Tag Archives | women’s skiing

Building Better Women’s Ski Gear: Blizzard’s Women to Women Initiative

Listen; do you hear that? It’s the sound of money talking. According to the SIA (Snowsports Industries Association), women spent $1.4 billon on women-specific gear during the ’15-’16 season (through February, anyway). That’s 31% of total sales — a pretty hard number for gear companies to ignore.

All the same, not all companies are fully committed to the women’s market. Some still treat it as an afterthought – a backseat to the unisex (read men’s) gear they already produce.

This isn’t the case at Blizzard Tecnica. Well known for its outstanding skis and boots, the company reaffirmed its commitment to the women’s market a little over a year ago with its Women to Women Initiative.

So what is this, exactly? I spoke to Leslie Baker-Brown, Blizzard Tecnica’s US Marketing Manager, to find out.

SD: Blizzard has been selling women’s skis for a long time. What’s the Women to Women Initiative, and how is it different from what you’ve already been doing?

Leslie Baker-Brown, Tecnica Blizzard's US Marketing Manager

Leslie Baker-Brown, Tecnica Blizzard’s US Marketing Manager

LBB: That’s a good question, because the Black Pearl is the best selling ski in the country, so you’d wonder why we need to do anything special. Yes, it’s true we make great women’s products, but we believe we can do better. Our objective is to create authentic, relevant products that work for women. But we also want to improve the way we communicate with, engage, and educate women, too. This includes setting up a platform where we not only bring like-minded skiers together, but bring more women to the sport and get them to say ‘Omigod this is so much fun! Look at the people you meet, the connections you make.’ It’s a two-fold effort.

SD: So what’s the shape of this initiative?
LBB: The first phase has been focused on product — looking at what we have and figuring out what we can do better. In November, 2015, our parent company held a focus group in Italy where we brought together a variety of women to talk about equipment, determine what women value, and explore solutions. The next month, we held a North American focus group in Park City, Utah. And we had another one this past December.

During the first group, we spent a lot of time on the hill skiing our skis along with those of our competitors’. We talked about what we liked, what we didn’t like, and what we’d like to see changed. Then we spent a day talking about the issues women have with boots, whether it’s fit or stance or alignment.

On Mountain Focus Group

On Mountain Focus Group

SD: What came out of the boot portion?
LBB: We have a separate initiative called Project 165 — 165 is the Pantone color of our Tecnica orange – which we started a while ago. It’s made up of five of the people we think are the best bootfitters in the country. Four years ago we put them in a room and said, ‘Okay, blank slate. Design your dream boot.’ The end result was our Mach 1 collection of boots, which has been on the market for three years and has been hugely successful. We work with them on our other boots, too. So at Park City, we sat around and came up with all these different issues that women have with boots, and then brought in the guys from Project 165. They fit a lot of women’s boots so they see a lot of the same things. We all talked about the issues women have, as well as what women want. Then they went away and worked with our product development team to develop solutions.

SD: And what about skis?
LBB: Honestly, we started working on these sooner. We’ve always worked with a number of our athletes on projects and had a lot of success with that. Last year we introduced a women-specific design that basically takes what we’ve learned about carbon to make a ski that’s lighter without compromising performance. And this year moving forward we’ve got some new shapes and side cuts that are a littler more user friendly in terms of initiating a turn — not that they were hard in the past. You wonder, ‘How can they make this better?’ But they just keep doing it. It’s kind of fun.

SD: Have you learn anything from these groups that surprised you in any way?
LBB: Well, here’s something interesting. Everyone knows women’s calf muscles seem to be larger lower down on the leg than men’s, so fit can be an issue. For example, this prevents some women from getting their foot all the way to the bottom of the boot. But we had one woman in our focus group who had a skinny calf and couldn’t get her boots tight enough around her leg. That’s something you don’t generally think about. So we came up wth inserts that a boot fitter can use to fill in space around the calf to make the boot fit a skinny leg.

SD: So is W2W an ongoing project?
LBB: Ongoing. Corporate has hired a woman full-time to spearhead this project globally. She’s a young, Italian former ski racer, but she spent four years in the US, which is helpful for us because it gives her an understanding of the US market. She’s super energetic and fun. And I can tell you that as long as I’m here, we’ll be continuing this effort.

We’re also going to keep having focus groups; we’ll probably hold two in 2017. This past August we did a women’s-only athlete trip to Portillo, Chile. We took four of our athletes – a very diverse group – along with our brand creative manager, and brought in a bunch of prototype skis to get their feedback. We also did a lot of talking about the product, but since the next phase of the project is building out, we also discussed how to engage women, how to speak with them, what sort of information they want to know from us as a brand, and how to connect with them better. One conclusion we came to is that we all love sharing our skiing experiences, so we want to determine how we can we do that better so other women can come to love it as we do.

SD: So what are some of the things we can expect from Blizzard in the future?
LBB: We’re going to get this first phase of product out, and we’re going to launch a website in the next month or so that’s associated with the Blizzard Tecnica website. You’ll be able to go there to learn things like what to expect when you go into a store to buy a ski, what you should be looking for, how you should expect a boot to fit, how to in get shape for skiing. We have athletes we can tap into for expertise; who can act as a resource for women. So the next phase is pushing this out to the female sking community — educating, empowering, and drawing them into the sport. It’s a more 360 degree approach. It’s not just ‘Here’s a boot, we’re done.’ It’s a lot more than that.

