Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Do women learn to ski differently than men? A
raft of new single-sex programs aims to prove they do.
Jayme Moye takes to the
slopes with an all-female class to find for herself.
Standing at the top of a black-diamond mogul ski run at
11,775 feet in Aspen Snowmass, I waited for the buzzkiller inside my head to
decree, "You can't do this." Or at least, "You shouldn't do this." I'm only an
intermediate-level skier, after all, and this was advanced terrain in the
Rocky Mountains.
The last time I ahd attempted a run like this—a couple of
seasons earlier, with a male friend—I had ended up taking off my skis and
walking.
There are only so many hard falls a woman pushing 40 can, or should,
sustain on what's supposed to be a vacation.
This time, though, my inner naysayer was silent.
The only sounds were the
soft whoosh of wind in the boughs of snow-covered pines and the snippets of
conversation carried on the crisp mountain air from a nearby chairlift.
And
then the voice of my instructor, Susan Lee, saying, "You've got this."
Hell, maybe I do, I thought.
The way Susan put it, my classmates—Gigi, 56,
from New York, and Nicole, 37, from Ohio—and I just needed to link three
turns, then stop and regroup.
Three turns, three moguls, 30 seconds of my
life.
Suddenly it didn't seem so bad.
So it goes with the Women's Edge program, a four-day intensive ski course
for women, taught by women, offered by Aspen Snowmass from January to
mid-March.
The instruction style is based on the premise that women often
prefer to learn in a fun, noncompetitive environment.
Skiers who've
experienced single-sex training say they had previously underestimated their
skills on the slopes, mostly because they compared themselves with men (who,
due to body chemistry and physiology, are generally stronger, faster, and more
apt to take risks).
Removing men from the equation gives women a different
baseline to measure their skills against—a "truing up" that can
instantly boost their confidence.
Not only does the all-female experience elevate your skiing, it also helps
foster friendship with a group of similarly single-minded women.
What it
doesn't offer: spa treatments, shopping, or other stereotypically female
pursuits.
Nor is it a "learn to ski" program.
Participants in Women's
Edge are mostly intermediate to advanced skiers, fit enough to spend multiple
full-day sessions on the slopes.
Back on the black run, Susan led and we followed.
I did my best to retrace
the graceful line she wove between mounds of snow the size of Volkswagen
Beetles.
"Dive down the mogul," she called over her shoulder, referring to
a body alignment technique we'd practiced earlier, on less threatening
terrain.
I grimaced and dived, struggling to control my speed by making
smooth, round turns before skidding to a stop beside Susan.
Three turns down,
about 30 more to go.
Before I'd had the chance to look up, we'd reached the end of the
run.
Susan held up her pole so Gigi, Nicole, and I could clank it in a
skier's high five.
As we stood, beaming, triumphant, and gasping for air, it
was hard to believe I had met these women only yesterday.
"Women's Edge is not about coddling women; it's about empowering them
to be the best skiers they can be," said Barb Hurwitz, the coordinator of
Aspen's Women's Ski Programs, over an après-ski drink at the Limelight
Hotel later that day.
The term edge refers to finding your limit on the
mountain, then pushing past it.
The staff, picked from applicants from around
the world, are among the strongest skiers in the industry, each a level-three
certified ski instructor or higher.
Jessica Sample
Aspen isn't the only destination offering serious women-only ski
programs.
Though the concept has been around for two decades or more, in the
past five years, almost all the major resorts in the U.S., and several in
British Columbia, have embraced the trend.
Offerings during last year's
season ranged from specialized camps focused on skiing extreme terrain in
Washington to weekend retreats honing skills with an Olympic- gold-medalist
skier in Vermont.
Demand is high—which Aspen attributes to the fact that female skiers
direct their competitive instincts toward self-improvement, rather than
pitting themselves against their peers.
"Women aspire to do more on the
mountain, in the same way men do," Barb said.
"We just go about it in a
different way." I absolutely wanted to do more on the mountain.
A
Colorado resident for 16 years, I had taken up skiing five years earlier and
felt stuck at the intermediate level, lacking both the skills and the
confidence to handle steeps and bumps.
But I wasn't sold on the idea that
women execute skiing skills differently than men.
In my experience, when you
lose control and face-plant into an icy mogul, the mountain doesn't care
whether you're a man or a woman.
I was put with Gigi and Nicole because we all aspired to become more
confident skiers—though they displayed far less skepticism about the
women-only approach than I did.
In total, there were 10 of us participating in
Women's Edge, broken out into four groups, each with a dedicated ski
pro.
Small group size is one of the hallmarks of women-only skiing, no matter
which resort you're at, as it allows for individualized attention (something
the teachers say women often fail to insist on in the context of a larger,
mixed group).
As a group of four, we were a natural fit for both the
two-person and four-person chairlifts, and it felt like being on the slopes
with a group of girlfriends— something I realized I'd never done.
I found out a lot about my team- mates while sitting on those
chairlifts.
Both Gigi and Nicole were Women's Edge repeats, although they
hadn't met before.
They return each year for an intense dose of skiing with
other athletic, goal-focused women.
Both were married, but Nicole's husband
didn't ski, and Gigi disliked skiing with her family because she always felt
like she was slowing them down.
We discussed the merits of women-only instruction during one such
ride.
Susan admitted that the mechanics of skiing don't vary much between a
man and a woman, but in her experience, learning style does.
"Women are more
inclined to pay attention to details, to slow down, do things on easier
terrain to gain confidence before going straight to harder terrain," she
says.
A light snow began to fall, dusting us and the slope below with a fresh coat
of powder.
I considered Susan's point.
Up until then I had mostly skied with
my boyfriend, and had always felt timid in comparison.
I took longer to warm
up, and navigated tough terrain much more slowly.
But with my Women's Edge
group, I was the hard-charger of the group, preferring to be first in line
after Susan down the mountain, and skiing faster than the others.
In a group
of women, I felt much more like myself.
The power of engaging with the mountain on my own terms crystallized on the
last day.
My classmates and I rolled into a warm-up run with a gradual start,
and I was raring to go.
I turned around to see if the others were close behind
me, but instead of craning my neck, I let my entire body spin 180
degrees—something I've seen my boyfriend do when looking back for
me.
I'd never had the guts to try it myself.
Or maybe it's more that I'd
never had the opportunity, because he was always in front.

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