My yearly ski trip to Mammoth last week prompted me to wonder about the Chicano analysis of skiing and the Owens Valley. I mean, we can use a class analysis and conclude skiing's high price makes it a prohibitively upper class sport. If you scrutinize golf in the same way the argument doesn't hold water. Lots of working class snowboarders and golfers save up their cash for their habit.

We can look at the Mammoth resort in the context of environmental sustainability. How much does the resort give back to nature or the surrounding communities for its exploitation of natural resources?

Many older Japanese Americans want nothing to do with the Owens Valley. A trip to Mammoth would mean driving within feet of the old Manzanar World War Two internment camp. Has kept many away?

European migration to the area a century ago and intermarriage with Native Americans gave the towns around Bishop a mestizo heritage.

I've done double-takes whenever I hear an upper-class Mexico City accent on the ski lift lines. Latinos are few and far between on the mountain. The Spanish surnames at the resort are mostly found on nametags of the restaurant workers and those cleaning the bathrooms. I've never been, but my assumption is that you'll see many more brown faces on the slopes at Big Bear.

It's a bit naïve on my part to find any guidance on the topic from the El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan, the late 1960s Chicano political manifesto. The closest reference to a connection to the land is this passage:

"We are free and sovereign to determine those tasks which are justly called for by our house, our land, the sweat of our brows, and by our hearts. Aztlán belongs to those who plant the seeds, water the fields, and gather the crops and not to the foreign Europeans. We do not recognize capricious frontiers on the bronze continent"

The Paiute Indian tribe of the Owens Valley would likely agree. So what is the Chicano analysis of driving up the Owens Valley to ski Mammoth? I had no choice but to turn to the Chicanos I know and ask, by email.

Cal State Northridge professor Maria Elena Fernandez, a down Chicana by any measure, said she tried skiing:

Context: Going to an expensive girls' Catholic college prep in Hollywood, skiing always reminds me of the white girls from the Hollywood Hills and Hancock Park who walked on the campus like they owned the place, wore Mexican embroidered dresses w/ top siders and went skiing every year.

I've gone skiing once in my life and that was in Taos as a tourist thing. (It was fun, but I was scared on the lift and afterward I was in so much pain!) Nonetheless, when I read that you went skiing, despite our education, professional and middle class status, my first thought is: you/Chicanos go skiing? I guess because it's alien to my immigrant working class experience growing up and I never pursued it in adulthood, voila, still the same thought since high school.

Carlos Pelayo, a San Diego-area union organizer told me he has not and will not ski.

Date: Tue, 1 Mar 2011 02:58:32 +0000 With the thoughts of hooking up with ski bunnies and partying at the resort, did you notice the poverty and living conditions of the Paiute in Lone Pine? How about the internment camp you drove by? The beauty of the snow laden Sierras whose run off are the monopoly that leave the Owens Valley parched? Just a few suggested considerations. C/S Carlos Pelayo Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Loyola Marymount University professor Ruben Martinez reminded me the topic has been expounded on by some high profile Chicano writers:

i remember a great image in a richard rodriguez essay years back about being at some ski resort and the person at the lift making sure everyone got in their chair okay being a mexican laborer... a brown man seating the wasp ski bunnies and gently pushing them up the mountain... potent symbol.... the new immigrants nudging white America towards a decidedly brown future. r

Taco Shop Poet Miguel-Angel Soria offered up this poem as a response.

timbisha pushed to death valley
Fremont gave no freedom
only pick axed
land grabs
a road to water wars
si no american town
ski on white powder
and ancient land

Skiing at Mammoth has always been pricey. It's nearly $100 dollars for one 8-hour day of skiing. East LA blogger Erick Huerta said he's found cheaper fun on snow.

The first time I ever experienced snow was when my family went to go visit relatives that live in Utah. A few years later I ended up living there for 2 months and I loved the snow. I never did figure out how to make a snow man. Making snow angels got boring pretty fast and trying to have a snow ball fight without wearing gloves takes a toll on the hands. I never did get a chance to go skiing, so we did what low income families do best, improvise. We got some of those disk shaped things, I forget their names, drove out to a park and spent a few hours sliding down hills and climbing back up them. Soggy shoes and all. One of the best highs was jogging in the snow down by the trail near our house. I would go every morning. Alas, I'm not cut out for the snow. I'm too much of a baby to put up with the snow.