 

 



Read full story · Comments { 2 }

Women Who Ski, By the Numbers.

If you’ve ever been skiing and felt like you were the only girl out there, you’re not imagining things. There’s no dispute that there are more male skiers than female. In fact, one of the reasons I started TheSkiDiva.com was so I could find other women to ski with. Self serving, I know, but none of my friends skied, and most of the people I saw on the hill were men.

Ski Divas at Big Sky.

Ski Divas at Big Sky.

That said, it’s one thing to think something is true, and another to back it up with data. I mean, did you ever stop and wonder about the actual numbers? How many women skiers are there? How often do they ski? And really, how much do we really know about this group?

It’s something I think about, myself. Then again, beneath this ultra cool Ski Diva personality is a geek who loves stats of all kinds. (Also map. I love maps. But that has nothing to do with this.)

Kelly Davis, SIA's Director of Research

Kelly Davis, SIA’s Director of Research

Recently I attended a presentation by Kelly Davis, Snowsports Industries America’s Director of Research. Kelly makes it her business to compile data about just about everything to do with snowsports, and she had some fascinating information about women and skiing. So I thought I’d share some of it with you here:

• In ‘15/’16, there were 11.631 million downhill skiers. Forty one percent, or 4.769 million, were female. (This is actually more than I thought, so encouraging news.)

• Thirty five percent of the 8.158 million participants who consider themselves skiers or snowboarders and didn’t participate last season are female. Their three most common reasons for not participating are as follows:  (1) nobody to go with; (2) increased family commitments; and (3) bad weather/snow conditions.

• Half of women skiers ski fewer than 9 times a season; 25% ski 10 to 19 times; and 28% 20+ times. Compare this to men: 39% say they ski 9 days or less, 25% 10 to 19 times, and 37% 20+ days.

• Women tend to rate their ability levels lower than men. About 17% assess themselves as beginners, 50% as intermediates, and 33% as advanced/expert. For men, 5% assess themselves as beginners,  36% intermediates, and 57% as advanced/experts.

• Women who return to skiing after dropping out cite lack of time as their primary reason for stopping. Many return because they want their children to experience skiing. They also return when they feel they have enough disposable income to afford to ski again.

• Women who are new to the sport see four key hurdles to participating: (1) intimidation because they feel that they don’t have adequate skills; (2) lack of confidence due to not having or knowing how to choose the right gear; (3) uncertainty about planning a ski trip, and (4) price sensitivity because they think it’s too expensive.

• Women make up just 25% of a subgroup of skiers that Kelly identifies Core Skiers, a group that accounts for only 5% of the skiing population. Her description of Core Skiers is as follows:

“This participant lives to ski. They might be found hanging around back bowls, tree runs, or skinning in the backcountry. Many live and work in ski towns just so they can focus on their passion for skiing. They are planning trips to exotic ski locations around the world. They have a quiver of skis and will buy high end gear with superior technology including equipment, apparel, and accessories. They probably ‘know a guy’ that works in a specialty shop in town who hooks them up with the best gear. They read SKI, Skiing, Powder, and Freeskier magazines and play close attention to gear guides. They consume ski media and produce their own online content.”

And here’s the group’s demographics:

• College degree
• Household income $25K to $50K and $250K to $1M+. Note: on the lower end of income and age, this person may work at a specialty shop, on the mountain, as a guide, or at a restaurant in a mountain town. On the high end, this could be a consultant or the founder of a successful business venture.
• Averages 30+ days a season
• Age 15 to 30/ages 45 to 65 (about 585K)

So what do we get from these numbers? What do they mean? Why are women such a minority in skiing? It’s a question the industry has grappled with for years, and it’s one I put to the members of TheSkiDiva. Here are a few of the insights they offered:

• Many, many women, especially in my mom’s generation, seem to have this ingrained sense of needing to take care of everyone, including their husbands, while the men have an easier time really embracing a day off. This may affect womens’ willingness to give time over to skiing, because it can be a very, very time-intensive sport, especially if you live in day-trip proximity to the big mountains. They may just be thinking about all the stuff that won’t get done if they spend this or that day up in the hills, and then they go less, and their skiing doesn’t get better. Meanwhile, the men are thinking, “Great! A day off, let’s ski!”

• A lot of my friends skied when I was in college. But fewer and fewer did, as I got older. For some it was because of  kids, and the whole process became just too difficult. For others, it was money. And for others, it was just lack of either time or interest. I’m the only one of us who’s managed to keep at it.

• I think as woman age their priorities change. High School age and younger, they have no responsibilities and are able to enjoy skiing without guilt. College age, there’s more responsibility with school, but no families or children yet. After graduation there’s jobs, thus less time for skiing, more dedication to climbing the corporate ladder etc. Finally marriage, kids, lots and lots of responsibility less and less time for skiing. Skiing isn’t a priority any longer and goes by the way side.

• Women are supporters. And part of the reason for this is because of the way we’re brought up. But I think another part of it is that we reorganize our lives and reprioritize our lives all the time. We tend to reinvent ourselves when things happen in our life, and adjust our priorities. If a guy is a skier when he’s single, he’ll likely be a skier when he’s married, and when he becomes a dad…………..(you get the idea), When an average woman makes those transitions her her life, I think she tends to adjust priorities more readily, and thus the lack of enthusiasm for a given activity.

