Skiin' with the Chicks
Story and Photos by Mitch
From left, Jen, Gwen and Julie
Okay, I guess it's not exactly the
most politically correct way to put it, but skiin' with the chicks
rules. Oh and I don't mean skiing with the occasional girlfriend
or wife, I mean skiing where you, the dude, are clearly the one
A decade ago, industry analysts
reported that 40% of telemark skiers were women. A few years
later the situation had reversed: Currently women represent at
least 60% of the total telemark skiing population in North America.
So I guess if you haven't yet skied with the chicks, it's probably
just a matter of time.
Recently I had the pleasure of tagging
along one late spring morning here at Mammoth with a particularly
interesting and fun group of telemark women. They were already
on the mountain when I arrived, but it didn't take me long to
find them. I just skied over to the bottom of the lift serving
the steepest and most challenging terrain, and I waited. I knew
that's where this group would be, and sure enough, within minutes
we had hooked up.
Julie, Gwen and Jen, or as I like
to think of them, the pilot/technician, the determined athlete,
and the girl who just wants to have fun. Each has her own style
and distinct approach to the sport, and perhaps best of all (sorry
dudes, it has to be said), they aren't my boys. This day I would
enjoy a different kind of camaraderie.
When she's not spiraling a C-130
down through a tiny strip of semi-secure airspace to a short-field
landing at some remote outpost in war-torn Afghanistan, Julie
can usually be found out on the hill, carving impossibly smooth
tele turns and charging hard.
I've skied with Julie for years
and I've always admired what I think of as her checklist-like,
technical approach to the turn.
Truly a smooth mover, Julie has
her telemark turn broken down into a sequence of moves that give
her a strong, graceful style I've seen few folks able to match.
The Determined Athlete
In a sport where few take any lessons
at all, Gwen stands apart as an expert skier who continues to
seek out high-level instruction. She's determined to take her
telemark turn as far as it can go
and as many of who have
skied with her over the years know well, that's pretty darn far.
Gwen literally attacks every run
she skies, it doesn't matter where on the hill she finds herself--
looking down a blue groomer or dropping into a steep, wind-packed
chute-- it's all the same to Gwen. Another run to be conquered
with speed, power, strength and precision.
She keeps a group moving and challenged.
The Girl Who Just Wants To Have
Years ago, back when we first met
and skied together, Jen told me she's in it for the fun. Listening
to her laugh and whoop with delight the other day reminded me
of this, as did watching her ski with so much enthusiasm.
However, don't let the laughing
and smiling fool you, this is a girl who takes her fun seriously.
At the beginning of the season Jen set a goal to ski the backcountry
40 days, the area 40 days, and to get 40 days on cross-country
gear. Interestingly, she was only working on the lift-served
days when we got together earlier this month.
Dedicated to having fun
Putting 'em all together
You would think with all their various
strivings that skiin' with the chicks might be kind of intense,
and yet that never really seems to be the case at all
there is an undercurrent of competition with these girls, as
there so often is with us boys, I have yet to feel it. It's like
skiing with your oldest of ski partners, the ones who have seen
you flail and struggle and do well too, but who just don't really
care that much anymore either way.
And then there are the lunchtime
and après ski conversations. Guess what they like to talk
about? Yeah dude, believe it or not they talk about gear, just
like us. The difference is they don't seem to internalize their
gear selections, especially their binding choices, to anywhere
near the same extent as the boys. They've got their opinions
and passions, but they seem to have a better grasp generally
of the concept that just about everything in tele is still up
for grabs, style, technique, gear, all of it. It's rather refreshing,
Still, I wonder how much my presence
affects how they relate to each other. After all, I am a dude,
with all the stereotypical baggage, and that doesn't change no
matter how much I try to stay in the background and just follow
along. This was made humorously clear to me as the girls talked
about possible things to do later that afternoon. "Well,
let's see, what is there to do in Mammoth in the spring?"
asked Gwen. Answering herself, she began to tick off the list,
"hiking, biking, fishing, shopping
" There was
the briefest of awkward moments before Gwen quickly added "for
gear of course."
We all laughed but an interesting
point had been (unintentionally) made. I'm pretty sure I won't
be receiving an invite to go shopping anytime too soon, but I
really do look forward to the next time I get to go skiin' with
From left, Gwen, Jen, and