Winters in the north can be dark and cold, but they don’t have to be lonely.
Switch Ride Collective was first conceived to bring LGBTQ and Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) together in a safe space to share a love for winter sport.
Building community and mental health is very important to the Collective, said Switch Ride organizer Erin Corbett.
“The idea is that we wanted to create space within a pretty elite sport, just enabling people to be outside during the wintertime, when it’s so freaking cold and dark,” they said.
“We wanted to ride more with other queers and BIPOC. I’m half-Chinese, [and] definitely miss having a racialized community, that’s a huge part of why I started this.
“For [my parents], it was important for us to be studying and working, and sports were not a priority when I was young. Culturally, I find it’s a big shift. I had to teach myself how to allow myself to spend money on frivolous things like sports, or seemingly frivolous and then [I] really felt empowered by it, energized by it, and really got to know some amazing humans that I consider like family now. I really just want to share that in such a big way.”
The collective has a core of four or five people doing most of the organizing, but volunteers have been generous with support and donations, said Corbett. Anyone who helps out is counted as part of the collective.
“Anyone that comes and joins for one of the meet-ups, even if they’re not doing organizing, they’re part of the collective by participating … and amassing with us,” said Corbett.
The collective believes that everyone should be able to enjoy winter sport and recognizes it can be prohibitively expensive. As such, one of its aims is to remove some of those financial barriers. Collective partnered with Snowboard Yukon and successfully applied for funding from Canadian Women in Sport with the organization’s encouragement.
This allows Switch Ride to provide free lessons. People interested in participating only need to pay for board rentals and lift tickets at a discount and the Snowboard Yukon membership. Corbett was quick to point out that Mt. Sima isn’t the only place people can snowboard.
“You could go to Shipyards Park and go down the toboggan hill, there’s all kinds of toboggan hills around town. During COVID, all these kids were building snowboard parks where you could do tricks, they made homemade rails and stuff.”
Switch Ride is mainly focused on snowboarding due to a lack of ski instructors, but Corbett said they would love to include skiing one day. Snowboard sessions pair a maximum of five participants with an instructor.
“We have instructors who are either queer, trans, or BIPOC, to help build capacity so that people can actually learn and get up on the slope,” said Corbett.
Gear is one of the biggest financial hurdles, and Corbett’s dream is to provide equipment. They comb the buy-and-sell pages and have received some donations from generous community members.
“I’d really love [for] participants to have their gear for the season, but it [takes] time to get to know it. If you just have a setup, and borrow it for the season, you can get comfortable on it, and then really progress.”
The Switch Ride Collective pilot happened in 2020, before the pandemic. It was a success, with about 22 people attending from as far as Haines Junction, aged 11 to mid-fifties and at a variety of skill levels.
“It was great. It was really exciting. We had just found out about the funding, so we had about a week-and-a-half to put it together,” laughed Corbett.
“It was just really cool. We were welcomed and we belonged, that was really, really special.”
The next Switch Ride Collective meet-up is on Jan. 29 at Mt. Sima; attendees are asked to arrive at 12:30 if fitting is required. If they’re just joining for the ride, it starts at 1:30 p.m.
Corbett said everyone is welcome and asked that anyone who wants lessons to please contact the collective first to register, so the instructors can ensure groups are set up with comparable skill and experience.
Storm Blakley is a freelance writer and poet based in Whitehorse.