Words by Kaya Turski
This is an article on my own view on what’s been represented in the ESPN article presenting the results of a survey conducted of the best male and female skiers and snowboarders on the planet. Sorry for the length but it’s something I feel very strongly about and want to share with everyone.
The survey brings up a lot of interesting points that I feel are important to address and discuss. For as long as I’ve been involved in the sport since 2006, I feel that women have been constantly fighting for our own legitimate place in this male dominated industry. It’s been an ongoing battle of trying to prove ourselves to numerous critics; by now, and on tiringly all too many occasions, I’ve read demeaning and negative comments, such as “Girls suck” or “Why aren’t girls doing the same tricks as guys?”
These types of questions – and especially the ones that are obviously offensive - reveal a chauvinistic attitude towards women freestylers, double standards when one looks at judging in other sports (why is it that no one ever complains why women figure skaters don’t land quadruple jumps, or why men gymnasts perform superior and more daring acrobatics), and a naive lack of understanding what is involved in our sport. Still, for the sake of argument I will assume it is a valid question and try to examine the factors I believe provide at least a partial answer to it.
First, the men’s field is exponentially greater than the women’s. It is only natural that with fewer participants in the sport the progression is not as quick, because it is easier to compete against dozens or hundreds, instead of thousands, or tens of thousands. Secondly, I believe women have not had the same opportunities to train and progress safely. Sure, we have the opportunities to train in the same parks and on the same courses as the men. However, because of the women’s rate of progression being lower than that of the men’s, we have had to keep up with courses that are built to adhere to the men’s tricks, i.e. double flips, big rotations, and not necessarily for us women, and that makes it harder to progress (68% of women said they would throw bigger and harder tricks on smaller jumps).
Assume, again for argument’s sake, that women are 5 years behind the men. Looking back, men were not competing on jumps the size and with the transition of the kickers being built today. It says something when I’m at the top of the Grand Prix course in mid March and look around to see but one or two of the regular competitors in my field – the rest being out due to some injury or another. Considering the fact that by the end of season, up to half the field of the top women in the sport are out due to injury, this significantly adds to the slower rate of progression.
There are several questions I’ve asked myself.
Do women really show their true potential on the same course?
My number one priority is to perform at the highest level possible and to showcase my talents and abilities to the fullest. I have only my experience from the past to try and help answer this question. Personally, I would be more confident throwing my hardest tricks if I didn’t think that if I came short, or went a little too big, I might explode from the impact. I would prefer to see a nice cork 900 on a 50-60 foot table than a 360 or 540 on something 30 feet bigger. I also believe that if we are seeing straight airs and half cabs in finals runs (top 10 in a field), that shows that the jumps are not in most women’s comfort zone. That is when it becomes ridiculous. Yes, there are girls who can throw good tricks on big kickers. Hell, I’m one of them. But how many of us really are there, and how many of us get wrecked trying to do these harder tricks on bigger jumps? The injury stats are there. This begs the question: does hitting bigger jumps support the progression of women’s skiing and snowboarding, or does it hinder it with the amount of injuries sustained trying to keep up on these courses?
Spencer Obrien brings up a strong point that I agree with; this year’s women’s competition scene flourished and we definitely increased our level to new heights. However, thinking of the past 4 or 5 years I’ve competed, I can’t help but ask myself whether that is because we were in a sense “more lucky” to have better courses and weather this year, or whether we’ve finally adapted to the courses like Spencer stated. Considering half of my competitors in the slopestyle field were out this season due to ACL injuries, I am not sure whether the latter is accurate. And I also have to wonder how much more would our sport have progressed if we didn’t have nearly as many injuries?
This bring up another question: What do you consider progression? If progression to you means that we’re capable of hitting 80+ foot kickers, then maybe we are on the right track. However, to me, it means we’re throwing down stylish, clean, bigger and harder rotations, which I have personally witnessed at events such as 9 Queens, where everyone is comfortable on a 50-60 foot jump. I haven’t seen that at most competitions. Why is that?
One may argue that we are limiting younger generations from hitting jumps as big as the men’s. The great thing is, no one is limiting anybody. Nor are we stopping anybody from competing against the men. There is a difference between having the option to put yourself on a course that is more dangerous and that is too big for the vast majority in the sport on the women’s side, and being forced to. We can progress in and out of competition. Women like Kimmy Fasani and Marie-France Roy have in their own regard changed and progressed their sport outside of competition.
Next, why is the women’s injury rate so much higher?
