Rare as a Jamaican bob-sleigher

Despite a well-publicised breakthrough at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, there are still very few black Britons involved in alpine sports, says Brian Thomas
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The Independent Culture
AS A black thirty-something, I have been skiing in Europe for approximately 10 years and during this period have seen fewer than five other black people on the slopes.

Puzzled by this, I did some research and discovered the existence of the National Brotherhood of Skiers in the USA. This group was founded in 1972 and comprises 82 black ski clubs with a total membership of 14,000 people. Indeed, Black Summit - a convention of black ski clubs - is recognised as the largest ski convention in America. Since skiing appears to be a popular sport for black Americans, why hasn't it caught on in the same way in Britain?

Looking back to the days before I started skiing, I recall that my reasons for avoiding it largely centred around my fear of the cold, the belief that ski resorts were full of Hooray Henries and were expensive, although cost on its own did not deter me. Ten years on, that fear of the cold still exists, but there's no reason to feel the elements, since modern ski clothing and gadgets are such that I spend most of the time removing layers of clothing even in the coldest of conditions.

So if the cold isn't the problem, is it the Hoorays? Yes, it's true to say that skiing is a pastime enjoyed substantially by the white middle- classes - but so is cricket. Black people living in Britain are likely to have every-day contact with a multitude of races and nationalities as well as people from different classes and social backgrounds. If we cope and assimilate with this in the United Kingdom, it does not follow that things should be any different in a ski resort.

In today's society, class appears to be less defined and more fluid, with the result that there seems to be a fusion of cultures and beliefs that is particularly evident in fashion and music but becoming very evident in skiing.

Whereas 10 years ago skiing was perceived as a sport for the Fulham Road or country set, now it's increasingly seen as a sport for the hip set. Many ski resorts boast clubs which host some of the top European DJs and this form of apres ski is becoming a major marketing tool.

The change in the culture of skiing is largely due to the growth of snow- boarding. Ski resorts are beginning to see the future in terms of catering for this market - which until fairly recently was generally shunned by the traditional skiing fraternity. Talk to Adrian Harwood of First Choice and you get the picture: "I believe snow-boarding has had a profound effect on the winter sport market. It's now all about having fun, rather than just serious skiing from nine to five." Now the ski industry appears to be catering for the masses in that prices range from pounds 250 upwards for a week's skiing.

Even so, alpine sports have not attracted the black community in the UK in the same way as in America. For the moment I suspect, like the Jamaican bobsleigh team, I'll remain a curious novelty in far-away mountain ski resorts.

As to the future of black British skiing, when I contacted the Thomson British Ski Academy I was encouraged by the news that Alex Makonnen, a 14-year-old of Ethiopian extraction, is seen as a great prospect. Could he be the role model required?

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