Friday, February 28, 2014

Brotherhood of Skiers builds camaraderie on and off mountain

Founder reflects on organizationís successes

Express Staff Writer

Arthur Clay, the founder of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, enjoys himself at the organizationís picnic lunch Wednesday at the River Run Lodge. Photo by Roland Lane

     With the Chicago-based National Brotherhood of Skiers holding a convention in Sun Valley this week, there are almost 1,000 members here to hit the slopes and socialize. Members of the group in the Sun Valley area this week come from cities including Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and New York City.

     Co-founder Arthur Clay, who attended an organization “picnic” at the River Run base of Bald Mountain on Wednesday, has seen the organization grow immensely since it was chartered in 1974.

     After meeting skier Ben Finley in 1973, Clay and Finley discussed how they could get more minorities involved in skiing. What followed was a highly successful outreach program that resulted in a historic gathering of 13 black ski clubs and more than 350 skiers in Aspen, Colo., in 1974.

     Today, the National Brotherhood of Skiers has about 3,000 members with 60 ski clubs in 43 cities across the United States. After chartering in 1974, the organization became an Illinois nonprofit in 1975 and attained its federal tax-free designation in 1978. Clay said he’s happy and proud of the organization’s growth, but not surprised at how it has progressed.

     “I had dreams a lot bigger than this,” he said. “I think this will go on and continue to grow. When people ask me what I envisioned for this, I say I pictured this and even more.”

     Clay, 77, said he’s been skiing since his early 30s and still enjoys the slopes now as much as he ever has.

     “I became interested in skiing because there are a lot of beautiful women who ski,” Clay said. “Once I found out I could have as much fun with women on the ski slopes as much as I could at a club, I decided I would try it, and I haven’t turned away since. I really love skiing.”

     From the organization’s beginning, Clay and the rest of the brotherhood have remained active in recruiting new members.

     “Our mentality has been if a black person starts skiing, somehow or some way they will come into contact with this organization,” Clay said.

     Clay also said the National Brotherhood of Skiers is very focused on its young athlete development program. The organization’s mission is “to identify, develop and support athletes of color who will win international and Olympic winter sports competitions representing the United States and to increase participation in winter sports.”

     “I would really love to see one of our athletes compete for the U.S. in the Olympics one day,” Clay said. “That is one of our biggest goals here.”

     He added that the organization does not yet have any paid staff members, but is hopeful that it can raise the funds to pay its volunteers in the future.

     In 1975, the second Black Ski Summit took place in Sun Valley, where Clay said he had an amazing experience that has spurred the National Brotherhood of Skiers to continuously plan summits here ever since.

     “I hope for the continual development of this organization,” he said. “I think the next time we visit here, there will be twice as many people. This is a big, big family. No matter where you go, you can find someone who’s a part of NBS.”

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