(ABC4) – Despite living in Utah for 12 years, prior to January 8, 2022, Nana Affum had never gone skiing. And it was certainly not due to lack of interest. Affum, who moved to Utah from Ghana by way of Massachusetts, says he simply didn’t know where to begin with the popular winter sport.

“Sometimes I travel for work, and [my colleagues] will be like: ‘Oh Utah! I come to Park City to ski. Do you ski?’ And I’m always like: ‘No, I don’t ski,’ he tells ABC4.com. “It’s one of those things that’s been on my bucket list for some time now.”

Affum says that many of his colleagues are passionate about the sport — and have even invited him to come to the mountain with them. But, because of his lack of experience on skis, he always opted out.

“I don’t want to go and be an inconvenience when they go on the big slope and I have no idea what I’m doing,” he explains. “It’s probably not safe and smart.”

Unfortunately, Affum’s experience is not unique for ski novices, especially for those who are people of color living in Utah.

And, when the racial reckonings spawned by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many other Black Americans flooded the country, the sport of skiing, too, was forced to take a look at its lack of diversity.

“When skiing first started, it was a white person sport. I don’t know that the industry really embraced all the different cultures and ethnicities in the beginning.” explains Raelene Davis, Ski Utah’s Director of Marketing. “So now, we’re realizing that there’s a big population out there who have not had the opportunity to participate. It’s time.”

And indeed, beginning this year, Ski Utah elevated these diversity-based conversations beyond just talk by developing a new program, called Discover Winter, aimed at introducing more people of color to skiing in our Utah mountains.

Affum is among the first cohort of graduates from the program; the first session wraps up on February 5. By the end of the ski season, the newly minted initiative will have introduced nearly 200 Utahns to the world of skiing and snowboarding.

“A lot of these folks who have lived in the community for years thought that they’d never have the chance to ski, that it just wasn’t for them,” says Alison Palmintere, Ski Utah’s director of communications. “We live in such close proximity to all these great resorts and that fact that some folks haven’t experienced those is a shame. We’re just hoping to bring as many people as possible out to the mountains that we live so close to.”

As she was spearheading the development of the program, Davis contacted willing participants through existing connections with local organizations like the Future Scholars of Africa, Weber State University’s Diversity Club, and the Mountain Life Church in Park City. Through donations from the Larry H. Miller Foundation, in addition to a grant from the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity’s CARES Act, Discover Winter has been able to provide transportation to and from ski lessons at six of Utah’s premier resorts.

“This program has been really great. The ski instructors were amazing and very, very patient,” Affum says. “I had no idea what I was doing the first time, and they were able to coach us and give us all the tips that we needed.”

And not only does the program introduce participants to the winter wonders of our mountainous backyard, it will also hopefully allow them to turn skiing into a lifelong hobby.

In addition to providing transportation, lift tickets and rentals, Discover Winter was also able to secure enough winter clothing through donations from businesses, community members, and Ski Utah staff to outfit all the participants in gear that they can keep. In addition, each of the new skiers will be given a Yeti Pass, which allows for one day of skiing or riding at each of Utah’s 15 ski resorts.

“It sounds like people haven’t wanted to leave when the lesson is over,” Palmintere says. “They’re just so excited. And it seems like people are really eager to continue to learn to ski after their lessons.”

So now, when Affum’s colleagues ask him to ski, he’ll have a different answer.