Thursday, February 12, 2015

Freeski Female-Style

Elevate ladies buckling up for first day at camp - photo Louise Hudson
Despite the fact that around two-thirds of skiers and boarders are male, there are an increasing number of ski school programs devoted to promoting advanced skiing for women. Just as females generally respond better to group instruction at gyms, they also prefer a women-only group format for winter sports. Resorts have recognized that many women are intimidated by mixed gender groups, are more likely to sign up for same sex instruction and also more likely to stay in skiing if they have females among their ski friends.

First night's Elevate Reception at K-Bar, Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa - photo by Emily Beardsley
Jackson Hole has been running Elevate Women’s Ski Camp since 2000. The concept is to raise the bar on women’s ski progression by day, and to facilitate socialization and relaxation in the luxury of Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa by night. A stone’s throw from the resort’s gondola and aerial tram, this four-star hotel is the après ski hub of the camp, offering 25 percent discount on lodging to campers. Evening events are held in conference rooms, in the Spur Bar & Restaurant – a very lively après ski spot - and in the K-Bar, a more intimate lounge bar in the hotel lobby. Although the women separate off into small groups for ski tuition, they mix and mingle at organized lunches and receptions, impromptu dinners and at the final banquet.

Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa
Designed for intermediate and advanced skiers, the camp runs in January and March and has seen so many repeat attendees that it inaugurated a 10-timer award in 2015 to help encourage and reward repeaters. "After 15 years of involvement with the Women's Camp, I am still amazed at the improvement, camaraderie, and the stark enthusiasm of the campers," says Lexey Wauters, camp coach and coordinator. "Campers come from all over the country with widely varied ski backgrounds; they all slide away better, happier, more confident skiers."

Participants - mostly from the USA but also from as far away as Great Britain and Australia - numbered in the 50s at the January camp by the 2013/14 season and in the 60s by 2014/15.

Crystal Wright
As well as providing a vast array of female instructors, one of the camp’s cachets is having three professional freeskiers to help coach. These are Kim Havell, Jess McMillan and Crystal Wright, all cast members of the groundbreaking all-female extreme ski movie, Pretty Faces. As well as trouble-shooting each four or five person ski group with tips and techniques for tackling tough slopes, they contribute motivational presentations during après ski sessions.

"Having three of the top female freeskiers in the industry here in Jackson Hole is a testament to the fact that this is an ideal mountain for women of any ability to cultivate their interests in skiing, thrive with support and keep taking it to the next level," says Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Communications Manager, Anna Cole. "Increasing popularity of the camp year after year only underscores the importance of embracing this strong female demographic and giving them what they need to elevate."

Crystal Wright
During camps ski fitness advice is offered by Crystal Wright, a professional big-mountain skier, Jackson Hole gym owner and fitness trainer. “Ski preparation, maintenance and strength is so, so important. The stronger the skiers are, the less likely they are to become injured,” says Wright. “They also will enjoy themselves so much more because they will be able to ski until the end of the day without feeling like they might hurt themselves. Also, recovery after a hard day will be quicker.”

Me during Elevate Jan 2015 - by Emily Beardsley
As well as providing the blueprint for fitness and stretching at an evening exercise class, Wright rotates around the ski groups adding her tactics for skiing tricky terrain. It’s all about instilling confidence in the women and in their skiing ability, she maintains: “We all look at ski runs and lines differently so I try to relate to them how I push myself through something that is intimidating. The women are better skiers than they think they are, so I try to give them some helpful cues they can think of when skiing a run that they are uncomfortable with.” The key to progress is pushing comfort zones in the company of other like-minded women, Wright concludes. Video analysis enables instructors and skiers to dissect skiing stance as a very visual means of instilling new techniques. And highlights from the videos are put together with matching music to create a lively show at the end of camp banquet.

Tenessa Singleton (left) with Louise Hudson
Attending the January 2015 Elevate Camp, Tenessa Singleton transformed ski apathy into renewed ski fervor. “Until I did this camp, I was so frustrated with skiing that I was going to take up snowboarding,” she says.  I really enjoyed being with women from all over who have a passion for skiing,” she adds. “I have spent the last several winters in Jackson Hole but our amazing instructor introduced us to parts of the mountain I have never seen - secret little powder stashes and tree skiing galore. Besides confidence building and technical skiing, I made some great friends. And the highlight of the camp had to be skiing with three of the best pro skiers in the world.” 

 Elevate Instructor Christina Cartier (left) with
Jess McMillan (right) - photo by Louise Hudson
During her January 2015 Elevate presentation, Jess McMillan explained how the female pro skiers at Jackson Hole have pushed the boundaries not only on female skiing instruction but also on how female athletes are perceived by the ski industry. “Kim, Crystal, Lindsey Dyer, me and a few others got together four years ago and changed the profile of women in skiing,” said McMillan to the rapt audience. “Before then there was just one token woman in ski movies and in advertising, which meant all the female freeskiers were fighting for the one spot all the time. But we got together and we said enough, we’re going to work together from now on.”

Lynsey Dyer in the Aerial Tram Jackson Hole - photo by Louise Hudson

One of the results of this collaboration was the movie, Pretty Faces. This has been a springboard for many female freeskiing careers, including McMillan’s. She was next asked to star in Warren Miller’s 65th feature film, No Turning Back, with carte blanche to choose a co-star. She picked a personal idol, Ingrid Backstrom. “All it took was us to start supporting each other and it changed the entire ski industry,” McMillan added. With women buying 60 percent of the ski gear sold, manufacturers are gradually realizing that they need female skiers to advertise their products, said McMillan, who helps design ski suits for Spyder.  

Louise Hudson skiing Jackson Hole during Elevate Jan 2015 - photo by Emily Beardsley
Another revolutionary aspect of No Turning Back was that, for the first time in 20 years, the advertising poster featured a woman. The first three skiers depicted in the movie are also female, with McMillan the first woman on skis. As well as two female heli-ski guides, Kim Grant and Chris Anthony, the film also casts women throughout the various scenes, including Heather Paul, Sierra Quitiquit, Kaylin Richardson, Julia Mancuso, and Mikaela Shiffrin.
Crystal Wright

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