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Legends of the Legend: Mack Holland

Having been a skier and instructor in the area since the 70s, Mack Holland has made much more than a name for himself in Summit County. Mack has become an integral member of this community, teaching us how to ski and open our arms wide.

Mack first visited Colorado in 1972, when some friends introduced him to the sport that would later become his livelihood. In 1975, he moved from Oklahoma, and like many Summit County success stories, in 1977, he started instructing with a five-year plan, which turned into 45 years. “I’ve never been good at math," he said. 

But the original I-70 mountains that he met were different than the ones he skis today; they were homogenous, and they were very white. As fondly as he looks back to those early days, he recalls the lack of diversity. “There was a time when white folk would look at me and my friends and say ‘Black people don’t ski,’” he said, “And then we’d go off, and they’d say ‘Oh maybe they can, I stand corrected.’” He laughed at this memory, but whether Mack acknowledges it or not, through this adversity, he became a real pioneer in diversifying the industry, educating our community, and playing a major role in creating a welcoming environment on the slopes.

He quickly got involved with a group called Slippers N’ Sliders, which brought inner-city kids to the mountains. “I was impressed with the group. More impressed with the kids coming up to ski and experiencing something different. Seeing diversity on the hill at the time was very inspiring.” The group became one of the founding members of the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS) and is still up and running today.

The success of Slippers N’ Sliders motivated Mack to further his skiing and further his involvement in providing the love of skiing and riding to everyone who wanted to try it, regardless of race or economic status. Mack went on to teach a group called The Buffaloes, also supporting underprivileged kids who wanted to ski, at Arapahoe Basin for nearly a decade and getting deeply involved with NBS. He found that these groups believed the same thing he did: exposure combined with development and support created amazing athletes and people. 

“When people come together with a common goal, everything else is second to that. What I've seen over the years is more diversity on the hill participating in snowsports, which is refreshing to see,” He said, emphasizing the importance of NBS and other like-minded groups, “And I think it’s being fostered by the success of some of these kids who have participated in these sports…Clubs that support these kids in their endeavor change the culture.”

But ski culture is still predominantly white; anyone can see that when they slide up to a lift or walk into a lodge. “My goal is to see diversity not being an issue and everyone enjoying this beautiful sport. We’re going to get there through the efforts that are being done now. It’s a share of god’s nature and his gift to us, it’s everyone's mountain.”

Access is addressed through clubs like Slippers N’ Sliders, The Buffaloes, and NBS. But beyond financial support, these groups provide young people of color with mirrors. Seeing someone who looks like you on the mountain makes skiing and snowboarding seem like a more achievable goal. It is so important to have and see role models. Until we have that equal representation thriving at every single mountain and in every single mountain community, the work is not done. 

“[We’ve] brought more awareness of people of color being on the hill, social issues, economic issues, political issues. The biggest problem has been economics and exposure, and I think that area has been addressed,” Mack told me, “[But] there’s kind of been an improvement and a digression. And now I’m seeing an upcycle of that.”

Mack still feels like he has a ton to look forward to: seeing more people of color on the mountain, learning to ski and ride, ripping extreme terrain, reaching Olympic caliber, winning, and providing that mirror for the next generation to come.

“I think the industry as a whole is moving in the right direction. I hope it’s sincere and not just a gimmick to advertise and say ‘we are open’ but to really be open show open and let their local guests know this is a good thing, it’s just an expansion, and we’re sharing the beauty that’s up here.”

Though we may feel isolated tucked away in the mountains, our ski industry does not exist in a vacuum. While small communities may shy away from politics and bad news, they’ll find that they can’t turn a blind eye to the lack of resources, access, and acceptance. We need to uplift, support, and celebrate a diverse community of winter sports athletes from all races, ethnicities, and genders. We need to follow in Mack’s footsteps and solve our problems in our world to support a greater change.