Friday, September 18, 2020
Inclusive Idaho Wants to Add Colors to the Trails and Ski Slopes
Rota-Rippers was founded in large part to give Latinx children in the Wood River Valley a chance to learn to ski. PHOTO: Karen Bossick
Wednesday, August 5, 2020



Jessie Levin’s mother didn’t tip her toe in a swimming pool until much later in life because of segregation.

That affected how Levin viewed swimming until, finally, she saw other people who looked like her in the pool.

Panelists included Jessie Levin, Austin Foundy, Whitney Mestelle, Luis Alberto Lecanda and Sara Gress. PHOTO: Markell Griffin

“Seeing people that looked like me participating in that recreational activity raised my comfort level significantly when the time came for me to try swimming,” she said.

Levin—and others—would like to see more people of color on skis, hiking, kayaking and participating in other outdoor activities. And they said so much during an Inclusive Idaho panel discussion held Friday night at Ketchum’s Forest Service Park.

The event focused on how to make outdoor activities more inclusive for all. It was instigated by the newly established Inclusive Idaho, a non-profit based out of Boise that sprouted from last month's Black Lives Candlelight Vigil, which lured more than 5,000 people to the Idaho State Capitol Building.

"Our organization is about advocacy, education, and community events. We will be using all of those platforms to make Idaho more inclusive," said Executive Director Whitney Mestelle.

Hannah McNees adds her two cents worth during the conversation. PHOTO: Markell Griffin

Friday's community event was one of the organization’s first outside of Boise.

 "There's so much going on right now that at times we think we can't do enough in our small community. But with Inclusive Idaho here it allows us to talk with them, listen and activate,” said Brenna Cavanaugh, who invited the group to Ketchum on behalf of Ketchum’s Boho Lounge. “I believe great change must first begin on a micro level, right within our own communities and our own selves."

 The panel included Austin Foudy, director of Community Outreach and Volunteers for Inclusive Idaho; Jessie Levin; Sara Gress, executive director of the Wood River Trails Coalition; Whitney Mestelle, and Luis Alberto Lecanda, a Sun Valley-based Nordic skier with Team Mexico.  

They talked about the need to increase the representation of black, indigenous, and people of color via visibility in outdoor recreation, best practices to welcome those communities into outdoor space, ideas to bridge economic barriers and the difficulties underrepresented communities have accessing experienced mentorships. 

 The lack of representation and visibility of black, indigenous and people of color participating in recreational activities hinders inclusion and reinforces a narrative that certain activities fall outside of the realm of possibilities, said Levin, director of education and policy for Inclusive Idaho.

 “There is tremendous value when one sees somebody like you doing an activity,” she added. “These visual cues can range from outdoor brand marketing decisions to the media and publications.”

 Whitney Mestelle shared that the ease with which she learned snowboarding was made possible in part because her husband grew up participating in snow sports with his family. But a high percentage of black, indigenous and people of color do not have access to a knowledgeable person to teach them the ropes, and some may not have the economic means to hire a coach.

 In Sun Valley many Latinx children have been introduced to skiing through a week’s worth of lessons provided through a partnership between Sun Valley Resort and the Blaine County School District. And one of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s goals is to provide affordable recreation for those children through its Rota-Rippers program at Rotarun Ski Area.

 "Outdoor recreation can be exclusive and inaccessible. However, the shared experience of the outdoor adventures can bring people together. The opportunity to do so, across culture differences, is rich in this valley," said Cece Osborn, Rota-Rippers ski coach.

 Representation in recreational activities also needs to be reflected in the hiring practices of the outdoor industry and government recreation agencies, panelists noted. Right now, 83 per cent of National Park Service employees are white. That’s 20 percent more than other federal agencies.

 "Something I think the white outdoor community needs to hear is that a goal of inclusivity is the normalization of people of color in the outdoors, climbing, biking, etc.,” said Sara Gress.  “When a huge deal is made out of having a black climber or a Latinx cyclist or whatever, you are essentially tokenizing their existence. Of course, we need to empower people of color in the outdoors but in a way that doesn't make them feel even more like an anomaly."

 Levin, director of education and policy for Inclusive Idaho, said it was inspiring to see how the Sun Valley community wanted to know how to be more inclusive.

 "I feel that this community can be a bubble, especially when it comes to social issues around the country,” said attendee Karlie Jeneson. “It can be easy to tune out the issues when we're not faced with them directly, which is why we need events such as this to bring the issues and subjects into the light, in order to provide awareness and create space for the necessary conversations.”



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