~ Erick Huerta ~

San Pedro lifeguard Rogelio Fernandez, a college friend, is the only Chicano I found who likes skiing Mammoth:

Fido, I bet the skiing was fantastic! When I first learned how to ski up in Mammoth back in 1986, a good friend of mine used the term "Border Brother" to identify the Latinos working there. I do remember seeing some, but not many, Latinos on the slopes or even working there. Skiing in general is an expensive sport! Although, up at Bear Mountain, all the lift operators were gringos, as well as the instructors. I saw a few brown faces there. It was fun. Hasta luego y saludos a tu familia! Rogelio

This year, for the first time, I saw a taco truck (a real one, not a gourmet food truck) in Big Pine. Or was it Lone Pine? Fresno poet Tim Hernandez says he's seeing the duality of skiing and Mexicano immigration where he lives now in Colorado:

Hmm...not sure if I have a question for you, bro... but aqui in Boulder, Colorado, snow bunny assimilation is rampant; I've seen paisas with second-hand North Face chaketas on, and proper snow boots heading to their dishwashing job at The Himalayas Indian Restaurant. Of course, tambien, I've always felt the sense that snow leveled the playing field, wiped the slate clean, obscuring colors, inviting silence and contemplation. Good luck, hermano! Keep up the great work too.

paz, T

To get to Mammoth I take the 405 north to the Highway 14 to the 395 at Mojave. Just north of there the Owens Valley's southern door opens to a constant stream of visitors.

Geologically violent tectonic shifts and volcanic eruptions have created 10,000 foot peaks on either side of the highway. The drive reminds me of the ring of tezontle (lava) around Mexico City. That scenery is one of the reasons that'll keep me going back to both for years to come.

About the Author

Adolfo’s been a reporter at NPR affiliate KPCC since 2000. He’s reported on three L.A. mayors, four L.A. Unified superintendents, and covered the LAPD batons and rubber bullets flying at the May, 2007 MacArthur Park immigrant marc...
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The only time I've seen snow is when visiting family, so I truly identify with Erick Huerta's memory of improvising. Regardless of race, working middle class families are not able to afford weekend getaways or trips. We enjoy the little things.. like a twenty minute drive to check out the snow in Burbank!


Darling, heard from many voices, but you didn't grace us w/ your story! So how did you start going sking? (see I don't even know how to spell it) And why do you go every year? Are you one of the ones saving up your pennies to do so? Holding out on us for Part 2?
P.S. Hey, you didn't tell me you might quote me, some of those white girls are my girlfriends.


I think the other part of this problem is that skiing is for olds :(

I say the above as someone past the 40 mark. The snowboarding scene is pretty white as well, but I see way more black & brown faces snowboarding (and by extension, skateboarding) than skiing. For a while there was kid name Marc Frank Montoya who was supposed to be the future of brown snowboarding, but he has since overextended himself in the snowboard hospitality business (?) and fallen off a little.


I did Ma Elena, look at the email. Thanks for sharing your story. You're right, I really should have put my own story. My first contact with skiing was in 3-4th grade at Kate Sessions Elementary in San Diego. My mother worked cleaning houses and lined up five in the upper middle-class neighborhood and enrolled me that school near hear jobs. I'd see kids wearing the Mammoth sweatshirts, with that cutesy Wolly mascot on skis. The logo became iconic for that time and place (Pacific Beach/La Jolla late 1970s/early 1980s). I had no idea where Mammoth was or what skiing is all about. Yes, I now own one of those sweatshirts.


I think there a lot of browns skiing, it just might not be a 1st generation kind of sport ( no time or money, mija!) But something that the 2nders pick up. I first went skiing in Mammoth during a trip with my all girls school high school. The bus filled with with the requisite blond snow bunnies, but there were also Ecuadorians, Cubanos, Colombians, Argentinians, and a Mexican or two. A bunch of us later on went on a longer trip to Utah to ski Park City, now that was big time! As time progressed, I stopped going and trying to get my friends to go skiing. What happened? snowboarding took over money!