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What a Time to Be a (Female) Skier

Why the “lady shred” movement is snowballing, and how you can find your tribe.
by Kimberly Beekman

The first time I experienced what it was like to ski with a pack of badass women was my inaugural year of Ski Magazine’s annual ski test, some 15 years ago. I walked into the test corral intimidated as hell—they being ex-U.S. Ski Teamers and the like—but from the minute we got off the lift, it was an all-time, game-on, bell-to-bell blast. We laughed. A lot.

I’ve gone on many women’s trips since—Silverton, Jackson Hole, Revelstoke, Aspen Highlands to name a few—and they remain some of my top ski days of all time. There was just something different, something incredibly special, about the vibe.

These days, it’s the cool thing to do. Women’s only camps and groups and hashtags have popped up everywhere (it’s catching on in the mountain biking, running, climbing, and surfing worlds, too), and women are opting to ski all over the world with other women they’ve never met rather than with boyfriends or husbands.

What is happening? Have we just figured out that skiing with other women is awesome? I mean, the “girls’ trip” has been around since things in the Garden of Eden didn’t quite work out. So why is the lady shred movement snowballing now?

I can point to a few catalysts. The 2014 all-women premiere of “Pretty Faces” tapped into a main artery of women frustrated by lack of representation in ski films. Also, ski manufacturers like Blizzard Tecnica began investing heavily in women’s technology that actually works. The rise of female athletes across all skiing disciplines—Elyse Saugstad, Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin, Hilaree Nelson, Jessie Diggins, and Kikkan Randall—is giving women more role models than ever before. And, of course, there’s our current social and political climate, which is best described by “me too” (the linguistics alone suggest a convergence to be reckoned with).

Regardless of the how and why, the important thing about these ski groups goes far beyond the slopes. Sure, we put on our party pants and laugh our asses off. But we also discover our strengths—strengths we have been taught all our lives to ignore. In a society that marginalizes, patronizes, and minimizes us, we are carving out our own niches, building our own communities that lift us up and support us in ways we don’t experience anywhere else.

Whether we’re intermediates skiing a black for the first time or experts hucking a cornice in a no-fall zone, when we’re surrounded by a bunch of girls—sometimes wearing tutus—shouting, “You got this,” we end up believing them. We have downplayed our abilities for so long, it takes the confidence of others we trust to make us see the truth. This shift in our inner dialogue is profound, and it’s transferable to every aspect of our lives:

We are badasses. And now we know it.

If you’re not already a part of a women’s ski group, welcome to your epiphany. If you are already enlightened, you’ll glean even more inspiration from these other like-minded women. So load up the shotski and cue “Don’t Stop Believin’” on the Karaoke machine: Here are a few of our favorite lady-shred posses in skidom. If none of these are in your zone, reach out to your local resort’s communications department to find out if one exists, sign up for a women’s camp (like the women’s camps held at the Alta Lodge) near you to build your network, or start your own by posting on Facebook. You got this, remember?

What a Time to Be a (Female) Skier

LADY SHRED POSSES

Jackson Hole Babe Force

Jackson, Wyoming

Crystal Wright, pro skier and rodeo rider, grew up in the shadow of the famed (and infamous) Jackson Hole Air Force, a rogue band of skiers who pioneered all the out-of-bounds lines at Jackson Hole. “I grew up idolizing them,” she said.

The problem, though, is that they were all dudes, and the amazing women skiers she knew were always on the fringes. “I saw all of these ripping women who weren’t being recognized, and none of them were skiing together,” Wright said. One day in 2011, she was skiing out of bounds in Granite Canyon with a couple of her girlfriends when they ran into the JHAF boys, who wouldn’t let them pass on the traverse. Jokingly, she shouted, “Watch out, Babe Force coming through,” and the name just stuck.

Wright and her friends soon designed their own arm patch, started a Facebook page, and then organized a girls’ ski day. “We were nervous no one would come, and then 50 women showed up. We realized there’s obviously a need for this.” Since then, the Babe Force has expanded into a certified nonprofit, with women-only ski, hike, and mountain bike meetups and camps year-round.

The group also gives scholarships to girls and women all over Wyoming to take avalanche education courses or to go on a dream adventure. To join, donate, or nominate a woman for a JHBF patch, go to their website. Also, follow them on Facebook or Instagram @jacksonholebabeforce.

The Ski Diva

Worldwide

The Ski Diva has been a welcoming forum for female skiers for 13 years, “which, in the Internet world, is like a gazillion,” laughed Wendy Clinch, who founded the site. She started the site when she became frustrated by the lack of resources for women both online and in ski shops. “I found that people assumed I was a beginner, or that I wanted to know about ski fashion, or I got lots of comments that were sexual,” she said from her home in Vermont. “And they didn’t know anything about women’s gear.”

