Utah ski industry works to bring diversity to the slopes through ‘Discover Winter’ program

Jan 30, 2023, 6:20 PM | Updated: 6:34 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s ski industry is working to bring more diversity to the slopes by inviting people of color and those in the LGBTQ+ community to take part in an initiative called Discover Winter.

Ski Utah invited people from minority communities across Northern Utah to participate in the program that gives participants the gift of skiing or snowboarding for free.

Participants from Future Scholars of Africa, diversity clubs at Weber State University and Morgan Stanley, among other places, make up this year’s ski and snowboarding students.

“We have found that skiing is, historically, a very white sport, and we are aiming to increase diversity and grow the sports of skiing and snowboarding,” explained Alison Palmintere, director of communications for Ski Utah.

To make snow sports more inclusive, 150 participants were given free winter gear, rental equipment, transportation up and down the mountain, and four lessons at Alta Ski Area, Deer Valley Resort, Snowbird, Brighton Ski Resort, Snowbasin, or Solitude Mountain Resort.

Alison Palmintere, director of communications for Ski Utah. (KSL- TV’s Mark Less)

Participant Jackie Okullu said she likely would have never tried skiing or snowboarding without the program’s help.

“The gear is very expensive,” said Okullu, who learned how to snowboard for the first time through Discover Winter. “Someone like me who can’t afford it, I would never think of coming here.”

Palmintere said many of the program’s participants, like Okullu, never had the opportunity to learn how to ski or snowboard, or visit Utah’s resorts.

“It can be a little bit confusing your first time getting up to the mountains,” Palmintere said. “‘Where do you park? How do you sign up for a lesson? Where do you rent your skis?’ This program aims to take all those barriers away and give people the sport of skiing.”

Okullu, who is originally from Uganda, said she doesn’t see a lot of people who look like her on the slopes.

“Especially winter sport, it’s not very diverse,” Okullu said. “I mean, it’s coming now, but I’m glad that we get to do this and show the world anybody can do it.”

She said representation on the mountain is important.

“Me, as a Black person, coming from Africa, I would never think of doing this,” Okullu expressed. “It looks so intimidating to me.”

The 30-year-old learned how to snowboard along with other people from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

“If you’re scared of anything, don’t be,” Okullu said. “Leave that at home. Everyone is very patient with you.”

Jackie Okullu describing her first time on the slopes. (KSL-TV’s Mark Less)

This is the second year of Discover Winter. Palmintere said Ski Utah created and launched the program.

“We really hope that other states will see that this is possible with a little bit of hard work,” she said.

At the end of the program, the participants receive a Ski Utah Yeti pass, so they can continue practicing their ski and snowboarding skills.

“Many of our participants from last year have actually purchased season passes for this year and are continuing their skiing and snowboarding journeys,” Palmintere said.

Some of them also volunteered to help out this year’s participants.

Okullu said she loves snowboarding and wants everyone to be able to try the sport.

“My favorite is literally just going down. I love speed,” she said. “I’m a tomboy at heart. I just want to go for it, but I got to stop at some point, so I’m working on stopping.”

“We want everybody to feel at home here in the mountains,” Palmintere said.

Discover Winter 2023’s lessons end Feb. 11.

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Utah ski industry works to bring diversity to the slopes through ‘Discover Winter’ program