Following the success of last year's Culture Shifters event, we asked ourselves, "How do we build on the energy?" The concept was already there: connect with diverse people that influence global culture, invite them into our community and build lifelong connections. Oh, and of course, have as much fun as possible while doing it!
This year with the guidance of Selema Masekela, Zeb Powell, and the Burton Team, we set out to recapture the magic from the year before. However, this time we'd go bigger! Thanks to the support of our friends at Fat Tire and Aspen Snowmass, we were able to assemble an even larger group of legendary athletes, musicians, artists, and cultural icons. What ensued? Two of the most fun days anyone has had on a snowboarding trip.
We got to introduce a wide array of dynamic humans from varied landscapes to ‘the thing’. I watched people who thought they’d never get to slide, catch the spirit of snowboarding whilst bringing the flavors and cultures of where they’re from and apply it to the slide. They’re hooked now.
To try and capture some of the magic, we asked Burton Team Rider and Culture Shifters-newbie Brolin Mawejje to recap the two days and share his thoughts about the event.
When I learned to snowboard in 2008, I constantly felt like I didn't belong and that it was not for me. That feeling wasn't because I wasn't good at it; rather, I felt like I stuck out, compared to your “traditional” mountain goers. I was often asked by family members and sometimes myself, "why snowboarding?" The answer was always, "freedom." It's a difficult feeling to describe but it goes without saying for anyone who's strapped in.
It's an energy. A vibration. A feeling. Just thinking of it brings a smile to any snowboarder's face.
As I progressed as a rider, that feeling was my driver. With each day of riding, my love for the sport grew and led me to seek out role models within the community that resembled me. Or, at the least, someone else who knew the feeling of being the "only one on the hill." Whenever I'd see another Black person on the mountain, I'd be so eager to ride with them. I usually would attempt to ride close by to say "hi" or hit them with the classic head nod. I'd be so excited, I felt like they could see my smile under my facemask or my glow through my outerwear. As someone who has always craved a sense of belonging, I've always wanted to be a part of something that opens up snowboarding to a wider community.
Last year, as I watched Burton host the 1st annual Culture Shifters event in Aspen, I wanted nothing more than to get involved. Watching musicians I idolize, like A$AP Ferg, ride for the first time and be introduced to the snowboard community by the Burton Team, and his DJ TJ Mizell was so inspiring. I felt validated for my years of chasing that feeling of freedom. As an observer, I saw the impact of the event and what the future could hold for snowboarding. Seeing the group together on the mountain clashed with the stereotypical idyllic mountain town. Culture Shifters was making a change, and I knew I needed to be a part of it.
Getting the chance to experience snowboarding for the first time with so many other Black and brown people was incredible. The more of us that show, the more of us realize we belong there. The truth is we belong in all the spaces because we create the culture. We are the culture.
This year, I jumped at the opportunity when I was invited to join the crew. I was thrilled to join the movement and take on the role of instructor/coach for the new batch of artists, producers, creatives, and athletes. For me, the objective was to share my love of snowboarding and pass along the undefinable sense of freedom it provides.
As we pulled up to Aspen, I could already sense the excitement. When I hopped out of the van, I was greeted by teammates Luke Winkelmann, Jake Canter, and Rob Roethler walking out of the lobby with legendary skater Zion Wright as they went to go skate. After checking in at the Limelight Hotel, I could hear "City of Gods" bumping, beckoning me back to the lobby. As I rounded the corner, I could feel the tone set for the next few days as I met musicians Tweek Tune, 27 Delly, and Miranda Writes. We all headed out to the opening dinner and met up with the rest of the crew. Being surrounded by idols and so many new faces, the enthusiasm was exhilarating.
The next morning, the crew met in the hotel's lobby to get ready for the first day at Aspen Snowmass. Everyone got the opportunity to pick out fresh Burton kits and get their gear dialed for the mountain. I spent most of my time getting NFL players CJ Uzomah, Giovani Bernard, and Kenny Stills, prepped for the slushy day ahead, waxing their boards and giving some pointers. All the while DJs Angel and Dren spun hit after hit amping up the whole crew. After the last song played, we all hopped in a van and headed to the hill.
