Vermont is 94% white and, according to the National Ski Areas Association’s 2020 data, 88.2% of visitors to ski areas are white. Now, a new local group is working hard to change that. We caught up with Abby Crisostomo, a co-founder of Unlikely Riders, to hear more about their mission. An experienced splitboarder, telemark and alpine skier (and ambassador for Voile and SDR Clothing Co.) Crisostomo identifies as biracial and queer. She hopes Unlikely Riders can welcome more people to snowsports.
How do you define ‘Unlikely Riders’?
Unlikely Riders is a ‘vermont’ BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) non-profit mobilizing our community to find healing in the mountains while claiming space in the snow sports industry and culture. We are not only working to reduce or eliminate barriers to skiing, snowboarding and other winter activities, but also building a supportive community for any BIPOC ‘vermonter’ interested in snowsports.
Who are some of your members?
Our community currently includes more than 130 BIPOC snowsports enthusiasts throughout ‘vermont.’ We’re composed of people with varying abilities and experience levels, from those who have never skied or snowboarded to sponsored athletes, former ski racers, and industry professionals. We welcome all BIPOC people, whether they have lived in ‘vermont’ their entire lives or moved here recently.
You call it ‘vermont.’ Why?
Writing ‘vermont’ in quotation marks is another way of acknowledging that this land we occupy and recreate on was stolen from the Abenaki, Mohican, and Pennacook tribes by white people and colonized.
How did Unlikely Riders come about?
We started this project in October 2020 when Amanda Moran, who works here in the snowboard industry, reached out to me, snowboard coach Bettina Guevara, and Hana Saydek, a former ski racer and alpine race coach, about getting more BIPOC ‘vermonters’ on snow. We were so excited to join in and get to work. In our first season, we held monthly Zoom gatherings and offered workshops and webinars where we connected our community during the pandemic. We taught 22 members how to ski, snowboard and enjoy the backcountry. Our members have visited 13 ski areas, and we connected over 100 pieces of gear to our community!
What other projects have you done?
We just had our first two gear drives of the season (hosted by The Alchemist and Outdoor Gear Exchange), followed by our season kick-off event at Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington in early November. This event was a BIPOC affinity space where the Unlikely Riders gear closet was accessible to community members to choose from at no cost. Over 300 pieces of gear, including full ski, snowboard, and cross-country ski setups were connected with community members. We had a layering workshop led by Bettina, an introductory ski/snowboard waxing workshop, one-on-one boot fittings, and binding mounting and adjustments by OGE staff throughout the evening, again at no cost to community members. It was an incredible event!
How is Unlikely Riders helping the BIPOC community?
We’re feeling more grounded and connected with our community. As one of our members, Jessica Laporte, who works in Stowe, said: “I grew up skiing, seeing my sister as the only other person of color on the slopes. As I focused on affinity spaces and connecting with other Blacks and people of color, I moved away from snowsports— too expensive and too many white people. Last season with Unlikely Riders I got to experience both BIPOC community and snowsports in one.”
How can you join Unlikely Riders or contribute?
We have membership and donation information at unlikelyriders.org.
Opening image: An Unlikely Riders gathering at Bolton Valley Resort. Courtesy photo.