There is something life-affirming about spending time in nature. Being surrounded by mountain peaks, breathing fresh air and moving amongst the trees. It connects us to our environment and imbues a sense of belonging to the lands on which we live and recreate. The benefits are universal, but not everyone has equal access.

Two skiers make their way down a snowy slope on Whistler Blackcomb.
Entering spaces like this can be a challenge for some people, Colour the Trails aims to change that. PHOTO GUY FATTAL

In Western Canada, our cities and towns are ringed by wild mountainous landscapes, but for some people, entering these spaces can be extra challenging; especially for anyone who doesn’t see themselves represented in existing outdoor communities. Inclusion and representation are core tenets to the work of Colour the Trails, a national Black woman-owned business improving access to outdoor activities for BIPoC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) adventurers and creating media that showcases BIPoC stories in the outdoors, as well as providing affordable access to outdoor activities through introductory events, clinics and mentorship programs.

“Through our programming and initiatives, we aim to build awareness, dismantle barriers and create accessible opportunities for participation in outdoor recreation. Our hope is that Colour the Trails will be a catalyst for change in the outdoors industry, helping to make it a more inclusive and welcoming space for all.” –


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Getting Into the Outdoors

It wasn’t until the COVID pandemic hit that Lizzy Ojo Martens really felt the pull to get outside and away from her desk-bound job.

“I was working a job that was really intense in terms of the time that it took,” she told me. “I was spending up to 12 hours a day looking at a computer plus other work on top of that, and so on my days off, I needed an activity that got me outside and away from the computer.”

Lizzy grew up in Edmonton, in a family that wasn’t particularly outdoorsy.

“I remember talking to my parents about camping, and my Dad’s answer was straight up, ‘Black people don’t camp.’ Which was hilarious, but also prevented me from learning anything about camping.”

She remembers going skiing once a year as a kid with her school and occasionally as an adult when her husband’s family would invite her out, but she never felt truly comfortable on the slopes.

Ojo looks directly to the camera in her ski gear while on a ski lesson with Colour the Trails.
Lizzy enjoying the slopes. PHOTO KENNETH MARTENS

Finding Like-Minded People

Living in Vancouver, after moving West for university, it was trail running that provided Lizzy the opportunity she needed to get out and explore her new mountain home. Trail running is fairly accessible in terms of both equipment and experience required, and it was through her interest in trail running that she found Colour the Trails on Instagram.

“I was already interested in being outdoors, but I was missing that connection. So when I found Colour the Trails I thought, ‘This is perfect. I can meet other people of colour that are interested in getting out and doing this kind of stuff.’ Because everyone that I knew was not into that.”

Three snowboarders face the camera smiling on an instruction day with Colour the Trails.

Support From Whistler Blackcomb

Having progressed from mentee to mentor in the trail running program, Lizzy is excited to be improving her skiing as an event facilitator for the snow sports program, where Colour the Trails partners with Vail Resorts’ EpicPromise program to offer discounted lessons and rentals at Whistler Blackcomb.


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Last year they sponsored about four days worth of lessons that were spread throughout the season. This year they’re looking to expand their programming, with lessons on most weekends throughout January and March. They’ll also be hosting a range of events for Black History Month, with lessons for beginners, as well as social meet-ups for Black skiers and snowboarders wanting to ride more advanced terrain.

In support of its mission to build sustainable communities, Colour the Trails is working to implement an application system for the events offered as part of its snow program.

As Lizzys explains, “We’re very interested in people who are community-oriented so we don’t want people to just come to us for [the discounted] lift ticket. We want them to come because they’re interested in being in a community with other folks of colour, and also interested in their own progress and growth. People who are going to continue skiing year over year, and continue progressing.”

Tips for First-Timers

It can be daunting showing up to the hill for the first time, not quite understanding how a day at a mountain resort works. I asked Lizzy if she had any tips for first-timers.

“I would say, number one, bring snow pants. That’s one thing that I find I often have to communicate to people when they show up for lessons. A lot of people think, ‘It’ll be fine. I’ll just wear jeans or something like that. I think you could get away with that elsewhere, but because we live on the West Coast it’s so wet here that you will be very miserable by the end of the day. So you want to wear snow pants.”

Number two – where to put your shoes.

“I find that people don’t realize, especially at Whistler where you’re not parking right next to the lift, that their shoes have to go somewhere and they’re not going to see them for the rest of the day. So thinking about that and thinking about the fact that you’re going to be wearing ski boots all day. So what does that mean for your level of comfort? And if you want to eat your sandwich, you have to bring the sandwich with you all day in your backpack. Everything you need for the day has to be on your person. I do find I often have to communicate that to people.”

Becoming a Mentor

I asked Lizzy if she thinks she would ever take on being a ski mentor.

“I would love one day to be a ski instructor. We just recently had our winter summit in Revelstoke and my instructor had only been skiing for five years, and he learned to ski in the UK on an indoor slope. I thought, if he can do it then maybe one day I could do it, but it feels kind of far off,” she says, describing the time and effort that would be involved to catch up on the skills and experience required for higher level skiing and instructing. “I’m imagining a younger version of me having a ski instructor that looks like them, and that would be cool. So I’m interested in the idea.”

Ojo skiing down the slopes as it snows.
Lizzy making her way down the slopes. PHOTO MASON MASHON

Lizzy has already experienced the benefits of mentoring in the trail running program.

“There’s something so beautiful about watching somebody learn a new skill and kind of breakthrough a new barrier. Switching their thinking from, ‘I never thought I’d be able to do this’, to then being like, ‘Ok, I’ve done it now and I can move on to other things.’ I was a mentee in the trail running mentorship three years ago, and now I’m a mentor. And that’s why I love being a mentor, you see people go from, ‘I’ll never run 5k, I’ll never run 8k’ and then they run their first half marathon, because I know that happened to me. And so watching it happen to other people is the best part of the job.”

Applications for the Colour the Trails ski and snowboard programs will open in January. The best way to keep up to date with program announcements is to follow them on Instagram and sign up for their newsletter.

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Like a lot of locals, Kate came to Whistler for a month, seven years ago. Originally from Australia, Kate is happily stuck in the Whistler bubble, spending their free time boarding, biking and hiking among the trees. In the summer months you can find them canoe guiding on the River of Golden Dreams.