A few good women 

How a lack of women at senior levels of ski instructing impacts the sport

"There’s no women at the top. Let’s be honest."

Caroline L’Heureux states it baldly. The farther up the ranks of the ski industry you go, the fewer women there are.

Her colleague, Natalie Morel, puts it just as plainly. "It’s a man’s world," she says.

Both women are emerging leaders in the industry, or at least they would be, if they were men. Both have at least 10 years instructing experience, have been part of the Whistler-Blackcomb Women’s Ambassador team. Morel, a supervisor in the adult ski school, and women’s gear representative for Head Canada, has a shot at being part of the 2007 Interski team. L’Heureux is part-way through attaining her Level 4 and works as the right-hand woman for the Adult Ski School’s general manager. University educated, bilingual, athletic, personable: in any other field, these women would be natural leaders. But this is skiing – the last bastion of the boys club. "You’re out there with mostly men," says Morel. "The subjects of conversation are pretty chauvinistic. You have to be a pretty strong woman to make it through. You really have to work hard." The bottom line is, skiing is an elite sport that is still dominated by white men.

The elitism has been recognized as one reason the sport is in decline. Snowboarding’s explosive growth owes something to the reaction against that. The pundits recommend finding new markets – target gays, minorities, teenagers, in order to maintain some growth. The Canada Ski Council hosted a State of the Industry Workshop in Toronto in July, and projected that our current annual "19.1 million skier/rider visits will drop to 15.5 million by 2018/2019 if interventions are not taken to retain the Baby Boomers and focus on the strong ethnic mix of Generation Y (13-19 year olds)."

And now, with Whistler-Blackcomb presenting Women’s Week this week, another special interest group is being singled out.

"It’s kind of like Altitude," says VP of Business Development, Rob McSkimming, of the Women’s Week, implicitly acknowledging how marginalized the fairer sex is in the ski world. McSkimming says the women-centred focus was inspired by the vibe in Whistler after the Fairmont Chateau’s Mallard Lounge hosted a screening party of The Bachelor in the fall. He noticed the female staff in his office were totally amped up the next day after an injection of girls’ solidarity and socializing, and took note.

Too often, girls in Whistler, particularly those involved with the ski school, find themselves one of a handful of females amongst large circles of lads – the garnish on the platter of a giant sausage-fest. The numbers confirm the impression: in Base pod, the mountain’s Learn to Ski program, there are only 10 women in a staff of 80. Morel, who co-supervises the pod says, "There are very few women compared to men as instructors. Every time we get a female resume, we’re like, yeah, we’ll take her, we’ll take that person right away." In the offices of the Adult Ski School, Morel is one of only two women who work as supervisors or managers, holding up half the sky alongside her 17 Y-chromosomed counterparts. An early season training update for the most senior instructors in the Alliance saw only two women amongst 60 Level 4 instructors. A mere three women have been recognized out of the 31 inductees to the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance Hall of Fame.

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