• It seems women get distracted from skiing by the parenting and total family expense; unfortunate more fathers don’t step up and insist on hanging in the lodge and encouraging mom to get back out there. I don’t live in the land of make believe — a couple of my friends’ husbands did encourage them to get back out there and take turns in the lodge. It makes the difference, for these friends they are still skiers — with and without family.

Next month is Learn to Ski and Ride Month. Many ski areas are offering special rates for lessons and rentals. So if you have a friend who might want to learn to ski, check it out. Or check out my list of women’s ski clinics for the ’16/’17 season. For women who want to return to skiing, it’s a great way to brush up on rusty skills and learn some new ones in a fun, relaxed atmosphere.



Read full story · Comments { 0 }

A Day at the Races: The 2016 Audi FIS World Cup

I think my ears are ringing.

img_5045It’s no surprise, since it’s just two days after the 2016 Audi FIS World Cup at Killington Mountain Resort, and I think every cow bell on the planet was there. And why not? This was the best of the best in ski racing, only half an hour from home.

How could I not attend?

This was the first World Cup Alpine race in New England since 1991 (Waterville Valley, NH), and the first in Vermont since 1978 (Stratton Mountain). And oh yeah, it was the first World Cup I’d ever attended, too.

Having the race at Killington in November, I thought, took a tremendous act of faith. Weather this time of year just about anywhere is sketchy. The Men’s World Cup in Lake Louise has been cancelled, as has the men’s race in Beaver Creek. But kudos to the people at Killington, who put forth a tremendous effort to make sure their course was World Cup ready. The resort has been blasting snow since October — enough to cover a football field 40 feet deep — and was lucky enough to get some help from Mother Nature: 15 inches in the past week or so.

The lower GS course on Superstar

The lower part of the GS Course on Superstar

But having the race in the East over Thanksgiving weekend was also a stroke of brilliance. Four and a half hours from New York and three from Boston, Killington is easily reachable from major population centers. And this means a lot of excitement, loads of publicity, and a ton of people on hand to watch the race. I was there for the GS race on Saturday, along with an estimated 16,000 other people — by many accounts the largest US World Cup crowd ever. (Which also accounts for what I said before about the cow bells.) In fact, US Ski Association officials estimate the combined attendance for both Saturday and Sunday at nearly 27,000, making it one of the most well-attended women’s ski events in US history.

Just a few of the people who showed up for the race.

Just a few of the people who showed up for the race.

Was it exciting to be there? Yes. It felt like a festival. There was a temporary village set up at the base with tents from all sorts of vendors. There was a pre-race parade featuring a thousand kids from ski teams across the state of Vermont.  There was a free concert by O.A.R. in the base area afterward. And the crowd was clearly stoked, full of Vermont and East Coast pride.

The course was set up on Superstar, a fun run that’s readily visible from Killington’s base area. Superstar starts with a steep headwall, mellows out onto some undulating terrain, and then plunges again with another steep pitch. The starting altitude of the GS course was 3,701 feet and the finish altitude 2,559 — all together,  a vertical drop of 1,142 feet and a course length of 3,166 feet.

Here’s a GoPro preview of the GS course:

Fog on the course.

Fog on the course.

By now, the details of the GS race are well known. Conditions were challenging, with a changeable surface that rutted up quickly. Visibility wasn’t perfect, either, with flat light and fog rolling in and out throughout the day. Thirteen of the 61 racers, including defending GS champion, Swiss skier Lara Gut, either fell or skied off without completing the course. In the end, France’s Tessa Worley, the 2013 GS World Champion, finished first ahead of first-run leader Nina Loeseth of Norway, who finished 0.80 seconds back. Italy’s Sofia Goggia came in third, 1.11 seconds behind Worley. And 2014 Olympic Slalom gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin ended up fifth after finishing 8th on the first run and 5th on the second.

BTW, Lindsey Vonn did not compete. She’s been sidelined by a broken arm she incurred training in Colorado.

What I especially loved was seeing the athletes up close and personal, and finding out that yes, apart from the fact that they’re amazing athletes and ski like goddesses, they’re very human, too.

Here are some small details that I dearly loved:

• Lara Gut wears a knit hat with her name as part of the design.

• Mikaela Shiffrin, who grew up skiing on the East Coast, had her 95 year old grandma there to watch her compete.

• Third place finisher Sofia Goggia uses Vermont Maple Syrup when she makes her favorite American pancake breakfast at home in Italy.

• Second place finisher Nina Loeseth loved the snow; she said it was more like European snow than the lighter snow she’s skied in Colorado.

• Mikaela Shiffrin does Word Searches with her mom before the race  to combat nerves.

• All the racers I heard speak said they loved hearing the roar of the crowd when they came down the final pitch.

• During her press conference the day before the race, Shiffrin talked about how she loved the passion of East Coast skiers. “It’s easy to love skiing in the West, because it’s amazing. When you’re in the East, it’s raining, snowing, sleeting, all in one day. If you’re still out there, it means there’s a passion.”

• And this, from the NBC broadcast of the race later on that day (yeah, I watched it, too): Announcer #1: “What do you think they [the racers] have learned the most from the skiers who have gone before them in these conditions?” Announcer #2: “Now they know why skiers from Vermont are so good. Because conditions change every two seconds. You’ve got to know how to do all of it.”

Here I am talking to Swiss racing phenom Lara Gutt.

Here I am talking to Swiss racer Lara Gut. Note her hat, with her name knitted right in.

The Slalom Race took place on Sunday, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend. But I did catch it on TV, and congrats to Mikaela Shiffrin for her 22nd World Cup win and her 10th consecutive slalom victory on the World Cup!



Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Women’s Ski Clinics, ’16-’17

If you’re thinking about taking a women’s clinic, you’re in luck; there are plenty to choose from. Over the past few years, more and more resorts have added them to their ski school line up. Why? Well, a lot of women prefer learning in a testosterone-free environment. Women’s clinics focus on building skills and confidence while providing the camaraderie that comes from skiing in a group of women and working with skilled female instructors. Research actually shows that women are more supportive and men more competitive in a learning situation. And this can carry over to the ski hill, too.

Here’s a sample of what some women on TheSkiDiva.com have to say about them:

• I go every year to at least one of the women’s clinics they have at my local resort. They are fun and it’s great to learn some new tips and have a blast skiing with other women. I like them because they are just a supportive group of skiers and each one of us encourages everyone throughout the lesson – something I certainly don’t get in other types of lessons.

• I have taken both co-ed and women only clinics. I prefer the women only because I feel that with other women the atmosphere is supportive and not so competitive. Every time I have been in a co-ed class, there has been one guy who thinks he knows more than the instructor. Then the whole goal of the class changes to be a competition between the two and I get lost. In co-ed classes I have been subjected to feedback from a guy in the class when I prefer to get my feedback from the instructor. The pace in a women only clinic meets my needs too. We stop for bathroom breaks as needed and to get warm if it’s really cold. Other women share what they think I am doing well not what I am doing poorly. They encourage me to take steps outside my comfort zone but do not slam me if I should choose not to take that step. And, I laugh more on the lifts.

• I opted for the women-only because it was the only clinic offered in my area. It turned out to be really fantastic. One of my instructors was very focused on the difference in the center of gravity between men and women, so the main reason I went to the clinic the first time was to hear more on that subject. The best thing about them — I’ve done two — was meeting new ski buddies. I met two wonderful ladies that I’ve stayed in touch with though we haven’t been able to coordinate skiing again yet. There really wasn’t anything I disliked, other than I wished more folks were signed up. I agree with the other posters – there is a relaxed vibe, we have a great time, we can kvetch about skiing at “that time of the month”, etc. Plus the clinic organizer makes the most awesome goodie bags EVER. She sent me one while I was recovering from breast cancer surgery (she is also a survivor) that blew me away. Again, that made-a-new-friend thing…love it.

That said, women’s clinics aren’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Everyone’s learning style is different, and a co-ed clinic might be fine for you. But if you’ve been looking for a women’s clinic, here are some to consider:



Read full story · Comments { 2 }

TheSkiDiva Wins the Harold S. Hirsch Award for Best Ski Blog!

I’m humbled. Really. But excited enough that I hope you don’t mind my bragging a bit:

The North American Snowsports Journalists Association — NASJA — has named TheSkiDiva Blog the Best Ski Blog of 2016!

hirsch-logo-2016-copyYep, I’ve been given the Harold S. Hirsch Award. Hirsch, a ski clothing pioneer and the founder of White Stag, created the award to promote professionalism in winter sports coverage.

Truly, this is a real honor. After all, I’ve been doing this for ten years, and I won’t lie: it’s nice to get a little recognition.

Back in 2006, I started this blog because I had no one to talk to about skiing. None of my friends skied, and my other friends just about rolled their eyes when I started in about my favorite sport. So to save my social life — and my sanity — I thought I’d create a place on the web where I could go on…and on…and on (619 blog posts so far) about anything and everything ski related. Over the years, I’ve tried to cover topics that I thought would be of interest to women who share my passion.  I’ve done gear and resort reviews, interviewed all sorts of ski luminaries — from Suzy Chaffee  to Donna Weinbrecht and Lynsey Dyer to Elyse Saugsted and Crystal Wright, and written how-to’s on everything from surviving the White Ribbon of Death to buying used skis to taking care of your skiwear.  I’ve even kept things going during the off season with pieces on fitness, travel, outdoor activities, nutrition, weather, and more. Want to know what to do when you encounter wildlife on the trail? How to work out in the heat? It’s in the blog. And yeah, there’s been a measure of feminism thrown in too, because I think women skiers should be given the same opportunities and respect as men, and not treated as beginners, ignoramuses, or pretty little ladies who are there simply to decorate the lodge.

Here are some of the nice comments from the judging panel:

Ski Diva isn’t just a blog, it’s a movement and a community platform. The writing is thoughtful and infused with passion, but technically strong. Smooth, easy to read style of writing. Writes with a vigorous personal voice layered with humor, pragmatism and personal connection. Well written travelogue, expressive writing style that enables the reader to feel like they are there with the author.

Truly, I’m flattered. But as in all things, there’s always room for improvement. I mean, even though the blog’s been named best of the year, no one’s perfect. And after so many entries, it’s not always easy to come up with a topic to write about each week.

So I thought I’d open this up to you: Is there something in particular you’d like to see covered? Do you have any suggestions about what I could do to take this blog to a higher plane? And is there anything you really like or dislike about the blog? I’d love to know.

In the meantime, I’ll keep on keeping on. So thanks, NASJA, for the award. And thanks to you, too, for joining me here each week. Stay tuned. There’s lots more to come.