After grabbing tickets, we packed inside gondolas, each blaring music from someone's phone. The buzz was unreal as we all loaded the lifts. A group of friends, new and old, all had massive smiles across their faces – the words "I feel I belong" kept coming up! As I looked around, I finally felt, "I am NOT the only one." Once off the gondola, the crew linked up and took over the magic carpet with a 40+ person train. After a couple of tumbles, falling lifts, and toe-turn lessons, the crew was ready to take on the big trail.
The energy was at an all-time high once we all started mobbing the mountain as a group. People were slashing each other, sending sidehits, and cheering on new riders as they made their first full runs down the mountain. As we continued to hot lap, I couldn't help but notice how quickly the group was bonding. From new secret handshakes and personal conversations, the sense of closeness and family made the day of riding that much more epic. We all continued to ride until the last chair, with everyone heading back to the hotel still energized and excited for the next day.
My brother and I spent our whole lives feeling different on the mountain. Feeling like we always had something to prove being black kids on snowboards. I always made it a point to pull down my mask in the lift line so that people knew there was someone there representing for our people. I didn't have to do that this week. At 50+ deep the presence was so strong. My face still hurts from smiling so much!
Although sore from a full day of riding, the vibes for Day 2 picked up exactly where we'd left them the day before. Lessons with the Aspen Snowmass instructors continued at the mid-mountain magic carpet. Within a few runs, everyone had the "hang of it," and found confidence in their riding. Almost all at once, the collective group became eager to go to the terrain park. As someone put it on one lift ride, "I'd like to see Zeb fly!"
The group migrated from the magic carpet to the park, mobbing 40+ deep sending the jumps, hitting rails, and slashing the banked slalom course. The group's camaraderie and infectious energy amped everyone up to push themselves out of their comfort zone. I witnessed Skateline host, Gary Rodgers hit his first downrail, and professional skater Dashawn Jordan tweak a near-flawless method on only his third day ever snowboarding. After a few laps of "flying," the crew headed back to the magic carpet with smiles plastered across their faces. As the mountain called last chair, the crew congregated at the bottom of the bunny hill for a group photo. With most of the group together, snowballs began to fly, and the crew cheered on Shannon Howell as he made his first successful turns right as the mountain turned off the lifts. It was clear no one wanted the day to end.
I’ve been smiling for over 2 days straight now. Being from a sport with mostly white people, I truly have never even thought about riding down the mountain with more than 1-2 other black people. Even after setting out to “make the mountains more colorful” a few years ago it had never crossed my mind… but I can’t tell you how empowering it felt to be mobbing to/around the mountain with 30+!
While the weekend was wrapping up, it was clear this was just the beginning of many people's love for snowboarding. Culture Shifters left an imprint on everyone involved, including myself. At the final night's dinner, it was obvious the connections and memories made would last a lifetime. As a closing ceremony of sorts, everyone was given a blank Burton hoodie and fabric markers. The group spent the night signing each other's sweatshirts and boards, using them to creatively express the emotions we felt from the trip.
As the night continued and conversations wrapped up, I sat back admiring the group, reflecting on what the weekend meant for me. "Culture Shifters," as a title, really explains it all. I'd fallen in love with the freedom snowboarding gave me. I always thought I'd feel this sense of solace on the mountain as a black rider, but after this, I see a shift coming. This experience exceeded my dreams of finding a place to belong.
I am not alone. It's a NEW energy. A NEW vibration. A NEW freedom.
Thank you, Selema Masekela, Zeb Powell, George Carpenter and the Burton Team for letting me take part in Culture Shifters 2022. Here's to change and the future.
These few days were a different type of joy to the one we already have deep in our hearts for snowboarding. Usually we find ourselves ‘an only’. Here we were a joy collective, empowered by reflective energy. The possibilities for expanding the landscape of snowboarding and snowboard culture are endless. As you can see, it’s going to be a beautiful thing. To be continued…