Friday, March 2, 2012

Skiers find inspiration at summit

Members of the National Brotherhood hit Baldy’s slopes

Express Staff Writer

Members of the Sugar & Spice athletic development club, part of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, take a break from skiing at River Run Lodge on Wednesday. From left are: Lisa Tibbs, Sandra Hodges, Charlene Fitts, Myra Hitchens and Natalie Johnson. Photo by David N. Seelig

All week, Sun Valley-area venues such as the Roosevelt Grille, River Run Lodge and favorite runs on Bald Mountain have been packed with African-American skiers from all over the country who say they've been having plenty of fun.

Some 1,000 skiers and snowboarders from the National Brotherhood of Skiers, the club behind a self-proclaimed "Black Ski Summit," burst onto the Sun Valley scene last Saturday, ready for a full week of skiing, snowboarding and events.

Marcus McDonald, a member from Columbia, Md., and a planner for many of the events, said the "summit experience" is like nothing else.

"Once you've had the summit experience, it's addicting," he said with a laugh.

The summits are a gathering of members from 60 African-American ski clubs throughout the nation to a central location once every two years. On off years, such as this one, members of those clubs gather in a mini-summit, in which officers for the national club are elected and athletes compete in a series of races known as the Challenge Cup.

McDonald said his first summit was in 1995, in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Though he said he only stayed for three days rather than the full week, he knew that it was an event worth planning for.

"After that experience, I said I'd never miss another one," he said.

McDonald also visited Sun Valley during the group's first mini-summit here in 1998. He said the town seems little changed since then, though the number of people who the National Brotherhood of Skiers brings to the area has dropped in the past few years.

"We had a couple of thousand people then," he said, adding that summit attendance began to drop in 2003. It's rebounded slightly, he said, but the recession has still taken its toll.

"The economy impacts people's choices," he said. "[But] we have the same amount of energy."

One thing that he said hasn't changed in Sun Valley is the warm welcome that the group receives. McDonald said everyone he's encountered has been extraordinarily friendly—which may help to make up for what he views as Sun Valley's drawbacks as a ski destination.

"All resorts have issues," he said, adding that Sun Valley's is its relative lack of natural snow. "We didn't bring any snow with us last time, [though] we brought some with us this year. We would have liked to have seen a little more [snow] everywhere."

This year, resorts across the West are operating with less-than-normal snowfall. But McDonald said the powder day on Wednesday more than made up for the lack of snow on Tuesday, his first day on the mountain.

"We killed it," he said.

By "we," he was referring to skiers from 43 cities—including New Orleans, Dallas, Tampa, Birmingham, Denver and Houston--as well as a group from England and at least one athlete from Australia. All athletes were urged to keep this year's theme, "Dare to Dream," in mind while participating in events.

"If you don't challenge yourself to go further, to take that mogul, you get kept behind," McDonald said. "You can't move forward."

The club will be in town through Saturday, and will leave following an awards dinner, a closing ceremony and a lot of fond farewells, McDonald said, adding that he's made many friends over the years at such events.

"There are people I met in 1997 that I'm still in constant communication with," he said.

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