Girls Who Ski

Written by Rachael Hallewell

#WomenInSport #ThisGirlCan #GirlsWhoSki #GirlsWhoRun #GirlsWhoLift #GirlsWhoSurf #GirlsWhoRide #RunLikeAGirl #SkiLikeAGirl #TrainLikeAGirl #FitGirl #GenderGap #GlamourSport #StrongNotSkinny #FitNotThin

You pick your hash tag but there is no denying that promoting women in sport, campaigning to get women into sport and advocating a healthy lifestyle has become a topical subject of late, and I am all in favour of it.

I have mentioned previously that I am a reader of Women’s Glamour Magazine, (my guilty pleasure!) and I have enjoyed reading about their campaign Say No to Sexism in Sport. The articles have covered women in sport at elite levels, the women behind the scenes such as doctors and physiotherapists, the difference in earnings between men and women, and various other topics. It appears there is a vicious circle when it comes to supporting women in sport at professional levels. The audience numbers need to increase to generate more money so that coverage can reach prime channels and that those women participating can benefit on an equal playing field to the boys. However, women’s sport needs promoting first to increase its number of viewers. Until women get that support from the public, they will not get that chance. Here is an interesting read from the BBC Sport website. Interestingly, Clare Balding turned down covering the Grand National this year to cover the first televised women’s boat race.

This winter I taught skiing to a girl from Holland. From what I gathered, she played football to a fairly high standard but believed that women’s football lacked some of the excitement of the men’s game and would never get the same level of interest. Controversial, but it still raises the question as to whether we find some sports, when played by women, not quite as exciting and interesting as when played by men. Will women forever be fighting to prove themselves and inspire the world with their sporting skills?

Here are links to the Women in Sport and This Girl Can websites that encourage women to get involved in sport. Although we are women searching for equality, the underlining theme is to still embrace the fact we are women and can be girly about what sports and exercise we are doing, particularly with our appearance. The craze to have the brightest coloured trainers and the funkiest pair of leggings is going strong. Fashion, particularly at an event such as Wimbledon for example, is definitely a topic that is discussed. And it is not just the girls. Federer is known to make an effort and look dapper himself. Even snowsport enthusiasts are definitely on a mission to have the coolest piece of kit on the mountain. My parents went to watch my brother row this weekend and apparently there was a female team, who won, all dressed in pink. A men’s team was also praised for wearing “nice kit”. Do we watch sport for more than just the game and competition? There is no denying an element or a ‘bonus’ of watching sport is being attracted to these athletes.

This increasing interest to inspire women in sport has lead me to think about the girls I know who love sport and are getting moving in a quest to live healthy and balanced lives but to also compete and push themselves to see what they can achieve. I am lucky to have some inspirational female friends. Some have taken up running and are now striving to complete marathons, some have trained to climb mountains, compete in triathlons and Ironmen, and, of course, those who ski.

Sophie Jane O'Gorman who has taken up running
Sophie Jane O’Gorman who has taken up running
Amy Wardman getting in to road biking
Amy Wardman getting in to road biking

Attending BASI courses and being the only girl in the group was the norm. The most girls I have witnessed on a course was, surprisingly, on a level 4 technical exam. There were about 7 girls attending and it was jokingly suggested that they should make an all female group. To say the least, the male trainers were not too enthusiastic about hanging out with 7 emotionally charged women for the week.

Being the only girl in a group for me was never particularly an issue. In fact, I sometimes benefited from it as it made me raise my game and ski better. Some girls find it intimidating, but I am of the belief that if you’re already on the course and skiing you have already got to be a girl with something about you. My brother and I attended the same snowboard level 1 course and not only were we skiers after our second discipline, but we were also our trainer’s first siblings on a course. I was also the only girl. As well as striving to prove I was better than my brother, we goofed around a lot and by the end of the week I felt like I had gained 6 more brothers. A result of the relentless brotherly ‘bullying’, it somehow became acceptable for the others to join in too. Excellent.

Rachel Kerr off piste
Rachel Kerr off piste
Aimée Baker on piste
Aimée Baker on piste

A fellow female skier was asked on a level 4 technical exam if she thought it was right of the trainers and examining body to ask the girls to keep up with the boys and adapt accordingly. Her reaction, and I am in agreement, is yes, it is right. We have both achieved the level and so have other women, so why should the level be adapted for future females? However, in competition it is not asked of women to keep up with men. There are differences between the sexes; otherwise we wouldn’t compete on separate stages in the majority of sports. This is acknowledged in the Eurotest, for example. Men must ski within 18% of the openers time and women, 24%. This is roughly a couple of seconds. Men are naturally built to be stronger than women. There are exceptions to the rule (always!) but when it comes to passing a test based purely on time, then it probably is fair to account for the natural difference in abilities between men and women. I doubt there will ever be a French man or woman who suddenly quits their job and moves to the Alps to teach skiing (as a few Brits have done!) and who might struggle to pass the Eurotest as a result of not being quite as fit and strong as they may have been when they were younger. The fight is on though, to introduce a time allowance for the older skier. This would no doubt make the test fairer for everyone participating.