The site now has more than 6,000 registered members and countless others who visit the site to read the forums. Dedicated Divas—you have to post 25 times on the forum before you can gain access to the Divas Only section—also have the option to participate in women’s ski trips or arrange for casual meetups at home hills.

“On these trips, you leave behind all the labels—wife, mother, girlfriend—and you’re just you, having a great time,” she said. According to Clinch, the group empowers women to travel to places they wouldn’t necessarily go to on their own, and encourages them even when they doubt and downplay their own abilities.

It’s open to all levels and ages—"This isn’t the U.S. Ski Team,” Clinch said. The only restriction is, of course, no men. “Everything else in the world is for men. Even if it’s not for men, it’s for men. This is our corner of the world,” Clinch said. To join, register on The Ski Diva website.

Backcountry Babes

Colorado, California, New Hampshire

Founded in 1997, Backcountry Babes has been around since before women-specific gear was a thing. It operates mainly as an outdoor education program designed to cultivate women’s leadership in the outdoors, and it also curates backcountry ski trips to places like Japan, Iceland, Chile, and British Columbia.

“Anyone can join who wants to,” said Truckee, Calif.-based owner Emily Hargraves, though it’s definitely more avy class/guide service than meet-up group. The idea is to empower women through education so they can feel comfortable guiding their own groups in the backcountry, and to eliminate the societal conditioning that men are the leaders in the outdoors.

The program clearly works: More than 300 women across the country sign up for Backcountry Babes’ avy courses or backcountry trips every year, and the operation now has hubs in Colorado, California, and New Hampshire. Female guides and educators are all AIRE-certified, and some have been with the program since its inception.

According to Hargraves, the program fosters women’s natural strengths in the backcountry, because they tend to have a stronger connection with their group. “I find women’s groups are better at making decisions and managing risk,” she said. They also tend to have more fun, too. To sign up for a course or a trip, go to the Backcountry Babes website.

Snowbird SkiMums

Snowbird, Utah

“Not all of us are moms. Some of us have cats,” said Paula Colman, who founded this group eight years ago after moving from Houston, “the ski capitol of Texas.” True to her character, Snowbird SkiMums is anything but serious. “It’s like a glorified playdate.”

The group evolved from a few women Colman met who helped her learn how to ski, and now meets every Wednesday morning at the bottom of the Gadzoom lift January through March, weather permitting. It’s geared for intermediate and advanced skiers and offers free lessons with Snowbird instructors throughout the month of January.

The progression Colman sees every year is inspiring, she said, a direct result of the supportive nature of all-women group. “It’s a team effort. We help each other out. It’s competitive, but in a motivating way as opposed to an intimidating way.”

Most of all, though, it’s just fun. “I’ve never thought of all the things I’ve done in my life that this is the one that would give me the most joy.” If you want to join, just show up. For more information, check out their website or follow them on Instagram @skisnowbird.

Girls Outside

Aspen, Colorado

When, Girls Outside cofounder Rachel Hadley moved up to the Roaring Fork Valley from Denver, she was a budding professional mountain biker who had no women friends to ride or ski with. She soon met Annie Gonzales, a ski patroller at Aspen, and they decided to start a group that would hopefully bring all the outdoorsy women out of the woodwork.

“There are so many amazing women up and down the valley who were tired of not having a safe, fun, and supportive environment,” Hadley said. Come winter, the hilariously named Frosty Whores (their summer moniker is the Dirty Bitches) skin up to the warming hut at Buttermilk or Snowmass with headlamps. “Everyone brings wine and snacks and costumes and music, so we do our party thing and then ski down in the dark,” Hadley said. “We have so much fun.”

Because they ski in-bounds, they can be inclusive of all abilities, and the group has garnered more than 700 members on its Facebook page. Gonzales feels their popularity is indicative of women’s empowerment having become a collective focus as of late. “We’re becoming more centered on what’s important to us, and that is relationships and doing things together.”

Check out their Facebook page @girlsoutside.

Thumbs Up Birds

Colorado

First, the name deserves explaining. Founder Kelley Wren grew up with the nickname “Bird,” owing to her last name, and her favorite childhood game was to award cool places she snowboarded with a thumbs up. “It was always about being outdoors, having a good time,” she said. Then she started a blog called Thumbs Up Birds as a way to let her parents know what she was up to (“I didn’t want to have to call them all the time,” she said, laughing).

