Latino snowboard instructor is diversifying the slopes through a popular Summit County program

Original article from kunc

On a February afternoon at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in Summit County, part-time snowboard instructor Javier Pineda stood at the bottom of the Molly Hogan bunny hill. He welcomed his beginner students to their second class.

“Today we are going to focus on what we practiced last time,” Pineda said in Spanish.

The four students – decked out in snowboarding pants, big winter coats, helmets and goggles – started off by reviewing turns, especially how to initiate them from the heelside or toeside of the board.

After about 90 minutes, Pineda decided the class was ready for the next challenge: going up the Black Mountain Express chairlift to practice on steeper terrain. Before the students tackled their first green run, Pineda gave an instruction.

“This is going to be technique, not speed,” he said in Spanish.

This winter, Pineda will teach seven free four-week sessions with rental equipment and full-day lift tickets provided at no additional cost. He has 40 students across his seven courses, all of whom are Hispanic or Latino, and many of whom are part of the local immigrant community. To help his students learn, Pineda’s lessons are taught either entirely in Spanish or as a bilingual mix of English and Spanish, depending on the group.

“Our target is to create a community within our own community, and not feel so left out from the sport,” he said. “We need to feel included and welcome in the space.”

During the 2022-2023 ski season, a record number of skiers and snowboarders visited resorts in the Rocky Mountain region, including in Colorado. The vast majority of them—almost 9 out of 10 visitors—were white. Only 5.6% of those visitors identified as Hispanic or Latino, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

Pineda was among that small percentage.

He moved from Mexico to Summit County with his family when he was 12 years old, and learned how to snowboard in high school. But Pineda said his instructors never looked or sounded like him.

“All the lessons were in English. The instructors were usually from the Anglo community,” he said. “Very typical, I guess, face of the ski industry.”

Pineda works at Mountain Dreamers, a local nonprofit organization that works with immigrants and their families in the Central Mountain Region. Through his role as program coordinator, he started Oso Outdoors last year. Oso, which means “bear” in Spanish, is a nod to the nickname his late brother gave him when they were teenagers. They loved participating in the Boy Scouts and other outdoor activities together.

Oso Outdoors’ first initiative is the free snowboard classes Pineda leads. Now in its second year, the snowboard program has become so popular that over 100 people expressed interest in the 40 slots. The lessons are only for adults, but many chose to sign up with other adult siblings, spouses or parents.

Oftentimes, if we reflect on our own skiing experience, riding experience, we rely on having a nucleus or a group that we can be supported off. And for a lot of us, that’s within our families,” he said.

Snowboarding student Sofia Saurez moved to Summit County from Colombia a couple years ago with her family. She understands English a little bit, but said having a Spanish-speaking instructor is a big benefit that makes communicating easier.

It is very cool to learn from him,” she said in Spanish.

Suarez started learning how to snowboard last season with her husband and sister by watching videos on YouTube and other social media outlets. When she heard about Oso Outdoors, Suarez recruited them along with her father and another sister to take lessons.

At first, it was very difficult for me to enjoy the sport. And when I started to enjoy it, I wanted my dad, my sister—well, my other sister already knew a little more—but above all, my dad and my little sister, to enjoy the sport,” Suarez said.

Daniela Suarez, Sofia’s younger sister, said snowboarding is really fun but it can also be really painful. But if she makes a mistake or falls during the lesson, her family is there for support.

“I feel calmer that no one is going to judge me, because at first it is very difficult,” Daniela said in Spanish. “It’s cool to do it with the family. You feel confident.”

For Jonathan Roncancio, Sofia Suarez’s husband, the snowboarding lessons at A-Basin are a good way to meet new people in a friendly environment. He thinks the program is a great opportunity for the local Latino community.

Some of them don’t have the opportunity to take classes or to come to the mountain and ride and enjoy this beautiful sport,” Roncancio said.

Snowboarding students Jonathan Roncancio, Monica Diaz, Daniela Suarez and Sofia Suarez pose with their instructor Javier Pineda at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area on Feb. 6, 2024. This winter, Pineda will teach seven four-week courses to 40 students, all of whom are Hispanic or Latino and identify with the immigrant experience.

