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Whistler women raise the bar at Level 4 certification

Three female ski instructors at W-B beat out a field of roughly 35 vying for top certification

In an industry dominated by men, three female ski instructors have made their mark this season.

Tracey Dunlop, Anik Champoux and Taylor Wood, three Whistler-Blackcomb ski instructors, overcame the odds and each passed the highest qualification in their profession, Level Four with the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance. They were three of only four ski instructors out of a field of approximately 35 from western Canada to pass the entire exam, which took place in early April at Sun Peaks.

"It's definitely my biggest achievement to date and I'm so proud of myself, I have to say, and proud of my friends too!" said Wood. "It was such a great day for Whistler."

They now join the ranks of about 60 elite instructors out of more than 1,000 at Whistler-Blackcomb who have a Level Four qualification. Only 13 are women.

While it's true that in years past more Whistler students have passed the exam, never before have three Whistler women passed at once.

Their accomplishment cannot be overstated, said Otto Kamstra, one of their trainers and the general manager of the Adult Ski and Snowboard School at Whistler-Blackcomb.

"As a company, not just the ski school, but the whole company of senior managers, (they) are very proud of them as well," said Kamstra. "They understand what it takes to get it."

Hard work, years of physical training, mental preparation and lots of time on the mountains are just part of what it takes. Many fail. And they return year after year, trying again for a shot at this coveted qualification.

"It took me three years of pretty solid concentration on it," said 31-year-old Dunlop, who has been skiing since she was three.

She explained that the Level 4 exam is made up of two parts, skiing and teaching.

The skiing includes nine "ski-off" manoeuvres, such as basic parallel and short and long turns in the bumps.

On the teaching side of things, the students are required to teach their peers as well as a pedagogy component where they teach people how to teach.

But correcting top level skiers can be a difficult thing, said 27-year-old Champoux.

"You have to develop your eye to be able to analyze other Level 4 candidates skiing," she said. "That's probably the hardest part because they're skiing at your level. It's difficult to see things in their skiing."

In the exam, students can pass either the skiing or teaching components or both.

Champoux passed her teaching last year and returned this year to get her skiing certification. That took a lot of mental preparation, which was what her Whistler-Blackcomb trainers focused on to build up her confidence.

"I had failed the skiing once," said Champoux. "I was scared to go back… They (the trainers) really helped me with my confidence."

Dunlop and Taylor got their full certification on the first try.

That her two friends passed as well, was the icing on top of the cake for Champoux.

"That was the best part because we've all been skiing together and training together for years," she said.

For Taylor getting the Level 4 seemed like a long shot at times, particularly since she only started training in July.

Half way through the season she went to Kamstra, her trainer, with her doubts.

"I went to him part way through the season (and asked): can I do this? Is this possible? Is this even a reality for me?" she recalled.

"He made me believe in myself. That was an important part for me. I knew I could do it but also knowing that other people had faith that I could do it this year and in one year was great."

In an industry where only 27 per cent of the staff are women, Kamstra said he is eager to see more women advance.

"It's a huge accomplishment and for us we're very proud that three females have made it," he said.

The Level 4 certification will put them at the top of their game.

"It's becoming the best at what you can do," added Kamstra, likening the qualification to a master's or a doctorate in other fields.

As "the ultimate coach," Kamstra said the women understand how people learn, they understand the science behind skiing and they can simplify it and pass it on to upcoming instructors.

And for Dunlop, Wood and Champoux, who have all been skiing since they were just young kids, the qualification solidifies a job in a profession they all love, if they so choose.