 



Read full story · Comments { 2 }

Focus on a Woman Entrepreneur: Sara Segall of Orsden

Companies in the ski industry that were founded by women are few and far between. Sure, there’s Title Nine and WinterWomen, retailers who specialize in women’s activewear and ski apparel.  There’s Outdoor Divas, which sells both women’s ski apparel and women-specific ski gear. And there’s Coalition Snow, the only ski company that designs and builds skis for women, by women.

The dearth of women entrepreneurs isn’t just limited to the ski industry. It’s prevalent throughout American business. According to the Kauffman Foundation, a foundation that focuses on education and entrepreurship, women tend to start businesses at roughly half the rate of men, particularly during the prime business formation years between the ages of 35 and 44 (I suspect there may be an even greater disparity in the male-dominated ski industry). There are many reasons for this. Kauffman researchers say that women entrepreneurs tend to face more significant obstacles when it comes to starting their own businesses than their male counterparts, even though they bring unique abilities to entrepreneurship, such as a more sophisticated approach to taking risks, not being overconfident, and not putting their employees at risk. 

So what,’ I hear you say. ‘Does the gender of the entrepreneur really make a difference, as long as they provide a decent product?’ Maybe not. But it doesn’t make sense, either economically or socially, to ignore the abilities, talents, and potential of a large segment of our society. What’s more — and maybe this is sexist of me — I think women have a better perspective on what other women want and need. A female-led company offers better control over meeting those needs. And as a woman, I think that’s a meaningful benefit.

sara

Sara Segall

Recently, I received an email from Sara Segall, founder of a small new ski apparel company called Orsden. Since I don’t hear too often about women-initiated start-ups, I thought I’d give her a call to see what it’s like to get a new company off the ground.

SD: So tell me about yourself. How’d you get started?
SS: I began working in politics in DC and discovered it wasn’t my passion, so I ended up going to business school at Columbia. While I was there, I worked at a luxury retail firm and in brand management for Revlon. I knew I wanted to go into retail and start my own venture, but I didn’t know exactly what my product would be. About a year after graduating, I was shopping for a new ski jacket at Stratton, and I couldn’t get over the high prices. It seemed like every jacket I liked — that I thought was flattering and stylish and also high performance — was at least $600, maybe $1,000-plus.  So I thought there was a real opportunity here.

SD: What makes your company different from other ski apparel companies?
SS: I’d seen the direct consumer model work in other places, so I thought I’d try it with Orsden. This is a unique model for the ski industry. We can offer an amazing high performance product at amazing prices by skipping out on the wholesale model and selling directly to the consumer.

I also think our products are a great marriage of style and performance. This isn’t easy to achieve. I had a pretty clear sense of what I wanted our jacket to look like. I didn’t want a women’s version of a men’s jacket — I wanted something that was  sleek, feminine, and tailored to look a little unique while offering the performance skiers want. It was a challenge to develop, but I’m pleased with the result.

SD: So tell me, why do you think there aren’t more women doing the same sort of thing you are in the ski industry? Why aren’t there more women entrepreneurs?
SS: I wonder about this myself. So much of the messaging in the outdoor industry is geared toward men; women are often overlooked. This is a shame, because there’s a huge opportunity here on both parts of the spectrum: women as customers and as entrepreneurs. Women have unique needs and perspectives. A huge reason I went ahead with Orsden is because I couldn’t find a ski jacket I liked, so I hope that a lot of other women take that risk if they have a great idea and try to make something better and design by women for women. I try to show women on the home page of my company’s web site. And our big email announcement of our launch shows a woman, as well. I’m trying to to show that there are women doing awesome, extreme things, just as there are men, and I’m hoping to make that more of a centerpoint of the brand. My husband’s aunt is Gretchen Besser, who’s in the National Ski Patrol Hall of Fame. She’s 87 years old and she still skis. We’re inspired by her example.

 

 

 



Read full story · Comments { 2 }

A Peek at the Women in Snowsports Exhibit at the US Ski Hall of Fame

Plan to be passing through Ishpeming, Michigan, soon?

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame

In case you didn’t know, that’s the location of the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. Yeah, I agree; the Upper Peninsula of Michigan seems an unlikely spot to me, too. You’d imagine the Hall of Fame would be someplace like Aspen or Vail. Or even Stowe, Vermont. But once you learn the reason, you can understand why it’s there: Over a century ago, a group of local businessmen and ski enthusiasts founded the National Skiing Association, thus earning the city the distinction of being the birthplace of organized skiing in the US.

The Hall of Fame Museum has been around since 1956, showcasing not only the members of the US Ski Hall of Fame, but memorabilia of particular interest to skiers.

Now it’s home to something else, too: the first-ever exhibit featuring Women in Snowsports.

I wrote about the dearth of women Hall of Famer’s a few months ago (you can read the entire post here). In a nutshell, there aren’t nearly enough. Out of 410 inductees, there are only 60 women. Yes, you read that right. Sixty. That’s 15%.

There are a lot of reasons why, which you can read about in the post. But instead of getting sidetracked, let’s focus on the positive: The exhibit.

One of the primary movers behind it is Jeannie Thoren — yes, she of the famed Thoren Theory, which introduced a revolutionary concept to skiing: Women are not small men, and may actually have different requirements for ski gear. So she’s pretty inspiring. And yes, she’s a  2014 Hall of Fame inductee.

I recently asked Jeannie about the Women in Snowsports exhibit at the museum.

SD: How did this exhibit come about? What was the impetus behind it? 
JT: Women have always been virtually invisible in skiing.  The exhibit is a way to recognize and put a spotlight on women who have achieved at the highest level. Hopefully, it’ll be inspirational to all visitors, but especially to young girls and their mothers.  I want them to start dreaming big.