Hispanics and Latinos make up at least 15% of the population in Summit County, which is home to four world-class ski areas. Almost all of Pineda’s students live in the area. Alan Henceroth, A-Basin’s chief operating officer, said the ski resort has initiatives to increase diversity, equity and inclusion, but what Pineda is doing is unique.

“It’s not like I sat around with a couple of people that work here and said, ‘Hey, we need this many people of color skiing.’ You know, this is a program that grew organically,” Henceroth said. “Javier (Pineda), he is connecting with a lot of local people here in Summit County and getting them skiing and snowboarding.”

A-Basin supports Oso Outdoors, and Henceroth said his biggest role with the snowboarding program is to make sure Pineda has the necessary resources.

Then I got to get out of the way because he’s making this thing happen,” he said.

To combat the lack of diversity on the slopes, organizations for BIPOC skiers and riders have popped up around the country. One of the most prominent is the National Brotherhood of Snowsports (NBS), which was formed in 1973 to bring together Black ski clubs across the United States.

Increasing diversity would not only make the slopes in the outdoors more friendly and more representative of the population that we have in this country. It would also help their bottom line—the snowsports industry, that is,” Henri Rivers, president of National Brotherhood of Snowsports, said.

NBS has about 58 clubs in over 45 cities and is partnering with Vail Resorts and other snowsports organizations to increase youth programs. But its focus is on more than just getting Black people involved in skiing and snowboarding, Rivers said. The organization is also working with the Professional Ski Instructors of America to train instructors, a profession that also lacks diversity.

If I’m going to learn a sport, it’s so much easier for me to associate or feel comfortable with someone that looks like me teaching me,” he said. “If I get instructed by a Black instructor, it’s almost magical. It’s like, OK, this guy can do it. This woman can do it. So then I know I can do it.

Prisma Solís and her daughter Yareli Grijalva Solís pose at the bottom of the Molly Hogan bunny hill at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area on Feb. 6, 2024. Solís is learning how to snowboard through Mountain Dreamers’ Oso Outdoors.

Prisma Solís stood near the bottom of Molly Hogan for a quick break. She took Pineda’s snowboarding class that morning and then returned in the afternoon with her 11-year-old daughter Yareli, who learned how to ride through a school program.

I would like to learn to accompany her and to spend time, mom and daughter,” Solís said in Spanish.

Yareli has been snowboarding for three years. Right now, she’s the family expert.

“I like telling her what to do,” Yareli said smiling. “And it’s really fun to spend time with my mom.

Solís emigrated to Summit County from Mexico decades ago and had never previously tried skiing or snowboarding. It was expensive, she’s not fluent in English, and she didn’t have anyone to go with. Now, Solís plans to encourage others to try the sport.

I want to serve as an example for the Hispanic community that encourages us to achieve what we can, what we set out to do,” she said.

Monica Diaz started following Mountain Dreamers on social media after moving to Summit County from Mexico with her husband and two young kids a few years ago. When she saw information posted about the snowboarding program, it caught her attention. She’s taking Pineda’s class with her husband. Her kids are also learning the basics of skiing, and she hopes to inspire them to keep it up.

I love playing sports,” Diaz said in Spanish. “Now that I had the opportunity to come and take up this sport, the truth is I feel very excited to be able to push my children to start playing sports from a young age.

Snowboard instructor Javier Pineda talks to his students on a green run at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in Summit County on Feb. 6, 2024. This winter Pineda is teaching seven four-week sessions and his lessons are in Spanish or bilingual, depending on the group.

Last December Mountain Dreamers received a $100,000 Outdoor Equity Grant from the state. With this new funding as well as support from other grants, it’s just the beginning for Oso Outdoors, Pineda said.

For us to open the door to give the opportunity, it’s also a way for them (students) to connect with the local environment and connect with the local community,” he said.

Pineda wants to increase Oso Outdoors’ programming and create affinity meetups on the mountain so folks can ride together. But to really grow the snowboarding program, Pineda will need more help. He’s hoping to build a roster of bilingual – and bicultural – instructors so that even more immigrants will feel welcome on the slopes.

Big picture down the road is some of these folks who are going to the program, for (them) to come back and close the loop and become instructors,” he said. “That’s the way that we want to close the loop, is building leaders within the outdoor industry.

Active Loop logo