Darken the Slopes – Making the Mountains More Inclusive

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Darken the Slopes – Making the Mountains More Inclusive

Words by Rebeccah Kellman, SkiBig3 Ambassador

The mountains mean everything to me. Growing up, I spent my summers in Panorama hiking, swimming and rafting with my family. In the winters, I learned how to ski in Jasper with my dad, who instilled a love for recreating in the outdoors from a young age. Every step of the way, he encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and pushed me to enjoy things outside. This was a big part of the reason that I eventually moved to Canmore, where I have lived for the past five years working as a nurse. I moved to the mountains to be closer to the outdoor activities I fell in love with – rock climbing and hiking – which all stemmed from these first experiences with my family. 

Why Outdoor Diversity and Representation Matters

After moving to Canmore, I started Darken the Mountains as a blog to share my experiences living in the Bow Valley, to carry my Dad’s passion forward, and to inspire others to bring inclusivity to outdoor spaces. Today, it has evolved into an initiative working within my communities of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) and Allies to create a safe and inviting outdoor community. My goals are to bring diversity to a variety of outdoor activities and to improve representation in these spaces.

Rebeccah Kellman at Mt. Norquay with Darken the Slopes program.
Rebeccah Kellman skiing at Mt. Norquay. Photo by Ryan Wilkes.

Darken the Mountains started when I was 16-years-old. I was skiing with my sister in Panorama, and we would often try to find other black folks on the hill. When we would see one skiing or snowboarding, we would yell “ Darken the Mountains!!” and the phrase stuck. Fast forward to 2016 after first moving to Canmore. I was 21 at the time and fresh to the Bow Valley. While climbing near Grassi Lakes, another climber came up to me, put her arm against mine and said, “Hey! I usually don’t see people darker than me climbing out here!”

These experiences show that there is an important need for representation in outdoor spaces. Darken the Mountains is one step forward to making it happen. Representation matters. Matters outside, in the workplace, behind the scenes. It matters because representing minorities breaks stereotypes and welcomes inclusion in spaces. For me, Darken the Mountains has been about sharing my experiences as a black woman living in a small predominantly white town, doing sports that black women or BIPOC are not widely represented in.

Darken the Slopes Collaboration

In January 2021, the first Darken the Slopes program began. This collaboration between Darken the Mountains and SkiBig3 was about bringing inclusion and diversity to the slopes. It was about allowing accessibility to a sport that is not only expensive but has a lack of representation. I wanted to inspire people who look like me that the outdoors, and sports such as skiing, is for us. I want everyone to reap the benefits of safe outdoor spaces. In order for that, we need to deepen our understanding of how race operates and we need to set aside our biases. For those who aren’t used to seeing us in these spaces, it’s important to continue making it happen.

SkiBig3 Instructor Jamie Robinson showing us the ropes at Mt. Norquay. Photo by Ryan Wilkes.
SkiBig3 Instructor Jamie Robinson showing us the ropes at Mt. Norquay. Photo by Ryan Wilkes.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, we were able to host a group of five BIPOC individuals, who have either never skied before or have not been on skis since childhood. The morning started at 9 am at the SkiBig3 Adventure Hub, where the staff were more than helpful in getting us sized, measured and sorted out with all of our gear. After we are all set up, we headed to Mt. Norquay ski resort, just a short 15-minute drive from the town of Banff.

Darken the Slopes program at Mt. Norquay ski resort with Darken the Mountains.
Darken the Slopes program at Mt. Norquay ski resort with Darken the Mountains. Photo by Ryan Wilkes.

Our ski instructor Jamie, who has been teaching ski lessons for 10 years, was excited to be teaching us the in and outs of our ski gear. He soon had us doing drills in the learning area, practising our turns and stops over and over and over again. After a morning of Jamie’s endless patience, lots of laughs, and breaking a sweat, it was finally lunchtime. We headed to the parking lot to take a break with a tailgate picnic! The day was full of smiles, laughs and glorious rays of sunshine. Seeing everyone come together and willing to try something new in a safe space, free of judgement is something I have been longing for, and is something I hope to continue seeing in outdoor industries.

If you or someone you know identify as BIPOC and would like to participate in Darken the Slopes, please submit an application for our next event happening on March 12th at Mt Norquay.