oh! so sparkly!
This weekend I attended the FWQ 2* event in Kappl, a stop of the Austrian "Open Faces" contest series. It was a beatutiful, sunny day, the snow was okay in places and great in others and I generally had a lot of fun during the competition and skiing with friends afterwards. The event had been postponed several times because of snow and weather conditions and a lot of the initially registered riders cancelled, so that only 7 female skiers and 6 female boarders were left.
While some of the regulars were in attendance, there were also some girls I did not recognize and many who, like me, occasionally ski contests because it's fun, as opposed to because they have serious ambitions about getting into the world tour. The general vibe among the girls I talked to was happy and energetic. Some were pleased with their runs, others fell or lost their line, but by and large everyone was stoked to be out riding on a nice day with like minded people.
|Pick an event.|
I missed my line, jumped something that showed up along the way and then skied down in a non-spectacular manner, placing 4th. If I feel like I tried something fun in a contest, while not fucking up in a dangerous manner, I tend to be happy with myself, regardless of results. This was the case here, and I also felt like the judging was fair.
And yet, when I think back on Kappl, I am still annoyed.
At the competitions there is usually a guy with a microphone in the finish area who attempts to entertain whoever is watching by talking about the runs of the riders coming down. They typically explain what people are doing, cheer them on and even occasionally shut up.
During the competition in Kappl the microphone guy did the same, minus the shutting up bit and plus repeatedly announcing how bored he was by the performance of the women and that the men would prove far more entertaining (the women started first).
At the prize giving the organizers and the microphone guy again repeatedly talked about what a great level of riding the men had shown and how lame the women had been (with the exception of the indeed ecxeptionally strong winning female skier).
The female snowboarder who placed third in her category was announced with the comment: "this girl got 40 points, oh, well, that's pretty bad! Guess we wont say that too loudly..... Please cheer for her anyway!" The girl in question rode by far the most aggressive, risky line of all female snowboarders and botched a landing. Had she stomped everything clean this would have been a World Tour level run. At any other contest she would have gotten nothing but respect for trying something cool, regardless of the outcome.
I certainly agree that the level of riding that the men are showing at even the smaller qualifier events is far higher than what the women are doing, it's obvious to anyone with eyes. I also agree that the women have the potential to ski faster and more aggressively, and could be hitting more and bigger cliffs.
I do not want to be told that we are better than we are, but I do believe that essentially telling someone they suck is not a very effective way of encouraging them to do better. I am not arguing the validity of the message, but I hate how it's delivered sometimes, by some people.
Instead of saying: "The winner was pretty good but generally the girls should be ashamed of themselves for being so terrible. And now on to the most important category: Ski Men!"
How about saying: "It's great that you all showed up (particularly seeing as most people didn't because they had more important events going on) and tried your best! We hope you had fun! The winner showed us what's possible and we hope she sets an example for the other girls and inspires them to push themselves more."
The message is the same, yet one version may leave even people who made the podium feeling bummed about an otherwise great day, while the other one is respectful and encouraging. Patronizing, casually sexist comments like what we got this weekend, and a few times before at Open Faces events, are not neccessary to make the point they try to convey (in fact they are never neccessary). I'm not sure if this kind of talk is an attempt at humour, but if so it's not working.
The simplest, most surefire way to raise the womens' level of riding is to get more women to actually take part in the competitions. Bear in mind that this is a low-level event, meant in part to give people with little or no previous contest experience a chance to win some points and try their hand at competing. If everyone invloved has an inclusive, positive attitude, perhaps over time more women will start competing. If, on the other hand, people behave in a dickish manner, women will not come back based on their bad first impression. The more experienced competitors who understand where they stand with their riding and systematically attend comps to collect points probably wont mind dumb comments as much. The ones that thought competing might be fun and are not sure how their skills compare to those of others may actually believe it when you tell them they were aweful.
Lorenzo and Marius enjoy a walk in the sun. For some unfathomable reason they do not seem to care about competitive freeriding.
In my group of friends there is at least one very strong female rider who decided competitions were not for her after receiving some disparaging comments at an Open Faces event. If you truly can't say anything nice (neutral would be fine), saying nothing would be preferable to putting down the women every chance you get. It serves no purpose and outside of the Open Faces nobody does it.
I have always felt kind of conflicted about all-female ski movie productions, or the image of "rad yet feminine skier-girl" that many professional and semi-professional female riders seem to actively portray, or really anything ski related that is gender specific, mainly because I think of myself as a skier, not a skier-girl. In consequence, and because I manage to co-exist fantastically with my male riding partners, the neccessity for all-female anything in the context of skiing sometimes escapes me. Perhaps I should rethink my stance on that. I also felt conflicted about whether or not I should be writing this bitchy rant because I usually ignore any mountain machismo I encounter, either because I don't mind or because I don't want to come across as bitchy, but in this case my inner angry feminist won.
I think it's great that the Open Faces brought more comps to Austria and that they are trying to promote the sport in the land of groomers and gates. I wish them success. I think they could be just as successful (perhaps even more so) if they took a few pointers from long-standing, tried and proven events in other places (for me most recently the Engadin Snow and the Verbier Freeride Week), in terms of how to create a pleasant, easy-going atmosphere for the riders.
I know it's customary to fall into lockstep in the way we do not voice opinions where anyone could hear and instead virtually fellate anything that looks like it might be part of the freeride industrial complex on blogs and social media. (Just like we all wear our beanies with just the right amout of sag!) But I figured, you know, fuck it.
This is me in my happy place.
To all the ripping ladies who made my day in Kappl: Thanks for the company, you rock. And congrats again to Kathl, she had that win coming.
I also enjoy the company of Lorenzo and Marius, even though they are not ripping ladies.
Side note: We got an epic goodie bag with some dated magazines, one of which included a long feature story on Marcel Hirscher and a poster of him posing shirtless and wet. I gave mine to Marius because I know he is a big fan of Marcel. (HINT: most riders prefer lunch vouchers and lift tickets, which are usually given out at other events.)