The trick to understanding the relationships between groups in an isolated paradigm is to understand the psychological makeup of each one. There are the obvious answers, and then the answers that are less so. Blacks and whites will, I am fairly certain, dominate a good portion of the answers to the diversity conversation questions on a regular basis, since the modern world can’t seem to distinguish the “d” word and racial tension from one another anymore.
Today, I’m going to write about something that must be addressed in our troubled times; how the inter-group contact hypothesis affects two diverse groups that often come from very different backgrounds, and both generally suffer as a result. There is tension between these groups; In passing, it is rare for any greeting or other general olive branch to be extended, and when it is, it’s terse, typically when waiting in a line, or waiting on a bench. When these two groups clash over terrain, it can become brutal, often devolving to melee conflict, even now, in 2016.
Earlier today, at about 11:30 am MST, I was a victim of this dichotomy; I, a snowboarder, was shoved aside by a skier at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
For any readers chuckling, rolling their eyes, or looking longingly at the hyperlinks on the right, think again; skiiers and snowboarders have a rich history of tension and poor to non-existent co-habitation skills on the slopes. From the time the “Snurfer” was invented in the late 1960s (Snow Surfer, mashed together), a rift has continued to fluctuate in a continuous cycle of narrowing and spreading, nearly a half century later.
It’s valuable to note that despite being a sport of European origin, skiing (and its younger brother, snowboarding) has been enjoyed by people of all ethnic groups, genders, sexual persuasions, and ages. In fact, ski slopes are one of the most likely places on earth to find that commercial-perfect blend of all demographics at any given moment, all laughing and slicing through the powder together.
Yet take any skier on the hill, and drop him next to a snowboarder on a steep slope, and chances are high that a few notable things will happen. The two will likely not acknowledge or greet each other (outside certain scenarios), they will both assume that they have the right of way, and consequently ski or ride into each others’ preferred flight paths. Internally, there is a good chance they glower at the other (provided they are of the same gender) and think nasty thoughts about the other individual’s clothing or general unpleasantness, to be scoffed about later, with friends, over a cold ale at “apres.”
But then that’s where the magic is happening.
It began like the Civil Rights movement; large, loud, and blatantly in need of reform. Ski resorts across the United States banned snowboarders, first from using their lifts, then from even hiking up the mountain themselves. A snowboarder’s only recourse was to go into the back country to ski, where, though trendy today, they were forced to risk the elements and the danger of avalanches to enjoy their sport.
Eventually, intergroup contact hypothesis proved itself to be at least somewhat right; as skiers figured out that the boarders were not, in point of fact, all simple ruffians or fiends, and that their boards did not damage the snow conditions as had been previously thought, they began to relax on the topic. Really, the two groups came together, and learned that the other side wasn’t actually so bad.
One by one, the resorts lifted their restrictions on snowboarders being allowed to enjoy their facilities. Today, there are only three resorts left that still tell snowboarders that their “kind” aren’t served there- Alta Ski Resort, Deer Valley Resort, both in Salt Lake City, UT, and Mad River Glen, located in Vermont.
This is a tremendous victory in equal rights for those who choose to ride one plank instead of two. And this is not a satire piece. Imagine if we were having this conversation around motorcyclists pitched against car drivers. The level of controversy that would ensue were the government to tell bikers that they were unsafe for other drivers, and therefore were no longer allowed to ride on the freeway, would be astronomical. There would be cries of “nanny state,” and “martial law,” and generally speaking, it would be an outrage at most, head-scratcher at least. Yet no one but the boarders complained when the boarders were banned from the hills across the country. That we have changed that perception speaks volumes, and it is largely due to the inter-group contact hypothesis.
That all being explained, there remains a great deal of work to do. Every winter, I see skiers pushing snowboarders, snowboarders slugging skiers, and there seems to be very little that can be done. I wondered, as I read back through the course text on the lift to the top of Rendezvous Mountain this morning (it’s a long tram), if it’s acceptable to simply allow the slow burn of the group contact to continue its work; the truth is, whether on one plank or two, we all wear alien googles, bulbous helmets, and awkwardly bright clothing that we wouldn’t be caught dead wearing in any other context. We can only see that so much before we realize that our judgment would be just as withering if our own doppelganger rode by on the wrong slope apparatus. One can only spend so much time on the slopes before getting to know people that ski as well as they board, and vice versa, leading to a further blurring of the lines that have existed between the two sports for so very long.
Overall, I don’t know that it’s feasible to simply drag the rift on the resort’s slopes back together. It was forced apart a half century ago by two sides of a coin whose behavior and choices led us to the quiet, unacknowledged, still slightly uncomfortable silence we have on the subject today. Yet every time a skier rides the hill with a group of boarders, every time someone nods their head on the mountain to one of the other breed, we progress a little more. Eventually, we may get there, but we must let our groups intermingle, and see through contact that really, we’re all wearing the same color of orange snow pants on the inside, too.