I was inducted into the Ski Hall of Fame last September. The organization was in the midst of hiring Justin Koski, an Ishpeming native, to take over the position of Executive Director. During the course of the weekend, I told him of my longtime idea to get all the women members gathered in one section of the museum. There are a smaller number of women members, and I wanted to unite them so they’d be a real presence. He was enthusiastic in his support.

My grandparents were born outside of Ishpeming. The first place I ever skied was in Ishpeming. I have been going to the museum, starting with the older location, since I was kid. Later, in the present building, I never miss a chance to stop in and look around. I’m sure my idea was well received because I am a “local” and have known management for as long as I can remember.

Being inducted into the Ski Hall of Fame was my lifetime goal. I started out in Ishpeming, and after traveling all over the world for skiing, I was finally back home. Assembling this Women in Snowsports exhibit is my way of giving back to the skiing community where it all began for me.

SD: So what does the exhibit include?
JT: To get the ball rolling, the items were decided between the outgoing Executive Director, Tom West, the new Executive Director, Justin Koski, and myself. There is also a Display Committee and a Board of Directors, who have final say on what goes in and what isn’t appropriate. I guess in a way I’m the curator from a distance, but all the credit goes to Ann Schroeder, the Ski Hall’s Secretary. She has the task of making sure everything is labeled and documented.

The cornerstone of the exhibit is a mock-up of Jeannie Thoren’s Women Ski Center. This was the first exclusively women’s ski equipment shop anywhere in the world. It lives on today as Outdoor Divas in Lionshead, Vail.

img_0258

On top is the copper sign I had over my Women’s Ski Center in Lionshead at Vail. The black shadow box contains a signed pair of the Dynastar Exclusive Carves. They were named SKI Magazine’s Ski of the Year in 2007, when I was Dynastar’s Women’s Category Manager. Below that is the framed SKI Magazine article outlining the features which made this truly a winning women’s specific ski. And below that is a fun explanation of the Thoren Theory, outlining some of my on-snow experiences doing clinics from Lake Placid to Mt. Bachelor. All this is flanked by my two latest, state-of-the-art skis which are currently on the market [ed. note: these are custom made by SkiLogik]. The Edelweiss, the stiffer of the two, is on the left, and the friendlier Snowflake is on the right.

Next to it is a ski rack with a pair of my Blizzard Women’s Test L skis, and the end result, the first women’s specific ski, Blizzard’s Fame, with documentation on the project.

img_0238

Yes, that’s Jeannie Thoren.

It’s a shared space with existing exhibits that have been there for years and can’t be moved.  There’s a gondola, three lift chairs, a T-bar, and so on.  There’s also a large platform with mannequins dressed for skiing in styles representing the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s.  And there’s also a  large life-sized photo booth of a skier jumping off a cliff; this is Genia Fuller, a 2015 Hall of Fame inductee.  You just put your head in the hole provided to be the skier.

img_7010

SD: Is this now a permanent part of the museum? How often will it be updated?
JT: Yes, it’s permanent and will be updated on an ongoing basis. It will never be done. Right now it’s a diamond in the rough, but we’re making progress. My ongoing job is to contact women in the Hall of Fame to see if they have memorabilia they can send us. I have a couple of women I’m working with at present.

 



Read full story · Comments { 0 }

The Jackson Hole Babe Force: Strong. Sexy. Soulful.

Chances are you’ve heard of the Jackson Hole Air Force, a group of avid powder skiers formed in the early ’80’s famous for hard skiing, hard partying, and poaching gnarly out-of-bounds terrain. It was a group that Crystal Wright, two-time Freestyle world champion and Jackson native, had looked up to her whole life. Problem was, it was an all boy’s club. So Crystal did what any self-respecting Ski Diva would do: in 2012, she took matters into her own hands and started the Jackson Hole Babe Force.

Espousing the motto Strong, Sexy, Soulful, the Babe Force has a mission I can totally get behind:

“To encourage female skiers and snowboarders to push your limits, gain confidence, and support each other, all while building relationships with other like-minded women who are down to get buck wild in the mountains.”

I spoke to Crystal from her home in Jackson a few days ago, where she was helping her mom recover from ankle surgery.

Crystal Wright

Crystal Wright

SD: So how’d the Babe Force get started?
CW: I grew up in Jackson admiring the Air Force, but there were never any girls in it. There were some token females — my mom, for example, and Emily Coombs, Doug Coombs’ wife — but they were never really included, and they were all super-inspiring to my generation. As I got older, I realized that there are a lot of women in Jackson who are pushing themselves and excelling, and I thought, well, the guys have their club, we should a club for girls, too!

When my friend, Sarah Felton, and I first came up with the Babe Force, we thought it was pretty funny.  But the more we thought about it, the better it sounded. We worked at a restaurant in Jackson, and during slow times, we’d work on coming up with our mission and what we wanted to do.

SD: So what’s the idea behind the Babe Force?
CW: Basically, we wanted a group where women could learn from one another, build confidence, make friends, and find new ski partners. It’s a way to get out on the mountain, hear stories from one another, and make new friends. I have a gym here in Jackson, and I see so many young girls or women who’re training and who only ski with their boyfriends or brothers. Skiing with other women is motivating and empowering. I remember I was nervous all the time when I skied with just guys. When I ski with the girls, it’s a different feeling.

