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As far as I can remember, I love snow. I love walking in it, kicking it – even eating it. I love how each layer collapses under the glare of the street lamp. I like to shovel it (except when it’s wet and heavy). I also make a living in it as a ski guide – but the challenges I faced to get here were frustrating.
Growing up, I saw myself as no different from the next person on the chairlift. I never thought anyone else thought the same way. My skin color didn’t matter until I wanted to be a ski guide.
My parents moved from Iran to Montreal 43 years ago. I was picked up in its suburbs about a 45-minute drive from the nearest chairlift. My parents were not fond of skiers, yet my mother tried to take me skiing as a child. I also played hockey, but when I turned 15, skiing didn’t take a back seat. I worked a part-time job for lift tickets, while my father’s job at Air Canada allowed me to travel to resorts in the United States and Canada, the French Alps, and the Andes in Chile. I joined the Muggle ski team and went on backcountry adventures.
I studied computer science at university and took a full time job for a software company in downtown Montreal. Not long into it, I realized I hated that job and everything about that career. I dreamed about skiing – but could I make a living in it? I had no one to ask, and I felt like I was trying to unravel the mysteries of the universe.
While at my desk one day, I found an online advertisement looking for ski guides in Utah. Who’s waiting? a ski guide? Not an instructor, but someone who leads people through the backcountry safely? Suddenly I saw a job worth looking for. However, entering this new industry will prove to be more difficult than I expected.
When I began the five-year process to become a certified ski guide by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG), I was not surprised that I was the only brown person in classes or on the mountain. (Ever in North America skiers are mostly white?) I thought it was irrelevant – I was there to learn and excel. It soon dawned on me, however, that when I saw myself no different, others in the guiding community did.
In 2009, I was a newly certified ACMG Apprentice Ski Guide. I applied enthusiastically to several ski guiding positions – but with no success. When an avalanche technician job opened in Rogers Pass, BC in Parks Canada, I applied. This would be a good place to learn from the one-story avalanche-control program and backcountry rescue team. This recruitment process was also different – as a government position, it used a points system to help eliminate bias in recruitment. Out of 79 other applicants, I came first. I was excited to be offered this opportunity.
My excitement was quickly quelled by rumors that my tanned skin had landed me a job. Eight years of hard work had prepared me for that interview, and yet people devalued my efforts by calling it diversified fare. My achievement was undermined by racism within my own skiing community. I then noticed that I was still not considered an equal.
In my guiding career, I have been more scrutinized than my peers and have had to constantly prove myself even to those who know me. I’ve noticed a customer’s skeptical expression the first time I see them. I have felt undue distrust at work. I have been passed over for positions that were given to less qualified people. There has been offensive language and abusive behavior on my part. These aggressions devalued me as a human being because of the color of my skin. I was often made to feel like an outsider inside my own country.
Canada’s guiding community is now working to address discrimination, prejudice and inequality – but we still have a way to go. Achieving diversity means ensuring that athletes and enthusiasts from a variety of backgrounds are supported by ski equipment and clothing companies. That means slashing lift-ticket prices at major ski resorts to welcome not only the wealthy. If we really want diversity, all people have to see themselves reflected and represented in outer life.
I am grateful that I can pursue my passion. As a guide, I have established countless close friendships and have been taught to me by wonderful mentors. I have witnessed the rawness of Canada’s wilderness and developed a deep respect, appreciation and love for the natural world.
I still have a lot to learn and I gladly accept criticism that will help me improve as a person and as a professional. But the prejudice I have experienced has left an indelible mark on me.
Have these experiences made me angry? Sometimes, yes. He has taught me a lot about myself and about other people as well. I’ve always disliked confrontation, but I’ve learned that it’s important to use your voice to prevent negative situations from happening again.
Have I ever wanted to give up on my goal? No, I love skiing powder and love sharing it with others so that ignorance and narcissism get in the way.
Ali Harry Revelstoke, BC They live in what are the undivided territories of the Sekwepemak, Silex, Sinixt and Katunxa nations. Ali runs his own guiding business, oh my guide, and Cat works for the skiing company Mustang Powder. He still works part-time at Rogers Pass.