Summit County Commissioner Nina Waters on Making the Outdoors a More Equitable Place and Après-Ski Bacon Bloody Marys

A move to a Colorado mountain town a little over ten years ago changed Nina Waters’ perspective on an outdoor lifestyle that once felt foreign to her. Since then, the outdoors has brought immense value to her life. And her passion for sharing that joy, combined with a deep connection to her community, has evolved to shape her purpose as Summit County Commissioner—to preserve the land, provide basic care for her community and make the outdoors a more inclusive space, among others.

We chat with Nina about how her first few turns on the hill six years ago changed the way she saw the mountain, how we can all have a lot more fun if we release the pressure of striving for perfection and the work she’s doing to bring more people to the outdoors.

Where’s home for you?

I'm thrilled to call Summit County—more specifically, Silverthorne, Colorado—my hometown.

What brought you to Summit County? Where was home before?

That's a bit of a convoluted story that involves me living in my past life as an actor and performer. I originally only planned to be in Summit County for only about three months to perform in their summer musical series. During that time, I fell in love with the mountains, the culture and the community, and I found that it was too hard to leave.

What do you love most about living in Summit County?

I'd be silly if I didn't bring up the access that I have to the outdoors as my foremost reason for living here. The access that I have to hiking, biking, skiing, whitewater and natural beauty is bar none. But more than that, I have found that Summit County is home to many who are fueled by passion. They wake up each morning to participate in something that brings them joy, from their outdoor pursuits to their community involvement. There is no shortage of people who give it their all in many capacities, and I appreciate that.

Speaking of skiing, do you have a home mountain?

Arapahoe Basin! 

What do you love most about Arapahoe Basin?

First and foremost, I love the Basin’s commitment to sustainability. Their plans to work toward net zero emissions is the model for all resorts. Additionally, I just love the overall vibe at the Basin. It doesn't come with some of the elitist trappings that some of the more "exclusive" resorts have.

Agreed. What or who inspired you to get on skis for the first time? 

It's important to note that I grew up in a small town in Florida. So when I moved to Colorado in the summer of 2014 I had almost no connection to skiing and ski culture. I may have seen one commercial when I was a kid that had skiers on it. But other than that, my exposure was basically nonexistent. I also didn’t realize that many people who live in this little mountain town skied due to its proximity to ski hills. I was often asked by many locals during my first fall season here if I planned to ski, and I often jokingly gave the reply of "black people don't do that. But I guess I can give it a try.”  I found a pair of skis in a dumpster, bought some secondhand boots and asked a friend—who was also an instructor—to take me out for the first time. When I was able to link my first few turns together it changed something in my brain. I looked at these mountains in a completely different light for the first time.

It’s amazing how spending time on the mountain can change your outlook. What advice would you give to a beginner skier or snowboarder?

Take a lesson if you can. It can help you begin to understand the basics and can set you up for success in a nonjudgmental environment. Also, don't be afraid to not be "good" at first. With any sport, it’s easy to hold ourselves to such high expectations when it comes to learning something new—especially in a world where social media portrays perfection. Just have FUN! It doesn't have to be "cool".

Well said. What’s your après-ski look like?

My after-hill routine usually involves a famous Bacon Bloody Mary from the 6th Alley, or a mug of my favorite malty beer from Angry James Brewing in Silverthorne. 

Where can we find you skiing outside of Summit County?

I spend a lot of time enjoying Steamboat and their classic champagne powder. It's only about an hour’s drive from my house. When I'm heading out of state I love spending time at the various resorts in Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah.

What kind of ski gear are you sporting? Any particular reasons why?

For boots and skis, I'm a proud ambassador for Blizzard and Tecnica. I'm thrilled to ski for a brand that ensures the best products for women. We have built skis for women with women at the table, and I believe that really does speak volumes when it comes to crafting a good ski for your audience. I'm also proud to partner with a company that really means business when it comes to DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion). Tecnica group has a committed track record of working to advance this work in the ski industry, and I'm thrilled to be a part of what they do.

