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Just a few weeks ago, more than 2,000 Black skiers ascended the snowy peaks of Colorado’s Vail Mountain to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the National Brotherhood of Skiers. Detroiters had something to do with that.

“That’s what we’re here for. We want to introduce as many Black people as we can to this sport,” said Janice Jackson, president of the Jim Dandy Ski Club (JDSC). 

Founded in Detroit in 1958, JDSC is the first Black ski club in the United States. Around 150 of its members traveled to Colorado to celebrate. The club is one of the 13 Black ski clubs that originally convened to bring the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS) into existence, and its members still work to introduce as many Black people as possible to skiing and other snow sports. JDSC also supports and sponsors Black athletes embarking upon professional skiing journeys.

Jackson made her way to the slopes by way of the roller rink.

“I used to roller skate all the time, and one of my roller-skating friends would always disappear in the winter,” Jackson said. The friend told her she was a skier and invited Jackson to try it out. “I tried it out, loved it, and that was all she wrote.” 

Thirteen people on skis posing for the camera on a snow-covered slope. The photo is black and white.
Jim Dandy Ski Club members in a 1962 issue of Ebony Magazine. Photo credit: Courtesy of Friends of the Jim Dandy Ski Club

Today’s JDSC has more than 200 “Dandies,” and their membership is one of the largest in the NBS, which has nearly 60 clubs around the country as members. The Dandies have one more big ski event this month before warmer temperatures creep in.

The Dandies will meet at the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort in British Columbia for the season’s “last call” from March 25 through April 1. 

“It’s what I call an ‘international mountain’ because people from all over the world go there to ski,” Jackson said. 

The event at Whistler will only host about 30 members; the distance from Detroit makes it less accessible than the Dandies’ annual “Blackout” affair on Mount Brighton in Livingston County, held every Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. That event sells out with more than 200 attendees every year, Jackson said.

In addition to creating a welcoming atmosphere, replete with a DJ, plenty of food and access to the mountain, the Dandies encourage attendance to the Blackout by people who have never skied before. Club members also provide abbreviated lessons. 

“It’s not a long lesson — only one hour,” Jackson said. “Just long enough to get the (ski) bug.”

This year’s Blackout is where Tunesia Turner fell in love with the sport. She attended with her husband Khary and their son Max. Her husband grew up skiing, but Turner said she’d never been on skis before this year. After her experience, she said, there’s no turning back. 

“It’s a beautiful way to share community,” Turner said. “And this is from someone who loathes the cold and doesn’t like heights. 

“It was actually good to be in a group of skiers who had more experience than others because we got to learn from each other. It wasn’t intimidating at all,” she added. 

The diversity in age and skill level encouraged Turner to step out of her comfort zone. According to Jackson, active skiers in the JDSC range in age from 2 to 90 and possess a wide scope of experience. 

“A guy named Steve (Moore), who’s part of Jim Dandy — he was a teacher,” Turner explained. “He was very gentle. I was terrified to do something. But then I saw a three-year-old roll by me, and I had to say to myself, ‘OK, girl, for real,’” she said with a laugh. 

Three children skiing down a slope approaching a ski resort, fence and yellow banner with the word “Slow” printed on it. Two of the skiers are wearing bright pink snow pants and numbered jerseys.
Jim Dandy youth ski at the 2023 National Brotherhood of Skiers Summit. Photo credit: Courtesy of Friends of the Jim Dandy Ski Club

The JDSC also makes skiing financially accessible to people who might not otherwise be able to afford giving the sport a try. Club membership for a household of two adults and all children under age 18 is $75 for the year. It includes access to JDSC-organized trips and events at discounted rates. This season, thanks to a grant from Vail Resorts and the Katz Amsterdam Foundation, the Dandies provided five two-hour ski lessons at Mount Brighton for 100 children and teens at a discounted rate. Without the ski club, the same experience would cost $127 per youth, per session.

“And, we want to sponsor somebody in the Olympics,” Jackson said. “We have one young member, snowboarder Brian Rice II, who is on that path.” 

At just 17, Rice — nicknamed Flyin’ Brian — has competed as an elite athlete for the past six years. His goal is to represent the United States at the 2026 Winter Olympics. So in 2019, the Farmington native and his mom moved across the country so that he could focus on competing and training on Colorado’s Copper Mountain. Both the NBS and his home ski club, JDSC, contribute what they can to cover the cost of his training, including supplies and trips.

Even though there won’t be much more skiing in Michigan until December, the club remains active in warmer months, getting together for group walks, bike rides and kite flying. And members are open to doing more, Jackson said. 

“We’re a club that welcomes everybody, including different races and nationalities, and if you come to our club with an idea, we can turn that into something,” she said, emphasizing that plenty of members were introduced to skiing through the club and more than a few were intimidated to start.

No worries, though — Jim Dandy to the Rescue. That’s the name of a 1956 LaVern Baker hit and the inspiration for the JDSC name. In the beginning, it spoke to the safety and comfort members could find with one another amid racism in a sport where Black people were not widely represented. These days, Jackson said, it’s expanded even more. 

“When we say ‘Jim Dandy to the Rescue,’ it means our club won’t leave anybody behind. You come in with us, you go down with us. We won’t leave anybody on the mountain.” 

The Jim Dandy Ski Club is “an active club for active people.” The club meets in the Rosedale Park neighborhood and hosts events year-round. Annual memberships for individuals start at $35, and families can join for $75. The Dandies can be found on Facebook and Instagram.  

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer with a heart for people and their stories. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Innovation. Get in touch at @shes_cwise...