Hiker aims to make the outdoors accessible and inclusive with ‘Darken The Mountains’ initiative

Rebeccah Kellman says shortly after she moved to Canmore, she remembers going on a hike to Grassi Lakes, which overlooks the Alberta mountain town.

Kellman said another group of hikers was staring at her and whispering, before one woman approached her, put her arm up against hers, and said “Hey, I usually don’t see people darker than me climbing out here.”

“I was about 21 at the time, and I didn’t know what to make of it. I was like OK, clearly I am in a very white-dominated space,” Kellman said.

That experience, and others, prompted Kellman to found Darken The Mountains — a community that welcomes Black, Indigenous and People of Colour to outdoor adventures.

“It’s not that Black folks don’t ski or hike or camp, but my hope with Darken The Mountains is to encourage these people to come out, do new things, or if they already do these things to do them with other Black folks or people of colour,” she said.

Kellman is hoping to bring in more representation in outdoor spaces — from challenging the lack of diversity in ads for outdoor gear to creating opportunities for the BIPOC community to enjoy new experiences.

Rebecca Kellman says she’s hoping to make backcountry and front country camping more accessible this summer. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

That led to a partnership with SkiBig3, to Darken The Slopes, too.

“We wanted to follow the lead of Rebeccah … she wanted to create a day where she could invite people who identify as BIPOC to come participate for a day on the slopes,” said Sarah Pearson, marketing director of SkiBig3 which represents Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise and Mount Norquay.

So far they’ve held two events, which offered equipment rentals, lift tickets and a ski instructor to welcome a small group for a day on the ski hill. Post-pandemic, they’re hoping to expand the initiative even further.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you came from … everyone who’s here should feel welcome and feel that they’re safe here,” Pearson said. “I think her voice is incredibly powerful … and I feel that’s where we can help amplify her voice.”

Percy Mtakula was part of that group — he said learning to ski at Norquay was a blast, and he immediately clicked with the other skiers.

“People think like, a certain skin colour … you kind of get put into a box,” he said. “That’s why representation matters … just because you’re typecast by other people … you’re missing out.”

Kellman said it’s not just discrimination or stereotypes that can be a barrier to enjoying the outdoors — cost is a factor too. She said some of the group who joined for the two ski days were single parents who said they may never have tried skiing if not given the opportunity.

“Skiing … is an expensive and privileged sport. To have transportation to get to the mountains, gear, ski passes, all of that just adds up in cost,” she said. 

She wants to encourage those who might be intimidated to try outdoor adventures to give it a try, in a safe space with others who look like them. 

“I just want to have a good, strong base community of people, especially Black folks and people of colour, to know that we do take up space in the outdoors. We are able to come out and enjoy the mountains. It is something that we do. And white folks, please make space,” she said.

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