I want to talk more about the great work you’re doing. Can you elaborate on your involvement with the Blizzard Tecnica Women2Women program?

I first was introduced to Blizzard Tecnica when I applied for the Women2Women scholarship in the winter of 2020. The scholarship is designed to give more women access to training and funding to move forward in the ski industry. Applications are actually open now [you can learn more about the scholarship here]. From there, I was asked to begin working with their team to help develop skis specifically for women. Lesley Baker-Brown is the brains behind the whole operation. She works with women from all over the ski world to help craft skis that can serve all types of female skiers from the never-ever novice to triple-black diamond badasses. It's an honor to be a part of the team. 

We all benefit from having female voices at the table in a predominantly male-run industry. What do you think needs to happen for the outdoor industry to become more diverse?

If I knew the answer to that, I would be making the big bucks, right?! But all kidding aside, it's my hope that we are able to make the outdoors a more equitable place. We can bring more allies to these special places. The influx of people moving to the mountains and these rural areas post-pandemic is an indicator that many people are realizing what us "mountain folk" have known for a long time—that these places are special. They are worth protecting and saving. And the more we engage in our cause, the more advocates we’ll have to fight the good fight.

What does bringing more people into the outdoor space mean to you, as someone who didn’t initially have access to the mountain?

For me, it's an opportunity to share the beauty and joy that the outdoors has brought to my life. I grew up in a small town in Florida where getting outside wasn't necessarily a place that felt open to me. Growing up as a "city kid," the outdoors was filled with many unknown dangers. As I grew older and started to make decisions for myself, I became interested in getting out into nature. I was amazed at how much I loved it. How silly I was to be afraid, and that these mountains have taught me so much. Being an outdoors advocate has brought so much value into my life. 

And now you’re being that advocate as County Commissioner of Summit County. Was there a specific moment that led you to throw your name into the ring? 

I wish I could distill my decision into one "moment". Over the years, my search for ways that I can be more "involved" or ways that I could "give back" kept me volunteering and working for causes that I felt needed more helpers. I was always trying to figure out the best way to serve my community. When the opportunity came about for me to be able to step into this leadership role, I honestly gave it pause. I wasn't sure if I wanted to be involved in nasty politics. But as I continue to progress in the role, I realize that this is one of the best ways I can serve the members of my community, and it truly is an honor of mine to do this work.

How does your love for the outdoors influence your role as County Commissioner? Or vice versa?

I believe they work hand-in-hand. My love for the outdoors gives me the inspiration to protect and preserve the lands and local areas as best as I can. The job as a commissioner allows me to create and shape policy that will help move things forward in that aspect, like implementing local ordinances that will work toward our climate goals or my work ensuring quality water and clean air. 

To expand on that, I also have the opportunity to help citizens in their daily lives by ensuring that we have public health services and quality roads and bridges—if a normal citizen doesn't have access to basic care, how can they enjoy the other amazing amenities our community has to offer? 

You have a lot on your plate. What’s a day in the life of a County Commissioner look like?

Oh gosh, it really depends on the day. Some days it's focusing on the general day-to-day responsibilities like attending open public meetings to hear constituents and pass consent on things like liquor licenses and new developments and planning. Other days involve meeting with stakeholders and various groups to give them a voice to help make average citizens' lives better. 

Are there any organizations or projects that you’d love to give a shoutout to? 

Oh gosh! So many!!!! But here they go! Summit County Government, Blizzard Tecnica's W2W Program, VNTR Birds, High County Veterans Adventures, Women Undivided, Theatre Silco, Colorado Blackpackers, Black Girls Do Bike, all the work that Tommy Corey is doing, Sounds of Skiing and more! 

And lastly, we just found out that you have Spot…

I have Spot Pass Protection for my Ikon Pass. Just in case!