Freeskiing’s Women to Watch by Lisa Richardson

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A nice article about us freeskiing girls by Lisa Richardson for the International Freeski Film Festival blog and magazine.

Sarah Burke @ Nine Queens, Photo: Felix Rioux

Freeskiing’s Women to Watch

By Lisa Richardson, SBC Skier Magazine, Origin Design + Communications

Storming out of the powder room and into the pow and park

Three things happened in the last decade that turned the tide for women’s freeskiing. Social media. The International Olympic Committee finally getting wise to the star power of slopestyle and halfpipe. And Sarah Burke.

It’s not unknown that Sarah Burke trail-blazed a path for freeskiers. The halfpipe icon led the fight for women to compete in the X Games, lobbied for equal prize money, and landed tricks before any one else did. Throughout her career, Burke made history, and everyone agreed that there wasn’t a more lovable warrior to have storming the ramparts. Canadian halfpipe team-mate Megan Gunning recollects, “She was the biggest fan and cheerleader of every girl doing their thing on snow. And she always told you when she liked what you were doing. She was a beautiful person inside and out and a beautiful skier.”

Social media, according to pro skier and coach with Girls Day Out freeski clinics Izzy Lynch, has changed the game again. Instead of female athletes relying on editors, photographers, and brands to give them a little share of the air, they’re instagramming, tweeting, blogging, and facebooking their stories, thus giving readers, fans, and girls all around the world front row seats for their adventures.

This means a girl doesn’t have to throw a double backflip to become a phenomenon. That being said, it certainly helps. 20 year old freeskier Tatum Monod proved just that this winter when an Orage video of her as the first female to stomp a double backflip in the backcountry made the rounds.

Social networking sites (especially Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram), get 99 million more visits a month from female users. Pro skier Leah Evans started Girls Do Ski and the Girls Day Out clinics to move that feeling of community onto the hill. “I’m fascinated by the idea of holding space,” she says, “and that means making space for other girls in the sport.  That creates a transformational lift. As an athlete, your competitors aren’t your enemy – they’re your allies because they help you reach your potential. There are so few opportunities for girls in freeskiing and that can cause you to see other girls as your enemies, but if you raise the bar for everyone, and get more girls involved, we all lift up.”

With the Canadian National Slopestyle and Halfpipe teams headed to Sochi 2014, stacked with a crew of golden girls including slopestyle champ Kaya Turski, halfpipe World Champ Roz Groenewoud and up-and-comers Megan Gunning and Dania Assaly, the tide is about to rise.

Into the pow

Big mountain skiers, Ingrid Backstrom and Tatum Monod, sound off on why skiing is not a competition but a way of life.  

Big mountain skiing is never going to be an Olympic sport. Former ski racer and emerging big mountain freeskier Tatum Monod, 20, is okay with that. “The Olympics would be a huge achievement. Anyone would be proud to compete for their country. But an Olympic Game is only a snapshot in time, not a body of work. Competition isn’t the only way to measure success. For me, skiing isn’t about who can win the most medals. It’s about freedom. And the adventures you experience along the way. Skiing is my life. It doesn’t need to be defined into an event.”

But mastery of any discipline means logging at least 10,000 hours. Says Monod, “It takes thousands of hours to be solid in big, steep no-fall zones. The level of dedication is no different in slopestyle or pipe skiing.”

The demand to specialize, in order to achieve a professional level of performance, has meant that skiers tend to divide into big mountain skiers or park skiers. One path leads to heli-time, ridgelines and film segments. The other to X Games, World Cups and now, the Olympics.

It was success in a freeskiing contest that turned Ingrid Backstrom from a “just-for-one-season-ski-bum” into a professional slopemaster, but the real turning point came when she was invited to film with Matchstick Productions and to join The North Face team. “They happened almost simultaneously,” says Backstrom, “and led to some of the most amazing opportunities and experiences I could have ever hoped for.”

Backstrom, now 34, is the Powder Awards’ winningest female athlete, taking “best female performance” five times over the past seven years, including in 2012 for Matchstick Productions’ Attack of La Nina and Sherpas Cinema’s All.I.Can.

Although a small part of her envies the slopestyle skiers and their shot at the Games, Backstrom is stoked to stand where she does. “For sure, there’s a part of me that wishes I could ski in the Olympics. I think every kid who grows up doing any sports has that as a mini-dream somewhere in their head. And I’d love to have a coach! I have my own strange little type of training – some dryland training and lots of skiing laps to get my ski legs.  It’s not a perfect method, and I would love to have more of a team. But I have been incredibly lucky to have skiing be my job and my life so I just feel happy that different types of skiing will now be in the Olympics. Hopefully that will lead to more people taking up skiing in general.”

Into the pipe and park

Canadian Olympic hopefuls, Kaya Turski and Megan Gunning, contend that, despite the threat of random urine testing, they’re still free.

Kaya Turski, Photo: Ben Bishop
Kaya Turski, Photo: Ben Bishop
Megan Gunning

In her heart, national halfpipe athlete Megan Gunning is a freeskier. “My preferred style of skiing is big mountain,” says the 20 year old. As a teen, she skied Lake Louise with a team called the Rocky Mountain Freeriders, made up of her brother and his friends. “I did lots of big mountain contests and loved every minute of it. But my specialty is pipe.”

When she was 13, Gunning signed up for a pipe contest. She won it. Four years later, she nabbed second places in the World Cup in Park City and the World Championships in Japan, and secured herself a spot in the X Games Superpipe in 2010, where she won silver again.

Since winning her first X Games gold in 2010, Turski, a Montreal girl who now winters in Mammoth, has held the number one spot for women’s slopestyle and is headed to Sochi 2014 as part of the debut National Slopestyle Team.

“Being part of the national team definitely helps us athletes out,” says Turski. “The support, from medical staff to coaching, will help more athletes become involved in the sport. But slopestyle and halfpipe are very unique. Our community wants to keep it that way, and not be ruled or overtaken by organizations like FIS and IOC, or defined by them. We have a strong community that will fight to keep its spirit.”

Gunning, who says that after Sarah Burke, Kaya is the second biggest influence on women’s skiing right now, agrees. “Whether you are hitting jumps, riding pipe or shredding pow, the feeling is free.  Skiing is freedom. Freedom to express yourself and be creative on snow. No organization can take that away. Not unless you let them.”

Join the women of freeskiing on Saturday September 15th at the Monument National for the iF3 All-Girls movie screening. Following the movie screening there will be a special all girls movie autograph session across the street in the iF3 Outdoor Village

Lisa Richardson Bio: A girl who skis, Lisa Richardson works at Origin Design and Communications , a marketing agency run by Danielle Kristmanson and MJ Legault, who are daily evidence that women can be just as, if not more, passionate about mountain culture, shredding, mountain biking and skiing, as the dudes. Amongst their other projects for Whistler Blackcomb, Jay Peak and Sun Valley, Origin is working with the Canadian Ski Council on a project to grow the sport by encouraging more she-skiers.

Also check out Lisa Richardson’s blog post about the iF3 Girls! Here!