They came to ski and to party, but also to raise money for a good cause. The sixth visit of the National Brotherhood of Skiers to Sun Valley brought some 600 African-American skiers to town this week.
And, at least two members will be back later this month. On Saturday, March 28, the co-founders of the NBS will be inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in Sun Valley.
Art Clay, 83, and Ben Finley, 81, took time to talk to reporters on Wednesday, following a dance party with locals the night before at River Run Lodge that Clay said exemplified the NBS’ Sun Valley experience.
“There is always a good vibe here,” said Clay, a retired social worker from Chicago.
Finley, a retired engineer, recalled the first NBS Black Summit in Sun Valley in 1975 when some attitudes were different.
“We showed up with two white women at the party at the Boiler Room under the Sun Valley Lodge and there were some good old boys who didn’t like that,” Finley said with a smile. “Let’s just say some interesting words were exchanged between us.”
The National Brotherhood of Skiers was founded in Aspen in 1973 to promote winter sports for minorities, in part to counteract misconceptions, Finley said.
“There has been a stereotype that blacks don’t ski,” Clay said. “Well, we always thought that white people can’t jump. They proved us wrong and so we’re going to prove them wrong about skiing.”
The two men were nominated to the “builders” category in the Hall of Fame, which honors people who have been “involved at a significant level in ski or snowboard sports” and “must have had a clear national impact for their contribution and be widely known for their work.”
NBS President Peggie Allen said in an interview that Clay and Finley’s induction will provide NBS with a voting membership in the Hall of Fame.
“For years to come we will also have a say as to who is inducted in the Hall of Fame,” Allen said.
The Black Summit is the NBS’ an-nual fundraiser, yielding from $30,000 to $100,000 each year to support the nonprofit organization’s Olympic Scholarship Fund, Allen said.
“Black folks don’t live near ski towns in America,” Finley said. ‘The big challenge is to get them to the mountain.”
Allen said a major factor in success will be to find “very supportive” parents who could encourage their sons and daughters to reach for the highest levels of competition.
“Our goal is to have youth of color stand up on the Olympic podium,” Allen said.
The NBS currently supports 10 black winter sports athletes, including rising star Brian Rice II of Detroit.
Known as “Flyin’ Brian” by his fan club, 15-year-old Rice was described by Fox 2 Detroit in December as “on the fast track to be-coming the country’s first Black Olympic snowboarder.”
Rice is a member of the Jim Dandy Ski Club, one of the oldest ski clubs affiliated with the National Brotherhood of Skiers, Finley said.
Allen said the NBS’ new presence within the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame will likely draw more attention to black skiers and snowboarders.
“It’s a huge deal for us,” she said. “The more exposure we get the more likely it will be to get companies to sponsor our Olympic Scholarship Fund.”