Physiology and physics play a major role in this. Women are just not built as strong as men. This isn’t an excuse, it’s fact. If a woman comes up short on a big jump, chances are the impact and injuries will be a lot more significant than those of a man. We are also not as heavy, so our speed is often more compromised by different weather conditions. I’ve been disappointed several times in the past when, no matter how fast my skis were, how tucked in I was, there was no way for me to clear the jump. Really, what kind of competition is that? It should never be about who’s the heaviest, has the longest or best equipment, or who has the best tech around. I agree that men face similar situations, but more often than not they can deal with the issue and we simply cannot due to the reasons mentioned. To me, this indicates a problem with a few solutions such as (but not limited to): weather days, so athletes are not forced to compete in unfavourable or dangerous weather conditions; or more conservative course, where jumps are always clearable no matter what the weather conditions are. Such measures would help the whole field. Considering the results from the survey showing that the majority of men would like a larger course and the opposite for women, a medium between the two might not be the most desirable solution/outcome. In short, the idea of separate courses for women and men deserves serious consideration .
Why don’t we want smaller jumps (or at least, why are we not publicly talking about it)? Yes, some women are thriving on bigger courses and thus don’t want any changes. But why is it that, after so many injuries to our bodies and everyone around us, we women still want to hit the biggest jumps that I’ve often seen severely intimidate many competitors, including myself? What do we have to prove? And why do we have to prove it? Haven’t we shown that we’re hard working, tough athletes. Is throwing ourselves off 65 foot jumps not enough? As mentioned earlier, women have often been the subject of much critique from our counterparts in the freestyle world. This has always boggled my mind; why our fellow freeskiers and snowboarders can’t simply unite and support each other, no matter their level? Naturally, under the spotlight of critique, we feel as though we have something to prove…..And for the record, my fellow competitors are some of the hardest working people I’ve met, and mentally stronger than many out there (having come back from one, two, or even three ACL surgeries). I don’t think that should ever go unnoticed.
Our sport is indeed progressing and it’s amazing to be part of that. However, the rate of injuries is astounding and this says plenty. As extreme sport athletes, there comes the desire to push the envelope. But with second thoughts am inclined to say that there is an unhealthy balance between the amount of risk and injury in the sport versus the amount of progression achieved in it. How many injuries is too many injuries, and where do we draw the line? I have been fortunate in my career to have learned a lot from my experiences. One pancreatic surgery, 2 ACL reconstructions, and several shoulder dislocations later I am a better and smarter skier for it. I am also fortunate to be in a position where I am comfortable picking my battles, but not all of us can afford that luxury. And it should not take such significant injuries to learn that, well, sometimes it’s better to stick to the smaller and safer rotations than to huck and get severely injured.
How do we differ from women in other sports?
It’s clear that most sports in the world have a division for women and for men. It’s true that women are making less in other sports, have less coverage, etc. However, the unfortunate reality is that we female skiers and snowboarders, who compete on the same courses, still do not make as much money as the men. We also don’t get as much coverage. But with more people involved in the sport comes more exposure and sponsorship money, and that will come when there are more opportunities for girls to partake in these events. And I don’t mean the opportunity to sign up and show up at the events, but rather the concrete opportunity to ski down a course, have fun and show our true talents without being scared to death.
I don’t think it helps the sport in any way when, during an open with say, 50 female skiers registered, there are 25 who actually end up competing, and only 12 who actually get through the entire course. The sport does not grow and thrive in an environment where only the top 5 girls in the world can not only get through the course, but make it look good. There aren’t 40 girls in the world who can challenge these top women, and that simply hinders our progression. That results in less sponsorship money, which in turn limits exposure, which in turn promotes the sport less and keeps girls from joining our sport and adding to the progression. We are in a cycle that we need to break through.
Now, the big question: How can we solve this problem?
I understand it’s a lot more expensive to built two separate courses. I can also see why having two separate kickers is not an appealing solution to many. However, I believe the survey results need to be considered. We need to ask ourselves why, when approximately 90 skiers and snowboarders were surveyed anonymously (with fully half being girls), there is a clear majority consensus that women want jumps that are 10 to 15 feet smaller. This is not something that has been fabricated, but true fact.
To me, the ideal solution would be two separate courses. At events as big as the Olympics, this is possible. With girls protesting that they want to jump the bigger jumps and not the “small side” simply because it is the smaller side, and with TV producers complaining that it doesn’t make the event look as spectacular, two separate courses could be a great solution. I don’t see it unrealistic to build a course for men, have them practice and compete in 3 or 4 days, and then push the takeoffs 10-15 feet overnight for hosting the girls’ competition. This isn’t making the competition easier for us, but rather provides us with more opportunities to showcase our abilities and to put on the best show possible. As for events like X-Games and Dew Tour, this may prove to be more difficult. I am not claiming to have the ideal solution, but I think it is first important to accept the facts and recognize what may be hindering our ultimate goals, and that it’s time to brainstorm.