LONDONDERRY — Magic Mountain’s new ski school director may be the first Black person to lead a skiing school in Vermont’s history.
Robert “Bobby” Johnson Jr., currently of Mendon, will become director of Magic Mountain Snowsports Learning Center at the Magic Mountain Ski Resort on Dec. 5, said Magic Mountain President Geoff Hathaway on Tuesday.
Hathaway, along with Adam White, communications director at the Vermont Ski Areas Association, said they’re certain Johnson is the first Black person to lead a ski school in the state and they’re looking into whether or not he might be the first in the country.
Johnson said Wednesday he’s originally from New Jersey and came here to attend the University of Vermont.
“I’m a born-again Christian who got saved in a little church in Jericho, Vermont,” he said. “That was 1983, the same year I became a ski instructor.”
He lived in Vermont full-time from 1978 to 1996. His marriage in 1988 made it difficult to work as a full-time seasonal ski instructor.
“In 1996, just before my daughter was about to be born, I just quit teaching cold turkey because it was too much of a pull,” he said.
He began his teaching career at Smuggler’s Notch in 1983. He joined the Professional Ski Instructors of America in 1988, and got his Level 2 in 1990 in Montage, Pennsylvania. After 1996, he didn’t teach again until 2003, going to Mountain Creek, New Jersey, where he later became a Level 2 snowboarding instructor. Not long after, in 2008, he became a Level 2 telemark instructor.
Telemark skiing combines elements of alpine and Nordic skiing.
Johnson said he got his Level 3 certifications in alpine and telemark while working at Belleayre, New York, in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
He said he knew the previous Magic Mountain ski school director, Ferdinand LaMotte, from them both working on certifications in Belleayre.
“When he was thinking of no longer being the director a few years ago, he told me about his possibly leaving the job, and I was like, I just had a son.”
Johnson’s son by his second wife will be 2 in December and is already learning to snowboard. Johnson said his daughter, 23-year-old Faith, is from his first marriage and is attending Rutgers Honors College for computer engineering, science and math.
He said he wasn’t thinking about applying for the job, but then in August, he was invited by White to attend a Ski Vermont panel on how to include more Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) in the ski industry, as customers, workers and leaders. After the discussion, Hathaway reached out to him through White.
“When they asked me, then I knew it was a fit,” he said.
Hathaway said Johnson was at Magic Mountain last week to be shown around and meet the rest of the staff.
“One of the things I liked about Bobby was, he doesn’t force a certain regimen in terms of his approach to instruction. He looks to understand who that person is and work with what they’re comfortable working on,” said Hathaway.
Many Magic Mountain employees come from the local area, since the company lacks the same resources larger corporations have with regards to recruiting, said Hathaway.
“We know in general the ski business as a whole needs to do a better job of inclusion, and it seemed like a good opportunity to try and reach out to get some contacts and talents that we wouldn’t normally come across locally,” he said. “It’s easy to say, well, no one answered the request for an interview for this position that happened to be of color. It’s easy to make excuses, and this was an opportunity to not fall into making excuses and to make an effort.”
White also sees the ski industry as one that needs more diversity.
“It’s probably a trend you see across a lot of different industries, and we just don’t have a lot of population diversity in Vermont, so when you are trying to find an applicant, and you’re looking here in Vermont, chances are you’re going to have trouble finding an applicant of color or anybody who represents any under-represented group,” he said.
Skiing is an expensive sport, said Johnson, and that places to ski “aren’t in areas that are reachable to a lot of BIPOC people, black and indigenous people of color.”
He said about 2% of snow sports participants are BIPOC, meaning there’s room for growth, something the industry needs. The keys to attracting more are having more media and marketing campaigns featuring people of color, and more work with clubs. He said the Hoods to Woods Foundation, and the Chill Foundation, the latter created by the late Jake Burton of Burton Snowboards, are good examples. He said Magic Mountain’s commitment to offering for beginner skiers will also help, and that’s one reason he was drawn to the job.
Johnson said he’s encountered systematic racism in the ski industry, but it varies from place to place. He said when he lived around Burlington, when Sen. Bernie Sanders served as mayor, there wasn’t much racism that he experienced.
“People in Burlington under Bernie, at the time when I was there in ’78, were just so progressive, it was home,” he said. “I would walk down the street and a Vermonter would cross the street to me, come shake my hand and introduce themselves, back then.”
His experiences were less welcoming when he lived in the Adirondacks and worked at Gore Mountain Ski Resort.
“It was the people in town and stuff there that was just a bummer,” he said. “The mountain itself was great, I loved Gore.”
He said racism has gotten worse under the Trump Administration, but things aren’t hopeless.
“There are still tons of Vermonters and tons of people who don’t allow systemic racism to rule their lives, because it’s affecting people on both sides of the argument, those who are victims of it and those are subjectors, those who project it to others whether they know it or not,” he said. “We’re all victims of systemic racism in America.”