Girls who shred POWDER in Jackson Hole- and there are a lot of them- are breaking through the ski lodge ceiling. With more visibility in film, competition, and business, they are poised to bring more heart and soul to a sport that has been dominated by boys since it was created.
The most obvious example is freeskiing champion Lynsey Dyer’s Pretty Faces, the first all girls ski film, which debuted this fall. Dyer’s crowd-sourced approach, from fundraising on Kickstarter to accepting footage from more than 100 women skiing all over the world, allowed girls to flex their muscles in film like never before. Highlights include an all girls trip to Alaska, women in the park and pipe, and extreme snowmobiling. There’s also a big nod to the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort: sponsored footage of skiers from A.J. Cargill, the first Jackson woman to win the Freeskiing World Tour in 1997, to Hadley Hammer, one of the favorites to win this year. Since 2005, Jackson women have been in the top 10 on the World Freeskiing Tour at least eight times.
“Media tends to portray females in one of two categories: sex symbols to sell stuff or having to compete directly with the guys,” Dyer said. “We are dynamic … I’m excited to share all of what we are.” “Lynsey paved the way so we can open it up,” said Crystal Wright, freeskiing champion and founder of the Babe Force, a nonprofit organization that is designed to mentor girls on how to overcome challenges on and off the slopes.
“I saw more women skiing on the Babe Force ski days for Pretty Faces in Jackson than I ever have.” Skiing with Wright was a bit intimidating that day. I faceplanted down Thunder bumps amidst about 75 ripping girls. Thank God I tucked my ski instructor shell under my puffy coat so I didn’t have to buy them all drinks.
“You become a good skier in this town because of the terrain,” Wright said. “The progression happens so much quicker.” Wright started the Babe Force two years ago in response to the male-dominated Jackson Hole Air Force, an underground club of extreme skiers who earn their patches. She has given out 10 Babe Force patches so far, including one to her old nemesis in competition Jess McMillan.
“It took girls a long time to say we don’t need boys to ski with,” said McMillan, who was three years ahead of Wright at Jackson Hole High School. It used to be that a sponsor would pay $10,000 for her to be the lone girl with a four-minute segment in a film. “Every time we had one token spot,” she said. “Now that’s changed. (Warren Miller) took an all girls crew to ski the Sphynx (in Cordova, Alaska). It’s awesome to live that transition, take a step back and say, that’s sick.” Women were featured in more than half of the segments in Warren Miller’s latest film, No Turning Back, with McMillan and Jackson snowboarder Rob Kingwill. In addition to the Cordova coup, the girls led the boys as they climbed icy peaks in Norway, rappelled in Chamonix, and tore up the backcountry in Montana.
Even Teton Gravity Research, which McMillan describes as coming from the “hardcore ski porn culture,” opened this year’s annual film with Angel Collinson shredding the mountains of Haines, Alaska. TGR also showed a new level of humility by turning away from peaks in its second film, a retrospective of Jeremy Jones, one of the three brothers who founded the local film company.
“For them to open up with a segment by Angel where the guys were so supportive showed a different shift in TGR,” she said.
With both female and male skiers telling the stories of how they have overcome their fears, this year’s ski films reveal a softer side to skiing — a love story that is not about a boy and a girl but about their relationship to the mountain.
Mentoring the Next Generation of Champions Hadley Hammer, 27, has a deep respect for Jackson Hole, the hometown resort her
father helped build, and the girls who ski here. When she is not training with her brother Max Hammer, a former US Ski Team member and current coach for the Jackson Hole Ski & Snowboard Club, she loves to find fresh lines with friends like 2004 Nationals Freeskiing Champion Jess Baker.
“Jess was with me at the top of that huge air in Pretty Faces,” she said. “I ski with almost all girls all the time,” Hammer said. “There are so many girls who have paved the way. There is a great mentoring program. That’s what’s cool about Jackson. You always know you are going to have a huge support system.”
Between the mentoring and terrain – from pillowy chutes to tight trees and big air – it is the perfect place to prepare for the Freeskiing Champs which will be held all over Europe this year, she said. “The pipeline of Jackson girls who are taking titles at national tournaments is impressive,” she said. “Even the judges are like, there goes another Jackson girl.”
The future looks white for girls like Elsa Smith who at age 16 is the youngest member of the Babe Force and the oldest girl on the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club’s freeride program. But even she grew up skiing with boys. She is stoked to see more 12 and 13 year old girls in the program than ever.
“I really do think the mindset of a girl is different,” she says. “Girls are more aware of what they are doing. Everything in skiing is about self-empowerment.”
“It’s a different kind of competitiveness skiing with girls. If she can do it, that’s super cool. So can I. It’s constructive competitiveness.” McMillan agrees: “Ninety nine percent of skiing is mental. Women like to feel safe. Men have more of a fight or flight response. There’s a lot more communication among women. It’s not an insecurity. We want to verbalize it.”
The Business of Staying in Jackson Hole The gift of growing up in Jackson has been priceless to these skier
girls. But years of serving coffee, working at hotels, waiting tables and washing windows to pay for their passes has made them hungry to apply their lessons in skiing to the business world so that they can raise their kids here.
“Growing up in Jackson isn’t the same culture as a city,” McMillan says. “As opposed to going to malls
and concerts, we went swimming in natural lakes. That was childhood.” “It’s an amazing bubble. That’s why I moved back here.”
She added that there is an energy that is so strong and powerful in the Tetons that people who come to visit say they feel it in her house in Kelly. After working for a few years as a pilates instructor, McMillan recently decided to break out on her own and start an adventure ski travel company with her husband Eric Seymour. This spring they will lead trips to Iceland
Alexandra Meiners, another one of McMillan’s childhood Jackson Hole ski buddies, just took over her late father’s heli skiing operation, Alaska Rendezvous, in Valdez, Alaska. And last year, Wright opened Wright Training, a gym south of town which offers personal training and group ski fitness classes.
For Wright, who just got married this year, giving back to her community is also an essential part of staying
in Jackson Hole. She hopes to start a scholarship program through the Babe Force for girls who can’t afford to go to a competition or reach for their goals. While she said the Babe Force has a more local focus and a broader target audience than Dyer’s nonprofit SheJumps, their goals are similar: for professional athletes to motivate girls of all ages to jump in
and reach their potential. Dyer, who has sold out every screening of Pretty Faces at ski towns this fall, is stoked to spread that message.
“My goal was to find a way to take the metaphor of the mountains, and reaching impossible goals to go beyond skiing so that girls even never exposed to the mountains could feel like they belonged … I wanted to inspire them to get outside … I’m still workin’ on it!”
About the Author
Julie is a freelance journalist who loves to connect community, explore in nature and share ideas with TedX Jackson Hole. When she is not writing, you can find her on her yoga mat, teaching people how to turn with breath on the ski slopes or chasing her two kids around town. She grew up in Rochester, NY, and went to school and worked in Boston, Chicago and New York before finding her place here in the Tetons
Images courtesy of Jackson Hole Moutain Resort