A woman’s place … is on the mountain
SUMMIT COUNTY – As I was loading the bus at Breckenridge in my telemark gear last week, an ill-intentioned male asked me if I was “ready to drop the hammer.” No, I told him, my knees aren’t construction tools. And based on the testosterone pumping through this fellow’s veins, I doubt we would enjoy skiing together. Right now, I need patient ski buddies who will encourage me as I enter the world of freeheeling. My style is better described by the bumper sticker I saw on the drive out: “Drop the knee, not bombs.” My search for easy-style girl power ended when I attended a telemark clinic with the Breckenridge-based Babes in the Backcountry. The day began with yoga to center the mind and awaken the body. When the skiing began, there was no sense of competition within my group of eight women. Throughout the day, high-pitched cheers marked every small success. Even our instructor, Rachel, used women-specific examples: We learned that staying too low in the tele-stance will only lead to a bigger butt. After the final New Belgium toast of the clinic, I realized that I share the need for confidence, the relational qualities and even the Q-angle (the way my legs fall from my hips) with the estrogen-filled half of the population. Thankfully, there are many female-specific ski programs in Summit County that give the fairer sex a fairer chance on the slopes. And while all-women programs provide exceptional learning environments, don’t be fooled – the ski industry knows exactly where its dollars go when it hooks the ladies.She wears the (skiing) pants
Sue Greene, Betty Program coordinator at Keystone, said the female-specific programs at her resort are only a tiny segment of the entire ski school. Still, Greene said the resort knows that low prices and excellent instruction for women’s groups will lead to big returns in the long run. “We’re doing these programs because we’re trying to bring women into the sport and keep them in the sport,” Greene said. She added that women, and especially moms, are the planners for their families. If mom knows how to ski, she is bound to come back with her husband and children to buy a myriad of resort services. “We know they could go to the Caribbean, to Disney, or wherever,” she said. “We see the mom as a hook for choosing a ski vacation.” But it’s hard to say that the Keystone Nordic Center’s Ski Moms program is luring women into a comprehensive vacation package with its $15 three-lesson series. Cross country skiing has more of a local following in Summit County, and Jana Hlavaty, director of the Keystone Nordic Center, is appreciative of the moms that bring their kids to the Nordic center’s youth program.”I see the mommies who always come and get everybody skiing,” she said. “They never have time for themselves.” The idea for the Ski Moms program originated from the stereotypical phrase “soccer mom.” Hlavaty said it couldn’t be a soccer mom in ski country; it had to be a ski mom.
Even if a woman is not a mom, or even a ski mom, in the traditional sense, Hlavaty said they are welcome to the program because “all women are moms to someone,” whether it be to a boyfriend, husband or friend.Tailoring to her needsThe ski industry knows that women have multiple roles to fill, and they want to squeeze snow sports into their long lists of things to do. In order to fill a niche that some women don’t even know they have, the programs must be tailored to fit female needs. Keystone markets its Betty Fest programs as “small and supportive,” and Breckenridge says its four-day women’s Adventure Summit program is “tailored to individual skill and comfort level.” The programs aren’t trying to teach women to rip, charge down the mountain or lay sick lines. They leave the testosterone-filled hype to the guys and instead focus on building confidence and having fun. Louisa Morrissey, a ski instructor with the Keystone Nordic Center, said a woman and a man will look down the same line on a mountain, and the woman will say, “I can do this,” while the man is thinking, “I can charge it.” This difference is key to the way women’s programs are constructed.
“What works for women is confidence,” Morrissey said. “A woman will eventually ski the same as a man, but from confidence versus aggression.” And escaping aggression on the slopes is why women’s programs have eliminated a gender during instruction. Morrissey said that when women ski with their male partners and friends, they are often struggling to keep up. Good-intentioned advice like, “Just be more aggressive” doesn’t necessarily work with women. “Coaching women is different,” Morrissey said. “If you don’t clue into that mental and emotional aspect, you could miss something big.”Almost all the women’s programs include a social event, such as après-lesson party, making it clear that personal connection is an important component to a successful women’s event. And what of Hlavaty’s idea that women are caretakers that often help the people around them before helping themselves? Brenda McDonnell, a ski mom who will attend the Ski Moms program at the Keystone Nordic Center, said that even her skiing is for the good of those around her: “More than anything, it’s important to give a child a perception of physical activity in daily life,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you say, you just lead by example.”
A sampling of women’s programs- The Adventure Summit for Women is set for Jan. 30-Feb. 3. at Breckenridge Ski Resort. Female instructors will guide women through four days of skiing. Daily breakfast, video analysis and a complimentary massage are included in the price of $370, or $526 with a four-day lift ticket. Visit http://www.breckenridge.snow.com for registration and details. – Being a mom is not required to register for the Ski Moms program at the Keystone Nordic Center. It’s held on three consecutive Saturday afternoons starting Jan. 14. Cost is $15 per person and includes gear. To register, call (970) 496-4275. – Betty Fest weekend camps and one-day clinics at Keystone Resort include information on women’s specific gear and nutrition. Weekend camps will be held Jan. 21-22 and Feb. 11-12. Call (800) 468-5004 or visit http://www.keystoneresort.com for details. – Babes in the Backcountry: Based in Breckenridge, the organization offers single and multi-day telemark, avalanche and backcountry skills classes. Visit http://www.babesinthebackcountry.com for registration and details.
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