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Outdoor club creates a safe, accessible space for people historically barred from outdoor recreation


DENVER — Just because the great outdoors are open to all, does not mean all feel welcome.

In recent years, the stories of Ahmaud Arbery, Chris Cooper and even hikers here in Colorado have highlighted the harassment and violence people of color face for simply recreating.

Today, organizations are working to improve representation and safety in the outdoors. One such organization, The BIPOC Mountain Collective, is based in Denver. (BIPOC is an acronym for Black, Indigenous, and people of color.)

Soha Kushitama works with the club and explained in an interview with Rocky Mountain PBS how she has heard from several people of color who have been told things like skiing, kayaking and mountain biking are "white" activities.

Kushitama explained that when people of color are surrounded by other BIPOC people who have a love for the outdoors, they can feel welcomed and safe. She said that the newfound safety is a vital first step to enjoying the outdoors.

“From exploring, you start to evolve who you are, and that starts to elevate what you think is possible,” Kushitama said. “Because you see somebody else doing a new feature or you see somebody else that’s coaching you that reminds you of yourself, that becomes this new level of increasing your understanding of what outdoors can be for you.”

BIPOC Mountain Collective is working to eliminate negative outdoor experiences for people of color. Coaches like Kushitama, called adventure guides, help teach people how to mountain bike, snowboard, and participate in other outdoor activities and sports. The club is part of Vibe Tribe Adventures, a nonprofit that offers outdoor recreation opportunities to people of color.

"We are all about accessibility for people who look like me," Kushitama said. "[People] who need to get on bikes, get on snowboards, to be able to get out to the mountains. A lot of outdoor access is still very limited. It's not just because a person doesn't want to, it's because they can't afford to spend the money to get into the mountains."

For people who like the means or equipment to participate in the club's activities, BIPOC Mountain Collective partners with retailers like Trek to provide gear.

But Kushitama added that the lack of diversity in the outdoors goes beyond income levels. "There's a history," she said. "The history is not feeling like you are welcomed in a space."

As KangJae “Jerry” Lee, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, told CNN last year, the racial gap in outdoor recreation can be attributed in large part due to a history of systemic racism. “Outdoor spaces weren’t just coded as white, they were white,” Lee said. “They were defined and managed as White spaces.”

To Lee's point, National Parks were not officially desegregated until 1945. Moreover, almost all National Parks are on land that was once home to Native and Indigenous people. As the parks were established, those people were pushed from the land and in many cases killed.

By working with the BIPOC Mountain Collective, Kushitama and her fellow guides are working to create a safe space for the program participants. And that safety is rooted in diversity.

"Typically an environment like nature is full of diversity," Kushitama. "You've got beautiful flowers, you've got all these different animals, and they're all living in harmony together. So why wouldn't our outdoor activities and our experiences reflect nature itself?"

To learn more about Vibe Tribe Adventures and its programs, click here.

Lindsey Ford is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at

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