Downhill skiing can be something of a luxury – especially in hard times, admits Tricia Tillman, the membership director for Portland's only African American skiing club.
The sport can also be valuable time spent with family, she says.
As one of the lead organizers with the Ebony Rose Ski Club, Tillman has been making strides attracting more and more African Americans to pick up winter sports. She admits it can be difficult attracting African Americans to pick up a sport long associated with high prices and scant Black participation. But Ebony Rose is trying to change all that.
"We're building community," she told The Skanner. "We breaking down that stereotype …."
The group is also about forging new friendships, they're learning to ski together and finding other people in the community with similar interests. Ebony Rose Ski Club organizes a number of trips up to the mountains every year for a fraction of the cost of a trip with your friends and family. Because of a grant through the Youth Outdoor Legacy Fund, the club is able to offer rentals, lift tickets and transportation for about half the cost of one lift ticket. Last year, they had between 30 and 40 people on every trip. This year, Tillman is hoping to fill a charter bus that can fit 47 people.
"I think we'll be able to generate more a response this year," she said. The club is coordinating their trips with the African American Outdoor Association this winter, allowing outdoor club members to engage in snowshoeing and cross-country skiing at the same time Ebony Rose members engage in downhill skiing and snowboarding.
Apart from the skill set that skiing can build – athletic endurance, eye-foot coordination – Tillman looks at the sport as a precursor to life's woes.
"When you get up to the top of the mountain, you've taken on an enormous problem you have to solve," she said. "You have to take that first step."
Tillman, who is the manager of the Health Inequity Program at the Multnomah County Health Department, said she still uses lessons she's learned in skiing to help solve problems at work or in life.
Joseph Sharpe, the club's president, says he didn't take up skiing until well into adulthood. It wasn't until a high school friend came in from out of town that he was introduced to the sport.
"The first two hours on the mountain were hard," he said. He was questioning why he ever agreed to it, when he finally got the hang of it. Ever since, Sharpe has been an avid skier who has been sharing his passion for the sport ever since.
On Dec. 10, many of the club's newcomers met at Next Adventure, an alternative outdoor store in Portland, to get a look at the equipment, try on boots and get a tutorial on best mountain practices by Deek Heykamp – the store's co-owner. Both Tillman and Sharpe say the store has been an integral partner in providing advice and supplies for skiing.
Going on an Ebony Rose ski trip doesn't require that you join the club or buy skis or snowboards – but winter weather gear is required. Snow pants, undergarments that wick away sweat (stay away from cotton), gloves, goggles and hat are a must have for mountain adventurers. Tillman knows that the cost of clothing can deter some people, but as Heykamp told the group, some of the most useful winter clothing can be found in your closet. Silk shirts make great undergarments, wool sweaters insulate while wicking away moisture and that old polyester leisure suit is better at keeping you warm and dry than a cotton hooded sweatshirt.
For newbies, the first trip of the season is scheduled for Jan. 3. The group heads up to Timberline Lodge for skiing on Mt. Hood.
Visit their website at www.ebonyroseskiclubportland.com; or www.african americanoutdoors.com.
Jan. 3: Timberline. Activities will include skiing, snowboarding, and snow shoeing;
Feb. 7: Mt. Hood Meadows. Activities will include skiing, snowboarding, and cross country skiing;
Feb. 21: Mt. Hood Meadows. Activities will include skiing, snowboarding, and cross country skiing;
March 7: Ski Bowl. Activities will include skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing;
March 21: Timberline. Activities will include skiing, snowboarding, and snow shoeing;
Participants on all trips will meet will at 6:30 a.m. at Matt Dishman Community Center, 77 NE Knott St.
The bus will return to Matt Dishman Community Center between 5 and 6 p.m.