32 Degrees: Meet Henri Rivers

The National Brotherhood of Skiers celebrated their 50th Anniversary Summit, the Soul on Snow, this past week at Vail, Colorado. The festivities included parades, concerts, and making turns as NBS members partied with a purpose, to support their mission, “To identify, develop and support athletes of color who will win International and Olympic winter sports competitions representing the United States and to increase participation in winter sports.”

To celebrate the event and Black History Month, here is an member profile on NBS President Henri Rivers that appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of 32 Degrees.

Member Profile: Henri Rivers

Henri Rivers is a PSIA-certified Alpine Level II instructor (with a Children’s Specialist 2 and Eastern Division Master Teacher credentials) at New York’s Windham Mountain. He is also the president of the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS), a nonprofit organization founded in 1973 that consists of 50+ clubs across the United States. The mission of the NBS is to identify, develop, and support athletes of color who will win international and Olympic competitions representing the United States and increase participation in winter sports.

Q: How did you get started in snowsports?

A: My journey started in the tourist town of Big Indian, New York – population 125 in the late 1960s and now 370. I lived five miles from the local ski area, which became my adventure park; I’d take every opportunity I could to go there and slide around. At age nine or ten, I became a regular fixture at Belleayre Mountain,
catching rides up Route 28 from sympathetic motorists; usually the same folks every day.

After a few years of self-exploration, falling down every trail on the map, I started skiing behind kids in training programs and emulating their movements. Then, at 15, I tried out for, and made my high school ski team. I learned a great deal being around athletes who skied well, and my skills improved tremendously.

Q: What draws you to skiing and the snowsports community?

A: In March 2005, I decided to become a member of PSIA-AASI, which opened a door to a wealth of knowledge, fundamentals, and concepts. It was a side of skiing I was previously not privy to, and gave me a new opportunity to learn and improve.

Prior to joining PSIA-AASI, I was a member – since 1996 – of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, the largest Black ski organization in the world. I’ve held many NBS positions, including race coach, Regional Competition Director, Olympic Scholarship Fund Administrator, National Competition Director, National Executive Vice President, and I’m currently serving as National Executive President.

As a member of PSIA-AASI, the National Brotherhood of Skiers, and U.S. Ski and Snowboard, I have access to, and support from, three organizations working to help open the pathways toward inclusion in what is an elitist, exclusive sport.

My goals, aligned with NBS and those “awoken” members of our snowsports community, are to increase inclusion and participation in winter sports and to identify, develop, and support athletes of color who will win international, and Olympic, competitions representing the United States.

As an enthusiast, instructor, and coach, I’m drawn to the exhilaration of sliding on snow. That feeling you get when you make awesome turns on a steep pitch, when you turn around and look up at a challenging trail and want to give it another try, or the look of indescribable joy and excitement on the face of a first-time snow slider.

The ultimate thrill of nature and the wide-open outdoors is appealing; it transcends every race, gender, and religion. The outdoors is the greatest attraction on earth.

Q: In the past two years, the snowsports industry has been addressing the importance of diversity like never before. What opportunities and challenges do you think this presents?

A: I was elected president of the NBS on March 4, 2020, seven days before the World Health Organization announced that COVID- 19 was officially a pandemic. On May 25, 2020 George Floyd was murdered in the street by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. That was the demarcation line for many white individuals in our society who woke up and said “Enough! Stop the insanity of racial inequity, stop the racial discrimination. Let’s move the goal toward inclusion and dismantle racism.”

Q: How does NBS view the snowsports industry’s attention to inclusion?

A: As loud as this awakening movement has become, we’ve heard it all before. The snowsports industry has a great opportunity to seize this moment to stay “awoke” and create pathways and channels to promote equitable racial inclusion throughout all levels of the industry including resort management, mountain operations, hospitality, and snowsports instruction. Inclusion must be focused on equitable measures at every level in every area of the industry.

Partnering with organizations of color in the outdoor space will accelerate and facilitate inclusion. In addition to NBS, there are many organizations, including Outdoor Afro and Soultrak, who are driving change.

The major challenge the snowsports industry faces is its existing structure and culture. Instead of following the status quo, the industry has a chance to embrace the inclusion challenge and lead our society to change our world! The NBS will be vigilant in guiding
and assisting the industry in this transformation.

Q: You were awarded the first ever U.S. Ski & Snowboard Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Champion Award. What does this honor mean to you?

A: I hope the creation of this award brings closer human harmony to snowsports, and our global society. I’m honored to be its first recipient because it means my efforts are making an impact; that the industry realizes the need for implementing system change, now!

Q: Your kids appear in the new Warren Miller film, Winter Starts Now. What was it like for you to watch?

A: Warren Miller films so aptly set off the winter ski season, and I’ve watched them all my life. I could never have imagined, when sitting in a movie theater 45 years ago, I’d see my children in such an iconic rite of passage. The feeling is indescribable. The film made my children legends in their skiing community, and I am extremely happy for them.

I’m most proud that they have been inspired by my love of the sport, and that now they are the second rung of the Rivers’ family
ski pedigree.

Q: What are your big goals for the rest of this season?

A: NBS has partnered with U.S. Ski and Snowboard, the Katz- Amsterdam Foundation, Vail Resorts, and PSIA-AASI to stay on mission, to expose hundreds of youth to snowsports and develop a dozen new instructors of color, and continue to build Team NBS.

My big goals for the 2022 season are the same goals that the NBS has set since its inception: Harmony, Equity and Fun.

Learn More about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at PSIA-AASI