Mount Noire: All In The Altitude
Glorious packed their bags and headed to Alpe d'Huez to hang out at Tomorrowland Winter with our friends Mount Noire and ellesse. We learn about the representation of colour and community at this mega party on the slopes
By Imogen Clark
Immersed in a sea of colourful jackets, a wave of hands bouncing in the air, and the pulsating buzz of excitement rippling through the mountains of Alpe d’Huez is not a typical way to experience a Thursday afternoon. The sound of Dutch DJ Afrojack’s opening mix echoes down the surrounding slopes and unites the crowd gathered at the Crystal Garden stage, reigniting the shared pleasure of music with shouts, smiles and drinks lifted towards the sun, all signifiers of why Tomorrowland Winter reigns as king of the Alps.
Making its return for a third edition, the Belgium-born festival made its way 3,300m into the clouds, bringing with it 22,000 electronic dance devotees to enjoy the sound of 150 artists over the course of a week. With a core belief of bringing people together through a fantasy-focused music experience, the local town transformed from your typical French ski resort to a melting pot of eclectic individuals fuelled by the same desire to let themselves go, both on the runs down and into the radiant raves of the night.
“For me, skiing represents freedom. And Tomorrowland is like that freedom on steroids because everyone is just doing their own thing,” reflects Simi Oke, one-fifth of the female collective that makes up Mount Noire. “People are being their complete true selves and having created an environment, a space, where people can be authentic to who they are is really rare”. “It’s all about bringing people together, having them mix and mingle with people that would’ve perhaps never crossed paths before”, adds Tobi Adegboye, another member of the group. “I think Tomorrowland has done a great job of using music to bring people together. It’s a language that transcends over everyone”.
Emulating the same pull and wish to connect people with one vision, Mount Noire was formed in 2019 through a shared aim of adding representation and improving racial diversity to winter sports. Notorious for being a white-washed hobby, university friends Wenona Barnieh, Simisola Oke, Dee Omotade, Tobi Adegboye and Blessing Ekairia became hooked on the alpine air and endless ways of how to get down slopes but realised quite quickly that despite the similarities they shared with others on the slopes, they still stood out.
“I always noticed that I felt a little bit marginalised because I tended to be the only person of colour on the slopes,” said Simi. “I went through this journey of trying to invite other people of colour to come skiing as well. And I think the first person I invited was Dee, and we ended up all going on this trip together to Chamonix, which I think everyone would agree was the most incredible trip”.
Although upon reflection the girls look upon that very first trip together fondly, it was also an experience steeped in evidence that skiing and snowboarding are two sports not targeted nor marketed towards people of colour. “It was very evident,” recalls Tobi. “People would be coming up wanting to take pictures of us. I even lost my wallet at one point and they were able to track us down by just calling on the restaurants and asking if the Black girls were there”.
It was an accumulation of loving their time together and also encounters like the aforementioned one, that made the decision to come together to rewrite the narrative an easy next step. “At the end of it we realised we need to do this for other people so they can experience the beauty of skiing and that’s how Mount Noire was born,” summarises Simi.
With a slogan tag of #BringingColourToTheMountain and a name that plays with reference to their first trip and the femininity of ‘e’ in the French language, Mount Noire has evolved into a group at the forefront of championing diversity through organising trips across the season that allow individuals to learn, enjoy and have fun in the snow.
Despite this not being their full-time jobs, with three out of the five women working in medicine, their final trip is only days away, with last-minute checks being finalised on ski-lifts and chatter between them as they anticipate the same contagious joy from their guests as they had on their first trip with presumptions being rendered far from the truth.
“There is also a cultural block – which just comes from a place of ignorance. Our whole thing isn’t just about increasing diversity from the point of view that skiing is a whitewashed sport, it’s also a point of education,” highlights Simi. “We have created a space that allows for mistakes. The tricky thing for me was certainly when I went on my first trip I was going with people who had been skiing since they were young whereas our trips are full of beginners. It’s a safe space”. “It’s key to what we do. We could run really big trips and just get people out there skiing. But I think because we all come from people-focused roles, we want to make sure we have quite a hands-on approach so we can work with people very closely,” says Blessing. “There’s this whole idea of therapy, this whole community of people and there is this experience and it’s not just you by yourself.”
Stereotypes are clearly one of the biggest obstacles Mount Noire are having to tackle, whether it be within the industry or helping show their audience how to forget about their presumptions of skiing holidays. “There is the challenge of embracing something new in this industry and then knowing how to navigate it and find where we fit in,” answers Wenona. “Cost is also a big thing and being able to bring as many people as we want into this space, but we understand that’s not perhaps possible. But we do tackle this with the decisions we make when choosing the locations, we want to reduce this barrier as much as possible and it’s something we are overcoming”.
Having bonded over their separate times in the Alps, their objective is clear and one fuelled by the notion of community, however, they are quick to point out that what they do isn’t solely for Black or ethnic individuals. “We have never said that we are an exclusive group, we are a very inclusive group,” clarifies Wenona. “However, what we do recognise is that representation for this demographic is not represented in the media or the ski industry up until lately so we wanted to come into the ski industry and market to people who look like us – but anyone is welcome”.
Whether you’re making your way down the mountain or dancing beside strangers in front of the Main Stage, and whether it’s Alpe d’Huez or other resorts, there is this idea of acceptance binding everyone together. Naturally, dressing up is a part of any festival but usually, helmets, gloves and snoods aren’t on the ‘to-pack’ list, but despite the mandatory layering, eccentricity and self-expression still remain at the core of what these vividly dressed partygoers are wearing.
“We aim to bring colour to the mountains, and we mean that in more ways than one,” explains Simi. “Fashion is a huge part of what we do and what we represent. I always say ‘when you look good, you feel good’”. All nodding in agreement, their aesthetic during this festival is inspired by the ellesse x Tomorrowland collection, a capsule created with endurance and technicality first, but through the lens of abiding by the nickname of our location – the ‘island in the sun’. “It’s nice for people to come as a collective and it makes it feel more like a community, we’re out here for everyone to see us and we’re present on the slopes. We do that not only with the colour of our skin but by how we present ourselves,” answers Tobi. All adorning different parts of the collection, each of their individual personalities still shone through as they bonded with others around them in the neon lights illuminating the transformed aprés-ski bar.
“I feel like a lot of us live in big cities and we forget how beautiful the world that we live in is,” continues Tobi, looking at her fellow Mount Noire members in the crowd. It’s easy to forget about the scope of nature when you’re glued to your laptops working, and it’s as easy to forget the interests that we share with the strangers who stand beside us on our commutes to work, but it’s times like these when thousands gather together that our similarities outweigh our differences. “The idea that we are all one is something a lot of the DJs say, they keep on saying ‘Hello brothers’ and ‘Hello sisters’ – it brings everyone together”, summarises Blessing as the set comes to a close and the afternoon rolls into the evening. Picking up their skis, Mount Noire led the way down the mountain proving that anyone can swap their suit for salopettes – especially on a Thursday evening.