A Note from Team Share Winter: Part of sharing winter is sharing our stories. Here at the Share Winter Foundation, we’re in the business of breaking down barriers to winter sport participation. Everyone’s journey to skiing and riding is different, particularly for those traditionally denied access to winter sports. We are grateful to work alongside leaders who are committed to changing the way the next generation is welcomed to winter sports, often based directly on the joys and challenges of their own learn to ski or ride story.
In order to share winter with 100,000 youth per season (our goal by 2028!) Share Winter knows the industry must also expand the narrative of who participates in winter sports and why.
With this in mind, we’re delighted to share Annie Kao’s story with you. Kao, who found winter sports in part through a school’s learn to ski programing, has integrated her passion for skiing with a successful career in the outdoor industry. We love her intergenerational story of both learning to ski and passing on the passion and power of winter sports to her own children.
Your learn to ski or ride story could be the voice that encourages a youth to embrace winter. Are you interested in sharing your experience? Contact us today to begin (firstname.lastname@example.org).
By Annie Kao
When I was a kid in the ‘80s, I loved my K-Mart snow pants. K-Mart was not cool, but I didn’t know it. The snow pants were warm, polyester, great for sledding, and very, very pink. My parents, who had immigrated from Taiwan, didn’t grow up with snow and marveled at how I was willing to walk up and sled down a hill dozens of times, loving the cold air on my face.
The snow pants were warm, polyester, great for sledding, and very, very pink.
I wore those same K-Mart snow pants when my public school organized occasional ski days and anyone could sign up for discounted group lessons and rental skis. To keep all our hats, gloves, and other winter wear organized as we rode a school bus to the ski area, each kid was given a black trash bag and a strip of masking tape to write your name. That was my first “ski bag,” but it is not a bad memory because all the kids on that bus had the same bag.
What I remember most vividly about those school group ski days is that I turned out to be a better skier than many of the kids in my class, including the boys. As a scrawny, Asian-American girl and self-perceived nerd on a mountain where almost everyone else was White, the experience was a revelation. I did not fit the image of a skier, but my skis didn’t seem to know it. Skis let me fly and skiing became one of my happiest childhood memories. For me, it unlocked passion and power.
I did not fit the image of a skier, but my skis didn’t seem to know it.
A generation later, I’m a parent and my kids would tell you they didn’t really have a choice about learning how to ski. The typical image of a skier, however, has not changed enough since I was a kid. I still stick out on the mountain and now my kids do, too. But as we recently swept down a snowy slope together in the winter sun, skiing felt more like a gift than ever. The outdoor beauty, the exhilaration, and the empowerment of what was once just an experiment in pink polyester snow pants all felt like part of a lifelong, worthwhile pursuit of happiness. Today on the mountain my family may still look different, but we know it, we love it, and I hope more join us so we can share it.
I still stick out on the mountain and now my kids do, too. But as we recently swept down a snowy slope together in the winter sun, skiing felt more like a gift than ever.
About the Author
Annie T. Kao, J.D. is the Founder of Ascent Inclusion Consulting LLC, a firm advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in outdoor industries and the outdoor recreation economy. Previously, Kao held a legal career as a trial attorney, then served as in-house attorney for Vail Resorts including as Assistant General Counsel – Mountain Resorts. Her outdoor industry career began as a ski instructor at Keystone Resort in 1998.