The blog eventually morphed into a women’s ski and snowboard group, with articles about unsung female athletes who were going as big as the boys but without any media love. Now based in Breckenridge, Thumbs Up Birds hosts free meetups on the slopes at a different resort a couple of times a month, with demos available for women who don’t have their own gear.

“The biggest thing holding women back from learning a new sport is the equipment,” Wren said. They also run backcountry education courses, all funded by sponsors and donations, designed to give women the confidence to enroll in an avy course.

Thumbs Up Birds also hosts mountain-bike (“Pedals and Pints”) and rock-climbing meetups in the summer with an après component afterward. Check out Thumbs Up Birds online or follow them on Instagram @thumbsupbirds.

Miss Snow it All

Worldwide

Do yourself a favor and watch this Instagram video now. It’s one of thousands hashtagged #showusdagirls, a campaign that Miss Snow It All founder launched about a year ago to when she was frustrated by the lack of images and videos of girls and women in Australia’s ski media.

“It’s not just about being a ripping extreme skier, it’s about being a skier,” Oakes said about the campaign. She simultaneously launched the Facebook group, which is a forum where women can discuss gear, meetups, or really anything ski-related, and it now has more than 4,000 members worldwide.

Australian resorts have taken notice, too, upping the ante with their own marketing campaigns to include women and designating women-only camps and terrain park days. “It feels like what’s happening in the world is carrying over into the ski world.

There’s more of an emphasis on, ‘What do you want your ski day to be?’” The group recently organized its first heliski day with Southern Lakes Heliski in New Zealand. Follow them on Facebook @misssnowitall.

Bitchin’ Betties on Boards

Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

While this group isn’t open to newcomers, it will serve as inspiration for women to start their own Betty offshoot. Bitchin Betties started in 1999, when Tahoe ski instructor Maggie Hakansson and six of her female instructor friends took a weekend girls’ trip to Mammoth Mountain.

It grew exponentially every year until Hakansson capped it at 40-some members—all of whom rip. “We’ll ski all day, go out and dance and party all night, and then we’re first in line the next day,” said Hakansson, aka Boss Betty.

Needless to say, they earned a bit of a reputation around the hill, and now Mammoth rolls out the red carpet rolls out each year, giving them private access to the gondola to ski down Cornice Bowl after the slopes close.

“We are a bunch of hardcore women who just cheer each other on,” Hakansson said. And the Betties don’t stop when the snow does—come summer, they mountain bike and paddle together. To start your own Betty group, put up a post on Facebook and tag your women skier friends. You’ll have a ripping crew in no time.

Winter Divas

Pittsburgh, Penn.

Winter Divas doesn’t just bring women together to ski—it gives them a voice in the ski industry. Kjerstin Klein, who co-owns Willi’s Ski and Board shop in Pittsburgh, Penn., had long been frustrated by the lack of attention the ski industry paid to women—“we were in the ‘shrink it and pink it’ era,” she said—but also noticed that there was another problem: When women came into her shop, they didn’t know how to talk about gear in a meaningful way.

“I wanted to teach these women how to give their opinion in a way that the industry would actually listen to,” she said. So she founded the Divas in 2009 to educate women about technology, and set them loose with new gear on the slopes to evaluate it.

The Divas’ weekly ski day entails a gear test of the latest hard and softgoods, an educational session, and then, of course, freeskiing and après at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. The group now has more than 500 members, and the results of their tests are incorporated into reviews on realskiers.com.

“The best part about it is that the manufacturers are actually listening,” Klein said. If you have questions about specific gear or would like to start your own chapter of Winter Divas at your home hill, message Klein on their Facebook page @winterdivas.

Ski Away

Minneapolis, Minn.

The oldest women’s ski program in the country, Ski Away was founded in 1971 by Nancy Countryman who wanted to create a traveling ski school—common in the Midwest—for adult women. “She was a mom whose kids were in the program, and she wanted to be in one herself,” said Lezlie Pinske, who now owns the school.

Originally, Ski Away had busses that would pick up moms in the parking lot of the preschool, so they could drop their kids off and then go skiing. Now, the program has four coach buses that pick up nearly 200 women at many locations for the weekly ski days. Female instructors offer lessons for every ability, from never-ever to the beer league racer set.

Ski Away also organizes annual international ski trips to places like Portillo, Chile, and Chamonix, France. “We’re stretching one another to be bold and do things we might not do by ourselves,” she said. Pinske attributes the group’s success in part because moms of this generation are realizing the value sports bring to their own daughters.

“It’s so obvious now that we want our girls not to just be cheerleaders on the sidelines. I think we are watching our girls, and they’re empowering us.” Sign up to join on the Ski Away website.