A monochromatic mountain

One family’s mixed feelings toward Utah’s slopes

Story by HANNAH CARLSON

A ski lift traversing a snowy slope. Photo by Simon Fitall on Unsplash.

“I grew up skiing in Utah’s Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons with my dad,” Micheal Bradshaw Jr. said in a collaborative Zoom interview with his sisters. “At the time, I didn’t realize that my dad and I were the only Black ones on the mountain. It doesn’t feel like a safe place anymore.”

In 1974, Micheal, a Millcreek, Utah, native, started skiing with his father, the late Micheal (Mike) Sr., at 3 years old. His younger twin sisters, Sierra and Kellie Bradshaw, started skiing two years later when they too turned 3 years old.

In order to hit the slopes each season, the Bradshaws were often required to make financial sacrifices to afford lift tickets and new ski gear for their growing children.

“Growing up, we never had cute ski outfits like most of the other kids did,” Sierra said. “I remember one year wearing blue camo ski pants and a pink jacket with fur. We wore whatever we could scrape up on clearance or whatever hand-me-downs the neighbors dropped off that year. It always made me sad as a little girl.”

The children’s mother, Ariel Jackson Bradshaw, didn’t share the rest of her family’s passion for skiing. Instead, she often read in the parked car while the others skied on the other side of the resort. She brought sandwiches and snacks.

“My mom loved coming with us,” Kellie said. “She’d always say, ‘I’d rather read in the mountains than on the sofa.’ She rarely missed a week.”

By their college years, the Bradshaw children were elite skiers and masters of the slopes.

In 1999, however, their father unexpectedly died from a heart attack just two months before his 66th birthday.

It was February, and Utah’s shimmering slopes were still covered with snow. “It felt right to go skiing,” Micheal said. “I guess it was both a way to cope and honor his memory.”

By this time, Ariel was too frail to wait in the car parked below the frigid slopes. Instead, she remained in her Millcreek home, reading, while her adult children skiied.

It wouldn’t be much longer until the rest of the Bradshaws would join their mother for warmer weekends indoors and skip the slopes altogether.

A skier pictured below a ski lift. Photo by David Klein on Unplash.

A year later, Micheal went skiing alone one Saturday morning. He was 26 years old.

“Everyone says to never ski alone out of fear for one’s physical safety,” Micheal said. “But I wasn’t worried about it as long as I stayed on populated runs. I didn’t realize at the time that falling off my skis wasn’t the only threat to my safety at the resort.”

After a morning of skiing, Micheal said he went to purchase lunch from the resort’s crowded lodge. He had never been to the lodge before. He had always packed sandwiches like his mother did for him and his sisters growing up.

With his lunch tray in hand, Micheal asked a bearded man seated at a table with his family if he could eat his lunch from one of the table’s three empty chairs.

Micheal recalled the interaction.

“F— no,” the man said while laughing. “Can’t you see that I’m trying to eat with my family here?”

Micheal apologized for interrupting the family’s lunch and asked if he could at least take one of the table’s extra chairs elsewhere to eat his meal.

“Are you kidding me?” the man replied to Micheal. “I just said, my family and I are trying to enjoy our meal. We don’t need a lone n—– like yourself here. F— off.”

Nobody came to Micheal’s defense, despite the room being full of snacking skiers, snowboarders, and stares of shock.

With everyone’s goggles and helmets taken off to eat, he quickly realized that he was the only Black person in the lodge of one of Utah’s most popular ski resorts.

Micheal now understood why his mom waited in the family’s car bundled in jackets and blankets rather than inside the lodge beside the fireplace.

Kellie spoke of her mom as a young mother, having had a similar experience to that of Micheal’s. She was asked to relocate to the other side of the ski lodge after making some of the resort’s regular guests “feel uncomfortable.”

“She was just reading a book,” Kellie said.

In a later attempt to purchase ski pants from a popular outdoor clothing company, Sierra also came face-to-face with the ski industry’s lacking inclusion. After trying on multiple pairs of ski pants that didn’t fit, she was eventually referred to plus-sized alternatives.

“I was 5-9 and 150 pounds at the time. I didn’t wear plus size in any other type of pant. Just in ski pants,” Sierra said. “Those ski pants were made to fit white women, not a body type like mine and my sisters who carry our weight differently.”

Kellie added, “Don’t even get us started on helmet sizing.”

After Micheal’s frightening incident in the lodge, and a few subsequent instances of microaggression later, the Bradshaws retired their skis and hung up their helmets.

“It’s not worth it anymore. The fun of skiing has become so tainted by the lack of inclusion,” Micheal said. “When my father died the bubble of ski bliss popped and we were introduced to the reality that he and my mother tried so hard to keep us from while growing up.”

While the Bradshaws’ story may air extreme, they aren’t alone in skipping out on the slopes. Many of Utah’s minority groups aren’t interested in racing to the resorts each winter either.

An infographic illustrating the racial distribution of Utah’s ski and snowboard population during the 2019-2020 winter season. Image by Hannah Carlson.

 In 2019-20, a Snowsports Industries America participation study reported that 88% of the season’s ski visits were made by people who identify as white or caucasian.

Native Americans and Blacks each represented only 1% of that population. Asian and Pacific Islanders made up 4% and those identifying as Latino made up 5%.

Skiing is also an extremely expensive sport to pursue. In Utah, the average price of a single-day lift ticket last year was $95. The cost of a resort season pass ranges anywhere from $300 to $1,500.

On top of a lift pass, a skier or snowboarder would also require a pair of skis or a snowboard, ski poles, boots, pants, a jacket, a coat, gloves, goggles, and a helmet.

For a median household income of $71,621 in Utah, skiing isn’t an easily approachable sport. Especially for larger families, where Utah ranks first in the country.

“I don’t have all the answers,” Micheal said. “I just wish that I could take my daughters skiing without them having to experience what many of us already have.”