Snowsports Statistics in Black and White

By Rick Kahl

Over the past few decades, African American participation in all winter sports—including tubing, sledding and snowshoeing, in addition to those requiring skis or snowboards—has risen steadily. According to a long-running SIA Participation Study, the participation rate rose over 13 years—from five percent of all winter sports enthusiasts in 2003 to nine percent in the winter of 2016–2017. (For reference sake, African Americans comprised 13.4 percent of the U.S. population in 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.)

Black participation in skiing, though, has declined in the past few years, according to the SIA study. African Americans accounted for five percent of all who said they were skiers in the winter of 2016–2017, down from seven percent in 2014–15. That reflects a similar decline among Hispanics and Asian Americans, with the result that Caucasians comprised 75 percent of all skiers in 2016–2017, up from 63 percent in 2014–2015.

The rate of black participation in cross country and freeskiing, however, remained mostly steady from 2014 through 2017. African Americans make up about six percent of those who freeski or ski cross country at least two times a year, and account for a similar percentage (five percent) of those who snowboard at least two days a year. 

National Brotherhood skiers are obviously more committed to the sport. Black skiers, in general, comprise a high percentage of folks who only ski once a season, and a low percentage of those who ski two or more days a season. They make up 12 percent of those who say they ski once a season, but just three percent of those who ski two or more days a season. 

While there are several possible factors contributing to this relatively low rate of participation—proximity to ski areas being one of them—it seems likely that the cost of skiing plays a key role in tamping down participation by African Americans. While U.S. median family income was $55,322 in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it was just $39,490 for African Americans. 

NSAA data for 2016–2017, the most recent year for which data are available, shows that 60 percent of skiers and snowboarders in 2016–2017 had incomes of at least $100,000, up from 50 percent the previous year. Conversely, the share of those with incomes less than $100,000 fell to 40 percent. 

Just 12.9 percent of blacks have incomes of $100,000 or higher, compared to 27.7 percent of all Americans, according to 2016 Census Board data. Clearly skiing presents a high cost barrier for most African Americans.

Rick Kahl has been a skiing editor for 40 years, most recently as editor of Ski Area Management for the past 16 years. Prior to that he served in several editorial roles at Skiing Magazine, including editor-in-chief.