The ski industry looks to reinvigorate the female skier population with better gear, a family friendly mountain and innovative ski school programs.
On a particularly sunny day, after a huge snowstorm dumped 18 inches of powder on Vail Mountain, my friends from Minnesota and I are perched above Morningside run watching tiny snowflakes drifting off the evergreens and sparkling and shimmering in the breeze.
The crisp, bright blue sky awakens the color of the trees and ski apparel, and the scent of clean, fresh air is all around us. The essence of the ski experience is days like this shared with friends.
My friends are enamored with the sunshine and views, expressing their joy with repeated comments of, “This is so gorgeous; what a beautiful day!” My skiing soul agrees; it’s a memorable day. All of us have skied our whole lives, and this is why we continue to ski.
The fresh, white powder of Morningside is a smooth, unbroken blanket of fluffy goodness, and it’s taunting me. I’m anticipating light, smooth turns carving through the powder, bouncing lightly in rhythm and peace. The view will come again; it’s time for “freshies!”
I’m lucky to have friends who enjoy skiing — women letting go of their families for some “girl time.” I learned this sport from my parents, and it’s an important gift. Skiing and snowboarding aren’t just sports; they provide a complete experience from the fresh air to action, excitement and majestic views.
Our day started around 9 a.m. with secret powder stashes, and now rubber legs ensue, so we take a break at The 10th, Vail’s newest on-mountain restaurant. The 10th is perfect for my crowd in search of ambiance, cozy blankets, champagne, buffalo chili and a fireplace. The 10th has a warming room for hanging ski jackets and helmets, clean bathrooms offering sunblock and hair dryers, and comfy slippers available after freeing your feet from ski boots.
Kelly, Jen and I stretch out on overstuffed loungers around the fire, covered in soft blankets. Tired legs, warm feet, happy hearts, tasty bubbly and expressive conversation. We are lucky women for this experience and the one on the slopes.
Our conversation eases into recent statistics showing a decline in women skiing and snowboarding. Other women skiers mention having no friends and family who ski or snowboard, uncomfortable equipment, lost confidence and waning joy for the sport.
Both Kelly and Jen are mothers and suspect the amount of effort getting families prepared for skiing is a deterrent. Both women ski with their families because their husbands actively participate in the organization of family ski days and ski vacations, and this greatly increases their excitement for skiing and snowboarding.
Hauling equipment can be a deterrent for visiting mothers, but many Vail lodging properties now offer ski valet services.
“What do you like about skiing?” I ask. Jen Canton, an avid skier and frequent Vail visitor, smiles like a kid ramping up, recalling the most amazing story ever! Straightening her back, legs rooted to the floor, gently setting down her glass, she says, “It’s more fun than the gym, thrilling, aesthetic, graceful, competitive and therapeutic.” She breathes and starts again: “I love the fresh air and views from the mountain tops you just don’t get access to anywhere else. I enjoy working on my style and maintaining that smooth style in small bumps and crud. It gives me a sense of accomplishment.”
Kelly Vickers nods in agreement. Kelly lived in Vail for three years and taught skiing at Afton Alps, a recent Vail Resorts ski area acquisition in Minnesota. Kelly jokes, “The ski resorts should chronicle our current ski day as a marketing tool and women would flock to skiing and Vail. Fresh powder, groomed blue runs, ocean-blue sky, warm temps, sophisticated lunch spot and a spa day with shopping time.”
As adults and mothers, Kelly and Jen love family ski trips. We also agree that a fantastic ski day with girlfriends is precious. It’s our friends and families we thank for introducing us to skiing since all of us learned as children. Skiing and snowboarding are family sports.
“The best part of family ski trips for mothers is children’s excitement about skiing. When they ski a black run for the first time, you cannot contain their enthusiasm. When they ski the whole run without falling, they are so proud!” Kelly says.
Vail local Alan Sandberg says, “The best part of my day is skiing with my daughter and her friends. They are good little skiers, like to try new terrain because they are young and fearless. I learn so much about my daughter on the chairlift, when I talk to her or listen to her talk to her friends. There are no cell phones, no iPads, no TV. We talk about the last run, what’s happening in school, about their friends, their dreams and thoughts. We bond doing something we both love, and it’s a rare opportunity. It’s valuable intel on their personality. It’s precious time.”
THE RIGHT STUFF
Kelly, Jen and I pay the bill and wander to the warming room to prepare for more fresh powder skiing. Squeezing back into my boots, groaning, since I need a new pair, Kelly perks up and says, “Amazing you even ski with those torture chambers on. Why don’t you get a new pair?”
My problem is taking time out of my ski day to shop for equipment, and duct tape is pretty these days. Other women have expressed having crappy or dated equipment as a deterrent to skiing. The right equipment makes all the difference to an enjoyable ski experience.
The good news for women is ski and snowboard manufacturers have listened and taken into account the differences between women and men skiers and snowboarders, according to Jeannie Thoren. Jeannie is a local women’s ski shop owner, originally from Minnesota and considered to be a pioneer of women’s skiing.
“There is fantastic equipment designed specifically for women’s body types. The shape and makeup of skis and snowboards make it easier and more fun. Women are not small men, a previous idea directing manufacturers. Bindings on women’s skis are mounted differently for better support and control. Proper boots are imperative; needed for good support and comfort. Heal lifts help with posture.” While talking, she eye’s my ski boots and says, “Nice duct tape; come see me.” Patting me on the shoulder, she strides into the crowd.
Companies like K2 and Burton use lighter material for their women’s skis and snowboards since women are typically lighter than men. Pushing around heavier equipment is challenging. The skis and snowboards are softer, giving the equipment flex so women can easily control and engage the equipment. The placement of bindings on skis and the size of the bindings for snowboards also changed since women have a lower center of gravity.
The ski day continues at the Red Lion and local ski instructor Georgia Norgren joins us for a drink. Georgia thinks, “Women’s lack of confidence in their skiing and snowboarding ability is a big deterrent for continuing with snow sports.”
Through an accident, a quick fearful incident or age, women lose their confidence. “I recommend women take a half-day lesson from one of Vail’s highly qualified female ski instructors,” she says with a proud smile. “A morning half-day lesson is a perfect refresher course making the afternoon available for practice. If they feel they need more, take another half-day lesson. Building confidence for the skier or snowboarder is part of the instruction and often the right ski run changes the confidence.”
What about equipment I ask? “Oh, for sure women need the right equipment. More than five years, it’s too old. The right equipment makes it more enjoyable!”
These are a few of the reasons why fewer women are skiing. What is the industry and Vail Resorts doing to address these issues? The snow sports Industry created the Bring a Friend Challenge, encouraging skiers and snowboarders to get friends and family to take a lesson.
Vail Resorts has created a number of new programs and products available for the 2014-15 ski season.
Skiing and snowboarding are family sports, social sports and provide opportunities to see the world and the mountains. Everyone should have a chance to look over Vail’s Back Bowls; friends and family surrounding them and jump into knee deep powder or zip down a freshly groomed run. Seeing the Rocky Mountains in every direction, covered with snow and the bright Colorado sun jazzing up every living thing and sitting by the fire with friends after a gorgeous ski day. That is skiing and snowboarding and a lifetime of experiences.