Tom Kelly: Skiing in color
Lamont Joseph White and I share a lot in common. We both found our pathway into skiing as adults. We both transplanted to Utah. And we both love skiing and riding the glades of Dreamscape on the Canyons side of Park city Mountain Resort.
Lamont’s perfect day is on Dreamscape. Standing on the mountaintop gives you a commanding view. Dropping into the trees embodies a feeling of freedom. He feels that independence as he dips the nose of his snowboard into the grove of aspens off Alpenglow and whoops it up down through Fool’s Paradise.
But while we share a common sense of passion for riding down mountainsides, our eyeglasses into the sport are quite different. I’m white. Lamont is Black.
This week was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For many, it was a long weekend to ski. But for all of us, it was an opportunity to reflect — especially in light of our ongoing national discussion on racism.
As a skier, I’ve long been cognizant of our sport’s lack of diversity. I see it around me every time I ski. While keenly aware of the statistics, I don’t know that I ever realized how it impacted me or what my role might have in it. In the heated days after the killing of George Floyd last summer, it gave me much pause as I reflected back on my sport and my own role as a skier.
Lamont is an artist. You may have seen his latest show this past December, “Skiing in Color,” at the Christian Center of Park City. His vivid caricatures paint a picture of skiing and snowboarding through his eyes as a Black snowboarder.
I’ll admit. It was a difficult topic to discuss with him. It’s emotional. You wonder “What are the right things to say?” — like asking him how he views inclusion?
“(There are) these moments of implicit bias and moments where you feel like people are wondering why you’re there, like, what’s your story?” he said. “A little bit like I’m sort of like a mysterious guy sometimes when I show up. It’s a common experience for us to have those moments, which is why feeling included becomes important. Feeling that our presence is normalized becomes important for us. And a lot of times it’s not spoken because we just want to go skiing.”
As a young boy, he became excited about skiing. He heard about it from friends and marveled at the little paper tickets hanging from their jackets. But growing up as a Black child in Queens, his opportunities to ski weren’t realistic. Still, he kept his passion and found the sport as an adult. A trip to Utah opened his eyes to the mountains.
“The snow itself, the terrain, just the whole atmosphere,” he said. “And it hooked me. I just fell in love with the whole atmosphere — the people, the mountains and everything just became super exciting for me. When you get out to these resorts that are so full of experienced skiers — it’s just such a full ski and outdoor environment in places like Park City and other resorts in Utah. It’s really a whole different experience.”
White has taken plenty of inspiration into his “Skiing in Color” collection. His pieces evoke life through the vivid colors and emotion through the eyes of his characters. In a way, he’s drawn some of his own inspiration from King.
“You know, Martin Luther King spoke about the mountaintop in his last speech, which didn’t dawn on me until, oh, my gosh, I was so far along in this collection,” he said. “But I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really a nice sort of partnership with my series to know that he said that he used the mountaintop.’ There are some aspirational parallels to skiing, right, and being on the mountain.
“And he said, ‘I’ve been to the mountaintop and I may not get there with you,’ that I’ve looked over, you know. And I thought, that’s really profound. I’m so glad to be painting in this subject matter and using skiing not only as a tool, but as a metaphor for a goal, a destination and something that’s positive, whatever that goal may be in my mind.”
I thought maybe acceptance is being viewed like any other skier or snowboarder on the mountain. Lamont had a slightly different take.
“Every culture, when they show up into a space, they’re going to bring some of whatever their culture is to that space,” he said. “If you see me as a snowboarder who happens to be Black, I’m fine with that. I don’t mind if you see my color. And, by the way, we see color also. And I think that that’s cool because there are things to learn from our differences, from our different cultures — whether it’s food, whether it’s music, whether it’s style, whatever is in our lexicon.”
I hadn’t thought of it that way. While we come together on the slopes as skiers and riders, what we each bring to the party is different. And isn’t that what makes our sport so fascinating? That we can all celebrate this feeling of independence and freedom we get by sliding down a mountain?
“There are things to learn and enrich our lives by seeing those colors,” Lamont said. “I love the diversity and I love the representation. So let’s all come together.”
Wisconsin native Tom Kelly landed in Park City in 1988 (still working on becoming an official local). A recently inducted member of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, he is most known for his role as lead spokesperson for Olympic skiing and snowboarding for over 30 years until his retirement in 2018. This will be his 51st season on skis, typically logging 60 days in recent years.
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Travel helps define our identity and culture, writes Jennifer Wesselhoff. “The real story is the people behind the data.”