Quincy Shannon is saving up for a charter bus. Make that a fleet of charter buses.
Shannon, a Denver native and the founder of local ski club Ski Noir 5280, is a man of big visions. Right now, a lot of those visions center around finding new ways to share his lifelong passion for skiing with people who might never have gotten a chance, whether because of their socioeconomic status, the color of their skin, or a lack of transportation from Denver’s inner city to the mountains. (That’s where the buses come in. But more on those later.)
Shannon could have been limited by any of those factors, he says. But he got lucky.
“My mom, who’s a Denver native, her dad put her in Colorado’s ELK program when she was a kid,” he says. “She was one of very few Black kids in the program at the time.” But, thanks to that opportunity, she fell in love with skiing—and passed that love onto her son.
Shannon practically grew up on skis, stepping into his first pair of bindings at age 3. Ultimately, skiing with groups like Denver’s Slippers-N-Sliders Ski Club shaped him into who he is today.
“For a young kid who grew up in an inner-city type of reality where drugs, gangs, and all of those things were definitely a part of the backdrop that I had gotten used to, it was a great escape to be able to come somewhere in which you can just look and feel and smell and realize: Wow, life is really worth something more,” he says.
The Color of Colorado Skiing
Colorado has more ski resorts and skiable terrain than almost anywhere else in America. Despite that, its few Black ski clubs have remained small—much smaller than Black ski clubs elsewhere, like the Jim Dandy Ski Club in Detroit or Black Ski in Washington DC, which have hundreds of members each, Tele Mike says.
Part of that is because Colorado has different demographics—there are just more Black communities in places like Detroit or DC, Tele Mike explains. And part of it is a matter of state history.
“There is definitely history here in Colorado of spaces that were not protected for groups of people who may identify as different in any kind of way,” Shannon says, noting that national parks remained legally segregated as late as 1948. “A lot of the focus [on racial issues in America] is on your Alabamas and your Mississippis, but we don’t always look West.” Even in Colorado, which Tele Mike says is fairly progressive, he still gets odd glances in the mountains, and new partners sometimes assume he doesn’t have much skiing experience or skill (that is, until they watch him start carving gorgeous turns.)
Even in the West, Black ski clubs started as a safety-in-numbers measure for Black recreationists, Shannon says. Today, that feeling of safety still plays a role in the clubs’ popularity, but the camaraderie piece is huge, too.
“If I fall down twice and I’m by myself, I might say ‘Screw this. This just isn’t for me,’” Shannon explains. “But if have somebody with me to say ‘It’s OK man,’ or ‘I just fell , too, we got this, we’re going to get down together,’ then there’s a level of support that allows people to push themselves just a little bit further.”
Sharing the Love
By 2018, Shannon realized he had way too many friends that he wanted to take skiing, and that it just wasn’t easy to get everyone the gear and education they needed. So, he decided to turn his passion for teaching into something bigger: a ski club aimed at introducing skiing and snowboarding to young professionals in the Denver area—and growing the historically small percentage of Black skiers in Colorado.
Shannon put together a team of close friends. For a few weeks, they gathered in his living room regularly to talk about their goals and dreams for a ski club. They wanted something that was both unapologetically Black, and welcoming to all types of people. It should be both a safe space for first-timers, and a place where experienced athletes could find the camaraderie and partnership they needed.
On that inaugural team was Mike Russell, known to his friends as Tele Mike. Tele Mike is (you guessed it) a longtime telemark skier. Like Shannon, he got his start on an outing with a Black ski club, this time in Arizona.
“I didn’t take any lessons or anything—I just went flying down the intermediate run without a whole lot of control, yard-saling and nearly missing people,” Tele Mike laughs. “When I got to the bottom of the run, I was bruised, cold, and wet, but I loved it. After that, I started taking all my vacations to go skiing.”
It was nothing more than a fun hobby until September 11, 2001. Tele Mike was commuting to work on the New Jersey Turnpike, watching the sky, when the second plane hit the Twin Towers. The moment threw his priorities in sharp focus.
“While witnessing 911, I asked myself what I truly wanted to do with my life. The undeniable answer was to become a skier. I moved to Colorado four months later.” Since then, he has skied big mountains all over the world. Shannon knew he wanted Tele Mike on the Ski Noir 5280 team. And for Tele Mike, it was a perfect fit.
“I love showing anyone the beauty of the mountains, no matter what culture they’re from,” says Tele Mike, whose own heritage is Black and Native American. “I’ve worked with some inner city kids who don’t want to go to college or be in the corporate world because of all the things that can go on there with being a person of color and having to swim against the current. So I like to show people that skiing or snowboarding can be a path to a great lifestyle, as well, and that they can find a home here in the mountains.”
A Radical New Ski Club
In 2019, Shannon launched Ski Noir 5280 along with Sondra Scott, another Colorado Native, and Tele Mike. Since then, they have amassed over 50 paying members, as well as a much greater number of interested skiers. The club has provided a crucial entry point for dozens of new skiers and snowboarders, and a tight-knit community for everyone involved.
Ski Noir 5280 is now accredited by the National Brotherhood of Skiers, a nationwide organization dedicated to improving opportunities for Black skiers and riders. That status allows Shannon to partner with groups like Patagonia and Aspen Snowmass, which have donated gear. The donation system helps the club lower the barrier of entry to new skiers even more.
The next step? Transportation equity.
Transportation has been one of the biggest challenges for prospective Ski Noir 5280 members, Shannon says. Today, he is working to raise enough money to purchase a charter bus, which will allow the club to give skiers and riders in need a lift to the slopes. In the future, he hopes the project can provide transportation to local middle- and high-school kids, and to groups in need regardless of age, race, background, or ability level.
In 2020, Bluebird Backcountry reached out to Ski Noir 5280 to invite Shannon, Scott, Tele Mike, and other Ski Noir 5280 members to Bear Mountain. The ultimate goal was a mutually beneficial partnership—an educational exchange.
Bluebird plans to offer its beginner-friendly, ski-patrolled terrain to assist with Ski Noir 5280’s mission of sharing skiing in welcoming environment. And Ski Noir 5280 hopes to further Bluebird’s accessibility mission in return.
“We have a lot to offer. We can do a historical walking tour of Denver and explain what redlining and segregation and all those other terms look like and feel like and taste like. We can explain how the Black community of Denver formed and what it’s like today,” Shannon says.“That way if Bluebird has a student or a child or a person from these neighborhoods, they can have a point of connection. They can say, hey, I’ve been to Welton Street Cafe. I’ve been to Mona’s. The food’s pretty good there, huh?’”
Taking the time to understand someone’s background and point of view goes a long way toward bridging gaps in the Colorado ski community, Tele Mike says.
“I know it can be awkward, but just talking and communicating is important,” he explains. “Reach out to someone and ask them if they want to try this sport. And once you get diverse people in the door, treat them like you would any one of your family or friends.”
The hopeful result? A ski community that feels like home—for everyone.