Kim Richardson race training
Kim Richardson race training
Rachel Kerr, Ali Gibb (passing her Eurotest overcoming ACL damaged/gone knees), Amy Wardman
Rachel Kerr, Ali Gibb (passing her Eurotest overcoming ACL damaged/gone knees), Amy Wardman

There are 60 current up to date female skiers with the British Association of Snowsport Instructor’s International Ski Teacher Diploma (77 since 2007). There are 334 males with the same qualification. We are a minority, but this is no bad thing. In fact, most of us feel there are many opportunities for us being few with the level 4 diploma.

Training those going for their level 2 exam this winter
Training those going for their level 2 exam this winter

I asked BASI if they had any statistics on the pass rates of males and females going through the system and how and if these had changed over the years. Below are some statistics for the level 3 and 4 technical exam from season 2011/12 to 2014/15.

Course/year No. Attended No. Passed No Males attended No Males Passed No Females Attended No Females Passed
Alpine Level 4 tech 2011-12 83 28 (34% pass rate) 67 23 (34% pass rate) 16 5 (31% pass rate)
Alpine Level 4 tech 2012-13 78 32 (41% pass rate) 62 27(44% pass rate) 16 5 (31% pass rate)
Alpine Level 4 tech 2013-14 77 20(26% pass rate) 56 16 (29% pass rate) 21 4 (19% pass rate)
Alpine level 4 tech 2014-15 100 26(26% pass rate) 80 21 (26% pass rate) 20 5 (25% pass rate)
Alpine level 3 tech 2011-12 127 53 (42% pass rate) 102 46 (45% pass rate) 25 7 (28% pass rate)
Alpine level 3 tech 2012-13 168 91 (54% pass rate) 140 76 (54% pass rate) 28 15 (54% pass rate)
Alpine level 3 tech 2013-14 178 81 (46% pass rate) 149 70 (47% pass rate) 29 11 (38% pass rate)
Alpine level 3 tech 2014-15 160 75 (47% pass rate) 121 58 (48% pass rate) 39 17 (43% pass rate)

It is great to see that there is a steady increase in the amount of people attending courses. The gap between the amount of males and females though is large and fairly unchanging. This will always be the case when the membership is split with only 1455 current up to date female members to 4663 male members.

For me, the numbers aren’t as important as treating every member equally through the system and supporting one another along the way. A female trainer shared her thoughts with me about the link between self-confidence and ability. On a recent level 2 course she ran, she noted at the welcome meeting the men were much more forthcoming about their abilities, experience and passion whereas the girls downplayed their strengths and lacked the same confidence. However, the end result was that out of 10 candidates, 3 women and 2 men passed. Many women are more than capable; we just lack the belief we can do it. With the right support, more females (and men, too!) may have the confidence to continue on from level 2 to 3 & 4.

Lesley Page, one of BASI’s female trainers running a course
Lesley Page, one of BASI’s female trainers running a course

Men have always had the freedom to play sport. It is only with the passing of time combined with the determination of women wanting to have a chance to play too, that the direction of women in sport is moving from becoming an acceptable thing for women to do, to actively encouraging them to participate, but also for their participation to be viewed equally to men.

Being a minority in the BASI system should not discourage or intimidate women going through the system or thinking of doing so, but it should be an incentive to strive forward, work and train hard to succeed. On courses, trainers often use the girls who are skiing well and ‘chicking’ the boys to motivate them instead. Anyone who is an inspiration should be acknowledged and praised for their hard work and talent. The photographs of these girls show we can and if we girls can, there is nothing stopping you boys either. This winter I have had a few female friends, and myself, who have finally completed the level 4 and I think it is great that more and more of us are making the grade and taking the plunge to get fully qualified. To those of you who are on the way up – everyone suffers set backs whether they are male or female, but I hope this is further encouragement that if you believe in yourself, you CAN do it.

One Comment

  1. Ray Keighley says:

    Great piece — lots of good points , thanks for sharing your thoughts .
    I wonder if there will come a time when all competition is divided not by gender but by size , weight , height ?? eg as in boxing where there are weight classes why not Rugby where the team combined weight decides the competition or a limited combined height for Volleyball and basketball ??

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