My big thing is getting women to push themselves out of their comfort zone, but in a safe manner. It comes down to the if she can do it, maybe I can do it mentality. Women tend to push themselves more with other women than they do with a bunch of guys. When we have ski days, or when I teach at a camp, there are women who say, ‘I would never do this with my husband!’ It’s fun to get that dynamic going.

The Babe Force is open to women of all different abilities and demographics – from young girls all the way through 80-year old women. We mentor the young girls, and we challenge the older women. We want to get everyone involved.

SD: How do you go about doing this?
CW: Our goal is to have an event each month. On our first ski day, about 50 people turned out, which was a real shock! To be honest, it was a little overwhelming. So we’re planning on developing activities to make things a bit more manageable, like scavenger hunts on the mountain, where you have to partner with 3 people you don’t know and find things all over the resort. We’re also planning “Queen of the King” at our local hill, “Snow King.” We go night skiing, and you try to make as many runs as you can to become Queen of the King.

One of the things we want to focus on is building our scholarship program. Last year we offered our first Avalanche scholarships to help women take their Level 1 Avalanche Training. We had our first fundraiser in May, and raised $8,000, so we’re going to be able to offer a lot more scholarships this year. We also plan to partner with the Doug Coombs Foundation to donate our time with the kids. And we’re going to partner with Search and Rescue for talks about how to deal with getting caught out in the backcountry.

It’s not always skiing. We do other fun stuff, too. Tomorrow we’re going to do a hike. And last year we had a Halloween party. It’s ways to have fun and build relationships, on and off the mountain.

jhbfpatchSD: The Jackson Hole Air Force has a very famous patch, and I see you have one, too. Can you tell me about it?
CW: Sure. These are only given out for special reasons. They can be earned one of three ways: Facing your fears, Progression Session, and Inspiring Epic Adventure. So they’re for things like skiing off the tram for the first time or doing a super chute or going in the backcountry for the first time. Eventually we want to get a nomination process going, so you’d nominate a friend who’s gone above and beyond or who’s really inspired you. I had a lady write me from Finland about her friend and why she wanted to give her a patch, so I sent a patch to Finland!

SD: Do you have any plans to go beyond Jackson Hole?
CW: We’re not totally committed to local; we’d like to inspire ladies all around. What I’d love to do is have chapters all over the place, like an Alta Babe Force chapter. So no matter where a woman was, there’d be a local chapter where they could find a ski partner. For right now, we’re keeping it local.

Members of the Babe Force having fun!

Members of the Babe Force having fun!

 

 

 



Read full story · Comments { 0 }

No Limits: 11 Women Who Shattered the Snow Ceiling.

I’m writing this on August 26, Women’s Equality Day. Sure, I know, I’m posting it four days later. But y’know, Women’s Equality shouldn’t be limited to just one day. It’s something we need to think about all the time. Why? Because it’s 2016, not 1916, and a lot of the issues that hold women back should’ve have been resolved a long time ago.

Nonetheless, Women’s Equality Day got me thinking about all the women in the ski world who’ve broken gender barriers and smashed through the snow ceiling. Certainly, there are a lot of amazing women I could include — too many to name, in fact — but I thought I’d point out a  few who have done their part to show that women shouldn’t be limited just because they have female rather than male anatomy.

Andrea Mead Lawrence

Andrea Mead Lawrence

 

 

Andrea Mead Lawrence: Let’s start with a good one. Andrea Mead Lawrence was the first American alpine skier to win two Olympic gold medals. Not first female alpine skier — the first alpine skier. She showed all of us that sure, it could be done. And yeah, it could be done by a woman.

 

 

 

Jeanne Thoren

Jeanne Thoren

Jeanne Thoren: Granted, some of the modifications she proposed for skis and boots are still being debated today. But whether you agree with her or not, you have to give Jeanne Thoren her props. Jeanne was the first person in the ski industry to realize that women were not just miniature men and maybe, just maybe, we needed gear engineered to suit us. A radical concept, in its time (which incidentally, wasn’t all that long ago). In 1986, Jeanne designed what is believed to be the first women’s ski, for the Austrian company Blizzard. She also created awareness of and demand for women-centric ski gear, raising the bar for the entire industry and improving the sport for all women. The Exclusive Carve Ski she designed for Dynastar became Ski magazine’s 2007 Ski of the Year. In 2009, she opened the Jeannie Thoren’s Women’s Ski Center in Vail, Colorado.

 

Suzy Chaffee

Suzy Chaffee

Suzy Chaffee: I had the privilege of interviewing Suzy a couple years ago, and it was pretty mind-blowing to speak to someone I idolized when I first started skiing. Sure, she’s a three-time world freestyle skiing champion, and yeah, she was the first female member of the US Olympic team board of directors. But I think her most far-ranging achievement is her work as a champion of Title IX legislation. Suzy was instrumental in convincing federal lawmakers to enact the statute that guarantees equal opportunities for men and women in federally funded sports and education programs. You can find my interview, along with her long list of achievements, here.

Lindsey Vonn

Lindsey Vonn

 

Lindsey Vonn: I hardly need to write anything here. Lindsey isn’t just arguably the best women’s skier of all time, she’s also considered one of the best skiers of all time.  I won’t go into all her accomplishments (you can find them in Wikipedia), but I’ve included her in this list for one important reason: her extremely high profile serves as an inspiration for girls and women everywhere.  She’s also the founder of the Lindsey Vonn Foundation, which empowers young women through scholarships, programs and unique opportunities.

