As I arrived at the Loppet Trailhead in Wirth Park on January 27 around 6pm, it was buzzing with activity. A high school cross-country ski meet had just concluded, and kids, parents, and groups of friends were taking comfort in any available chair they could find, grabbing food and drinks, and reflecting on the evening’s outcomes. Exhaustion was setting in. But, as I made my way towards the far side of the building, I could sense that the energy here was only just starting to build. Around 25 young girls, ages 8-12, were gearing up for their second of six weekly snowboarding lessons out on the hill. There were nerves, excitement, friendships forming, and lots of anticipation of what the night would bring.
Building a Connection to the Outdoors
The girls were being individually fitted with boots, boards, and helmets, provided entirely by the Loppet Foundation and Melanin in Motion. Founded by Anthony Taylor and Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson, Melanin in Motion connects Black people to active living opportunities in the outdoors, and focuses on creating excitement, positive emotional connections, and removing barriers of entry to progressive nature-based experiences. “Our goals really focus on, ‘How are we connecting people to the outdoors, and how do we help them see being outdoors as a safe place, a healthy place, and a place that they get excited about?’” says Anthony.
Every Thursday evening for six consecutive weeks, the snowboarding hill at the Loppet Trailhead (also staffed by Melanin in Motion) is reserved for Melanin in Motion’s I/She Boards program, which the Minneapolis Parks Foundation is proud to support with a 2021 People for Parks Fund grant. I/She Boards is a woman- and girl-led community program to teach BIPOC girls ages 8-12 how to snowboard. The program is completely free and provides kids with all the equipment they need, as well as quality instruction from volunteer coaches every week.
Mastering the Slopes
Tonight, the girls are being organized into groups of 3-5 based on skill level and partnered with a volunteer coach for the evening. After a brief check-in at the top of the hill, groups separate to hit the slopes and focus on specific skills and drills on one of three increasingly challenging slopes.
While it was clear hesitation had set in for some initially, the echoes of, “I’m ready to go down the big hill!” “That was such a good one!” and “Ready to go? Let’s go together this time!” soon begin, it seemed a lot of nerves quickly dissipated as confidence and excitement built.
I watched as Anthony hopped from group to group offering one-on-one instruction where needed. He was never not moving for the entire two-hour lesson. “That’s it, nice job. Now, lean forward. Much better,” I heard from Anthony as he clapped his gloves together in praise of one young woman’s latest turn.
Progression was a key word that I heard Anthony use a lot. “Each time we come out here, we reflect on what the day brought,” he told me. “And each week we’re building on the last week. Each year, another progression. The idea is building upon these progressive skills and accomplishments and taking them into the future.” This isn’t just about a one-time outing to the hill, I learned, it’s about building life-long foundational experiences in this outdoor setting.
I was delighted to talk with Azaria while at the Trailhead as well. Azaria started snowboarding five years ago after learning from her aunt and has been taking lessons with the program up until this year, when she has now become one of their coaches. “It’s really fun coaching now,” she says. “I have a strong relationship with the people here and have known a lot of the girls from previous years. It’s cool because you watch them start out and some of them don’t even know how to stop and start, so as the weeks progress it’s nice to see them grow and know I’m doing something nice for them.”
As I reflected on my evening and the conversations I had with Anthony and Azaria, the word progression lingered on. Hearing Azaria’s journey progressing through the program, and now as a leader of her own describing the progress of the girls she coaches week to week, was inspiring. These are the lasting impacts that Melanin in Motion and The Loppet strive for.