualiﬁed, need to be supervised, are lazy, and should be disregarded as soon as an opportunity is gone.
It taught me a ﬁrsthand lesson that tokenism does not equal inclusion. Just because I was there doesn’t mean individuals or companies wanted me to proﬁt, even though I did most of the work, and it certainly wasn’t support-ing a Black business. It was a clear theme—take what we give you, stay silent, you should be happy just to be here.
In 2007, a Special Blend ad came out with their riders in Blackface and to be honest, I was oblivious to it.
I was bummed, but I was also so used to microaggressions in snowboarding that it didn’t phase me. At the time, Special Blend and its sister brand, Forum were owned by Burton Snowboards. So this ad made it out the door past all their marketing departments, into the magazine publishers’ hands at Transworld and SNOWBOARDER, and no one in management raised an eyebrow? Everyone took the money without remorse until the NAACP contacted the brands. My question is, what message does this send to minorities when you can’t trust these major companies to have a conscience with their marketing? In other words, who can you trust? At the time, those brands owned a large portion of the market. Let me explain it another way. If you are a self-conscious, young Black kid and you saw that advertisement back then, would that make you want to venture outside of your comfort zone to explore snowboarding and the outdoors, or simply stay with what you know?
Around ﬁve years ago, Burton Snowboards was having a party on the rooftop of Milk studios in NYC. I scan the room as the DJ is spinning hip hop tunes. Inﬂuencers are documenting the scene and it’s a hotbed of different skin tones and personalities. I happen to get a moment with the senior vice president of marketing at the time, to speciﬁcally ask what they are doing to get more minorities into snowboarding and actually on the hill? She mentions the Chill program, but as I press her on policy—not just youth being introduced to snowboarding but also creating a path-way to a career in the outdoors, because giving a man a ﬁsh is quite different than teaching a man to ﬁsh—she says they’re “working on it,” which I felt was dismissive of my questions. This isn’t a dig at Burton, but as a Black rider I actually care about snowboarding and have been hoping to see another Black photographer emerge. Even more so, I want to see more Black people in the industry. How can I help? What can I do? How can my knowledge be useful? But in that instance it wasn’t wanted. As one of the few who’s done it, being disregarded says a lot. It begs the question, are appearances of diversity more important than the actual paths to diversity? If you are in NYC, ground zero of uniqueness, attempting to capitalize off of culture but not actually implementing policy—that gives me pause. All of the board of directors of the Chill program are white and it sets a tone. From the top down, if you’ve never experienced something ﬁrsthand, how are you going to explain it to a young Black kid trying to ﬁgure it out? This adds to why, when I invite Black friends to snowboard, they all say, “That’s a white sport.” The best intentions often fall short and Black people have to see it to be it. Curious how I know? I was laughed at by my own extended family at times for going to school in Montana and wanting to be a snowboard photographer. I was supposedly trying to be too “white.” All because I loved doing a thing.
There’s a point where, as a brand, if you were genuinely interested in getting Black people on the hill, you’d take five minutes to have a conversation with a creator of color who has twenty-plus years of experience in the snow industry. Growing up in Alaska and creating a photography career in this industry, I actually walked the walk. Yet, time and time again in this sport, I notice the slights toward Black people with years of knowledge and I have to wonder, have these people ever dug someone out of an avalanche, ridden in a helicopter, had frostbite from exposure, rehabbed from an ACL surgery, administered first aid, or fixed a slipping snowmobile clutch to get home safe? Not to mention, I have tracked the schedules of twenty-plus snowboarders to coordinate marketing campaigns for Dakine, Ride, and Oakley and shot them all on time and on budget. No hypotheticals there. As a Black snowboarder, I’ve done all those things.
SAFE WORK SPACES
Around 1999, I interviewed for a job at Smith Optics. I made it through two interviews and ended up in a sit-down in San Diego at the Action Sports Retailer tradeshow with the two people I would report to. Everyone was great. They had wonderful plans, appreciated my perspective, and felt that I was an incredible asset because I shot photos. When we got to the final details, they said I’d be on the road a lot, but I had to be based in Sun Valley, Idaho. Then my heart sank.
Every single time I’d ever been to Sun Valley, someone inevitably called me the “n-word ” and would try to pick a fight. These were not casual encounters muttered under their breath. These were full-fledged threats of violence against me where people had to step in. I wanted that job and I wasn’t afraid of the work environment, but I was literally afraid of the town. I turned the job down, because how do you explain to two well-meaning, but racially unaware white people that you would be scared to risk your life daily going to and from work? I could already hear the answer, “What are you talking about, Stan?
Racism doesn’t exist.” Racism does exist. Idaho, in particular, is known as a hotbed of White nationalism. I appreciated the offer and the genuine steps towards inclusion from Smith, but it would be hard to be unaware of this fact. That’s why it takes exploring the hard truths and having uncomfortable conversations at the corporate and community levels to commit to being anti-racist. Sometimes it’s easier to live the lie than confront the truth. For allies, the work comes in acknowledging that racism exists, that these environments don’t feel safe, and realizing what can be done to be anti-racist and make outdoor spaces, work environments, and these places more welcoming.
For years I’ve been around snowboarding and it takes courage to walk into spaces where there are no other Black people. When I first started shooting, slides were the imagery, and business took place through phone calls and mail. No one knew what you looked like. So I could visibly see the uncomfortableness of meeting someone for the first time at a tradeshow when they realized I was Black. Watching the awkwardness that would unfold was often hilarious, other times cringeworthy, but ultimately I was there to do my job—take photos and keep it moving.
While creating this issue one common theme kept manifesting itself: How do we do right by snowboarding and get more Black people involved?
A recent study by the Snowsports Industries of America states that there are about 125 million skiers and snowboarders worldwide. North America is home to about 31 million of them. These numbers appear quite large until you realize that there are about 2 billion Black people in the world.
IN CHOOSING BETWEEN SNOWBOARDING AND BEING BLACK. I CAN’T TAKE OFF BEING BLACK.
The time to study up on Black culture and have a meaningful discussion about race in snowboarding is long overdue. As snowboarders, do you want to be respectful of other ways of life and cultures across the world? I know I’m not perfect and I’m still learning about my own culture, other minority cultures, women’s equality, and LGBTQ+ rights. I’m a work in progress, but I have taken a humble look in the mirror and realized that I want to be a better human, not just a snowboarder.
These days there are more Black people than ever integrated into outdoor business and marketing. People are calling and asking real questions about how they can do better as human beings and as brands. As a Black man, these experiences motivate me to try harder and feel proud of the work I’m currently doing. I’m trying to be a conduit to outdoor living and welcoming all people to experience nature.
I’ll let you in on a secret. One thing I’ve learned after twenty-five-plus years of sliding down hills and trying to shape and share winter culture by pointing my lens and documenting it, I AM SNOWBOARDING. Just as much as Jeffy Anderson, Travis Rice, Nicolas Müller, Gretchen Bleiler, Jeff Brushie, Todd Richards, and Gigi Rüf.
It’s time for others to recognize Keir Dillon, Russell Winfield, Ben Hinkley, Zebulon Powell, Damon Morris, Dillon Ojo, Ahmon Stamps, Gabrielle Maiden, Selema Masekela, Ryan Hudson, and countless others ARE SNOWBOARDING.
The desire of snowboarding ultimately is freedom and when people strive for freedom, they are going to find a way to get it. As Black snowboarders, we want your support and hope you’ll ride with us rather than pass us by on the lift.