Opinion | ‘Sisters of Skimo’ film misrepresents culture, history of the sport
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“Sisters of Skimo,” which premiered Nov. 6 in Frisco and the surrounding media dialogue has raised concern among members of the ski mountaineering community. The film is well-produced and highlights the excitement of the sport, to deserved applause, but the film’s narrative is missing the historical angle that is essential for understanding today’s female ski mountaineering community.
The film lacks perspective on the bigger picture, leaving viewers unaware of the challenges and triumphs of training and racing — a reality that has fostered a unique camaraderie and a supportive, intergenerational community of female athletes that has been evolving for years.
Contradictory to its title, “Sisters of Skimo” focuses on a singular athlete, who is new to the sport and inaccurately touted as the primary individual responsible for cultivating connections among the sport’s female community. This narrative opposes the message of unity that the movie is attempting to foster.
The history of women ski mountaineers in the United States is impressive, made up of hard-working women with full lives who compete for the sake of challenge and a love of the sport. Jeannie Wall was the impetus for U.S. women’s participation on the international stage as she was the first female to compete in Europe in the Pierra Menta and the Ski Mountaineering World Championships in 2003. Monique Merrill is a local legend who won many national championships and had multiple top-10 finishes at the World Championships from 2006 to 2011. She was also instrumental in the creation of the current U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association. No one would be racing regionally or internationally without these early efforts. Eva Hagen, a native Austrian turned Breckenridge local with extensive experience has been a trusted mentor, as has Ellen Miller, one of the most accomplished female mountaineers in American history.
High-level endurance athletes Jari Kirkland-Hiatt and Sari Anderson joined the skimo ranks and competed successfully in the U.S. and in Europe, further propelling the sport while supporting and encouraging others to participate.
Lyndsay Meyer and Nina Silitch were based in Chamonix in 2007 and raced extensively on the nascent World Cup circuit. They were the first American team to compete in the Grand Courses, including the Patrouille des Glaciers with Merrill. Silitch had 44 World Cup circuit starts, winning two golds in the regular circuit and a silver at the 2013 World Championships. She remains the only American female to medal. American participation in the sport continued to increase and world-renowned trail runner Stevie Kremer competed for a year in Europe, followed by ultra-runner Meredith Edwards and elite mountaineer Janelle Smiley, who recently broke the time record for crossing the Alps on skis.
The current generation of racers including Jessie Young, Lindsay Plant, Nikki LaRochelle, Sarah Kadlec, Michela Adrian, Sarah Cookler and others have all qualified to represent the U.S. and competed in Europe, putting up some of America’s best finishes to date. Following in their footsteps are younger women who are just starting their racing careers, some of whom will be representing the U.S. at the Lausanne Youth Olympic Games in 2020.
“Sisters of Skimo” implies that the culture of women in the sport is in need of change and suggests that the women in the ski mountaineering community lack a solid bond. This claim is baseless and hurtful to the women who find the community inviting and vibrant. In ski mountaineering, they have found a community of friendship and support, where they can train together, travel, host one another and take turns watching one another’s kids. This tight-knit community has been growing organically over many years.
What “Sisters of Skimo” misses is that women’s ski mountaineering does not have a singular champion; rather, it is a collection of understated women who do not seek the limelight. They enjoy one another’s company and share a mutual love of the mountains. Sponsorships, podiums and accolades are secondary. From its origins in U.S. Army patrols traversing the Alps, ski mountaineering is rich in mountain tradition and continues to grow. This community of women aspires for their own children to participate in the sport and hopes to further foster an inclusive, kind and supportive community that will one day be theirs to cherish.
- Kelly Ahern, Eva Hagen, Whitney Hedberg, Laura Howell and Nikki LaRochelle of Breckenridge
- Annie Gonzales, Lyndsay Meyer and Jessie Young of Aspen
- Sara Kadlec and Laura Stamp of Boulder
- Sari Anderson and Lindsay Plant of Carbondale
- Stevie Kremer and Jari Hiatt of Crested Butte
- Meredith Edwards of Durango
- Najeeby Quinn of Anchorage, Alaska
- Michela Adrian and Chelsee Pummel of Bozeman, Montana
- Nina Silitch of Canaan, New Hampshire
- Janelle Smiley of Jackson, Wyoming
- Sarah Cookler of Salt Lake City
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