 

 

Lynsey Dyer

Lynsey Dyer

Lynsey Dyer: A phenomenal world-class skier who was named Powder Magazine’s Skier of the Year, Lynsey is also the founder of  SheJumps.org, an organization dedicated to encouraging  women to  participate in outdoor activities. But that’s not all: Fed up with the fact that only 14% of the athletes in major ski films are female when women make up around 40% of the skiing population, Lynsey took it upon herself to produce Pretty Faces, an all-female ski movie, raising the bulk of the money she needed via a Kickstarter campaign. I interviewed her about all this here.

 

 

Lindsey Van

Lindsey Van

Lindsey Van: Yes, another Lindsey/Lynsey (what the heck is with that name, anyway?). But this one is different: she flies. Lindsey is an amazing ski jumper; in 2009, she became the first World Champion in women’s ski jumping after winning the first World Championships to allow women to compete. She also holds the North American women’s record with a jump of 171 meters. Before the Olympic Games in 2010, she held the hill record for both men and women in Vancouver. More importantly, her continued efforts not only helped put women’s ski jumping on the map, but helped put it into the 2014 Olympics. For more information on this, here’s a piece I did about it in 2013.

Sarah Burke

Sarah Burke

 

Sarah Burke: Taken from us way too soon, Sarah was a force to be reckoned with on the Freestyle Skiing circuit. In fact, it’s thanks to her tireless efforts that women’s ski half-pipe was finally included in the X Games, three years after men were competing in this same event. Sarah went on to become a four-time X Game champion. She also coached girls on glaciers in the summer, paving the way for future female competitors in more than one way.

 

 

 

Pam Murphy

Pam Murphy

 

Pam Murphy: There still aren’t a lot of women in the upper echelons of ski area management, but the first to break the snow ceiling was Pam Murphy. Starting in the ticket office at Mammoth Mountain in 1973, Pam rose through the ranks to vice president of marketing and sales and in 1998, became Mammoth’s general manager — the first female GM for a major ski resort in the country. Pam retired from the post in 2014.

 

 

Kim Beekman

Kim Beekman

 

Kim Beekman: One of the major publications of the ski industry, Skiing Magazine never had a female editor-in-chief in its 68-year history until Kim Beekman took the helm. Named to the post in 2015, Kim is an award-winning journalist, an accomplished lifelong skier, and director of SKI’s rigorous Women’s Ski Test. As editor-in-chief, she’s focused on welcoming a wider range of skiers into the fold, no matter what their ability, through compelling story telling and informative articles.

 

 

 

 

Angel Collinson

Angel Collinson

Angel Collinson: Angel is kind of the ‘it’ girl of skiing right now. But not without cause. Angel was the first woman to win the Best Line at the Powder Awards, creating what the Ski Journal called “the burliest—and most entertaining—female film segment of all time.” Her footage ended up earning her the coveted closing segment in Paradise Waits, marking the first time a woman has been selected for a TGR finale. The previous year, she broke barriers with the first female opening segment of a TGR film, in 2014’s Almost Ablaze. In fact, until Collinson showed up on the scene three years ago, the studio hadn’t featured a woman in a film in years.

 

 

Jen Gurnecki

Jen Gurnecki

Jen Gurecki: What do we do when we’re unhappy with the women’s skis out there? Here’s what Jen did: she stepped up and created Coalition Snow, the first ever woman-owned ski company — not an easy task in an industry that’s dominated by men. The company’s tag line says it all: We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. Yep, don’t tell her she can’t; she’ll turn it into a can. I interviewed her here.

 

 

 

There’s no doubt there are a lot of inspiring women in the ski world (some of the others I’ve interviewed include Muffy Davis, Donna Weinbrecht, and Elyse Saugstad). In fact, the Ski Hall of Fame will soon be opening a special exhibit on women hall-of-famers, a well-deserved tribute to a talented, powerful group. Helmets off to them all!

 



Read full story · Comments { 2 }

Jen Hudak on the Sexualizing of Women Athletes, Sarah Burke, and More.

I don’t ordinarily repost anyone else’s interviews on my blog. But this one, from Snowsbest.com, aka Miss Snow It All, is so terrific that I got permission to post it here.

Why do I love it? Well, first, Jen Hudak is an amazing skier. At 29, she’s won nearly every skiing competition out there — X-Games, US Open, World Ski Invitational, Dew Tour, US Nationals. So she’s definitely a well-respected, world-class athlete.

But that’s not all. Because besides being a champion skier, Jen also exhibits a tremendous amount of wisdom. For starters, she doesn’t buy into the whole sexualizing-women-to-make-them-marketable crap that much of the ski industry and media helps perpetuate. Yes, this is something I’ve talked about many times before: how women athletes should be acknowledged for their achievements, not for how they look in a bikini. Sure, it’s legal, they’re adults, and they can do whatever they like to pick up a few extra bucks before their moment in the sun expires. But I think it’s sad and a poor commentary on our society. These are women who’ve worked hard to become amazing world-class athletes. Posing half-naked only diminishes their accomplishments and turns them into sexual objects. Truly, they deserve better than this.

This is something that’s been on my mind for a long time; I first did a post about it in 2006, a second in 2007, and a third in 2014. This makes #4 because clearly, things haven’t changed. But right now, let’s listen to what Jen Hudak has to say, because she’s well worth listening to.

 



Read full story · Comments { 0 }