SCHENECTADY — Winter is coming, and the Nubian Empire Ski Club, a local nonprofit working to connect communities of color throughout the Capital Region to winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, is hoping to hit the slopes with a couple dozen children come January.
The organization was recently awarded a grant from Vail Resorts and the Katz Amsterdam Foundation and Charitable Trust that will be used to expand its Youth SnowSport Development Program, allowing up to 55 children of color between the ages of 5 and 18 to take ski and snowboard lessons this year at a fraction of the normal cost.
“While our youth development program has been around since about 2002, this is the first time we’re getting any funding to support bringing more kids,” said Omoye Cooper, president of the Nubian Empire Ski Club and director of the organization’s youth programming.
Cooper declined to specify how much the grant totaled, but noted it was north of $10,000. The money, she said, will be used to help offset the cost for five trips to Mount Snow in Vermont, including lift tickets, ski and snowboard lessons and equipment rentals, resort access and lunch.
Participants under the program would have to pay just $50 — a fraction of what it would normally cost to visit the Vail Resort-operated mountain on a normal day.
Vail Resorts and the Katz Foundation provided $1.6 million to 13 organizations across the country belonging to the National Brotherhood of Skiers and Boys & Girls Clubs, among others.
“It’s affordable because it takes care of getting kids to the mountain, they get lessons, they get rental equipment, they get lift passes and they get lunch,” Cooper said. “We also have money for children that may not be able to afford clothing.”
The Nubian Empire Ski Club has roots that can be traced back to 2001, when Phil Littlejohn, a Black professional ski instructor, approached members of the African American community in the Capital Region to encourage them to learn how to ski.
Cooper, who was one of the club’s earliest members, said that many thought Littlejohn was crazy and brushed him off. But he was persistent, and eventually a group of novice skiers went out to the mountain and never looked back.
In 2004, the organization became a member of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, a nonprofit started in 1974 in order to promote winter sports among the Black and brown communities.
Cooper said that communities of color have historically been underrepresented on the slopes, which she attributed to economics and a lack of representation to inspire others to participate in skiing and snowboarding.
Skiing, she explained, requires costly equipment and travel to a resort, which costs additional money for lift passes. The cost of a ski trip can be costly for a single person, but for a family with multiple children, a day at the slopes may be out of the question altogether, particularly for a low-income family.
“It’s not cheap to go skiing,” Cooper said. “In the African American community, you see young men who excel in basketball. Why is that? All you need is a basketball and a hoop.”
But the Nubian Empire Ski Club has made strides to bring more people of color to the slopes.
The club now has around 55 active members from across the Capital Region, and has had about 75 youths cycle through the program. Many become lifelong skiers, according to Cooper, who noted that two children who started with the program are in the process of becoming certified ski instructors.
Asked about the benefits of skiing, Cooper rattled off a longlist that included everything from health benefits to personal gratification of conquering a steep slope, to the ability to meet new people and traveling to different ski resorts each winter.
“It’s significant, I’d say, for adults and children because it opens up a whole other culture, a whole other world outside your immediate community,” Cooper said.
The club has partnered with a number of community organizations, including the Schenectady Foundation, COCOA House, Boys & Girls Club, Hamilton Hill Arts Center, Community Fathers and Liberty Church to help spread the word, but there are still several spots available, Cooper said.
The goal, she said, is to fill all the slots so the organization can apply for additional funding in the future and hopefully grow the program. The Nubian Empire Ski Club is also hosting an orientation event this weekend in an effort an answer questions and get children signed up by Dec. 14, the group’s deadline.
“Hopefully, if we’re successful in meeting our goal, we can apply again next year,” Cooper said.
For more information about The Nubian Empire Ski Club, visit the organization’s website: nubianski.webs.com, or send and email to: [email protected].
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.
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Oh, the outrage if a nonprofit said that it has a grant and can allow 55 White children to participate. A person’s Race will always be an issue as long as people continue to divide us by race, why does color matter? Are there no poor White kids around? Stop using a person’s pigmentation as a reason for anything; that in itself is racist.