Spread the Shred

By Erin Piercy

As a lover of mountains, the great outdoors, and winter (well, sometimes), it’s only natural that I am drawn to winter action sports. Skiing has been a huge part of my life, as my parents, aunts, and brothers all have a passion for pow. I remember the first time I ever tried skiing, I went down the Bunny Hill at Crabbe a handful of times, then demanded to try the King’s Horn. I was fearless as a little girl, and felt entitled to do everything my older brothers did in the athletic world, but I felt reservations as I grew older when I wanted to try the rails and the jumps with my brothers and there weren’t any other girls out there with them.

Winter action sports include ski and snowboard Big Air, Slopestyle, and Superpipe, among others. Although these sports are dominated by men, roughly 70% of participation rates, women are quickly gaining momentum. A huge advocate for women’s skiing is Ontario born Sarah Burke. Sarah excelled at what she did and is argued to be the most influential female skier ever. She had a passion for skiing, and wanted to encourage other girls to get on their skis and ready for competition. When Sarah first started competing, she was the only female in contests, and was the first to land many tricks of the trade, including a 720, 900, and 1080.

Sarah tirelessly pushed for women’s categories in contests, and ultimately ski halfpipe to be included in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. She was granted her lifelong wish in 2011 when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) accepted it as a winter Olympic event. Sarah never did get the chance to compete in the Olympics in the sport that she pioneered due to her untimely death in 2012. Although she may be gone, her legacy continues to live. You can’t escape many commentaries on a women’s contest without hearing Sarah’s name being mentioned, and how much she did for the growth of the sport for women. She continues to be a positive role model for girls and women alike, on and off the mountain.

The IOC has stated “to encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures, with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women”. In 2014 at the Sochi Olympics, they introduced Ski Jumping for women, had the highest participant rates for women at 40.3%, and an equal 50/50 split between men and women for number of events. It was mentioned in class that around 50% of funding is for Canadian women athletes, and what I think is even better is that women win more medals!

Sarah may not have influenced women ski jumpers, or alpine skiers, but the fact remains that there definitely need to be more female role models like her out there. American snowboarder athletes, Olympians, and X-Games medal winners, Kelly Clark, Elana Hight, Lindsey Jacobellis, and Grete Eliassen all share that promoting the sport through social media and TV coverage will encourage young girls to get involved. Hight brings up a great point where (generally) “women respond to other women, not to men”. I can vouch for this, as watching the women at the Olympics inspired me to get out to the hill more than I had been in the last few years, to catch some air, and break out of my comfort zone. So if it can get me, someone’s whose talents are just to get down the hill, to get out there and try new things, who knows what more coverage on women’s sports could do for girls who have knack for the intricacies and style of the action sports! We need to #CelebrateSarah, and shake off any doubt that women can’t keep up with the guys. Women do run the same slopestyle course as the men, and women do use the same superpipe. Women are doing the same tricks as men, and are getting great scores in contests…there just needs to be more of them! I think having these strong, talented women at the forefront of action sports is inspiring and I’m excited what new things will happen in the coming years as they continue to “spread the shred”.

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5 responses

  1. Great read Erin!

    As someone who is unfamiliar with skiing I found this piece very interesting. I didn’t realize that there weren’t the same ski categories for women as men until the Sochi Olympics in 2014. The IOC could have been under the impression that women were not well suited for action sports. After all, the IOC is composed of primarily rich, European men who regularly take a long time to make decisions regarding women’s event in future Olympic games. As discussed in class, women are still often generalized as the “weaker sex”. Perhaps the IOC was generalizing women as being weak, such that action sports (i.e., ski jumping) were too strenuous on women and were only meant for men.
    I grew up skateboarding and riding a BMX bike and I noticed there were times when the odd girl would participate; however, it was usually short-lived because they had no girl friends to go to the skate park with. Based on that, I’m not totally surprised by how you felt growing up and not having any girls to hit rails and jumps with. Unsurprisingly, as you mentioned, women have proved that they can compete in these events successfully. With increased participation in action sports on the horizon, it will be satisfying to see how current/former Olympic and X-Games role models inspire our younger generation to pursue their dreams of one day competing at a competitive and/or recreational level in more action sports.

    Regards,
    Aiden

  2. Great post Erin!

    Not knowing a lot about skiing made this a very interesting read, and led me to read further about Sarah! She has become a great role model for many people in the sport of skiing, both male and female.

    As discussed in class, 47% of the Canadian team in the 2004 Olympics were female, and ultimately won 67% of the medals. It is still quite sad to see that organisations such as the IOC did not see women as equal until a few years ago. I think it is still fair to say that children growing up in today’s society have limited opportunities in clubs that they may want to join. Although it is somewhat becoming more of an even playing field in terms of where we can, and cannot join to take part in sports, males are still on top.

    For there to be more equality in the Olympic Games, across all sports, there needs to be more people willing to speak out, and fight for what they believe in. Until this happens, I think this is just the reality that we, as women have to live in – the fact we may “never” be as good as men.

    Laura

    • Interesting post Erin!

      It is sad to see that people continue to offer so much resistance to women’s participation in sport. I believe that the younger generations are continuing to close the gap with regards to gender equality. However, it seems as though many older people are still stuck on older gender ideologies. For example, the IOC is made up mostly older people who may believe women are the “weaker” sex. I think that it is crucial for role models like Sarah Burke to continue to make themselves heard for the younger generations to have people to look up to. When young children have no older role model that they can relate and aspire to, they end up blindly following the influences that are available to them. Sadly, as discussed in class, there is currently such a large discrepancy in women’s media coverage when compared to men. I think that the media needs to make a serious effort to portray stories of strong women role models like Sarah Burke in order for change to occur. I truly believe that if the media begins showing more women role models in sport settings that this would inspire younger generations and be a strong step toward gender equality.

      Chris M

  3. Hi Erin,

    Loved this post! It’s so great to see the establishment of Women’s Ski Sporting Events in the Olympics! I love watching them much more than the male events; unfortunately because I don’t see them as much or at all outside of the Olympic period.

    This is a part of the vicious cycle we discussed in class; the sport doesn’t bring in enough viewership and revenue, so media doesn’t cover the events, which leads to not having an increase in attention from outside resources, and the cycle continues. In order to increase attention, if the outside TV media is not willing to cover it, it’s up to the PR team of the athletes to put their athletes out there, like you said, via social media and in popular sport magazines. That way, interest and demand will increase to see those athletes compete in their sport, so TV media may follow suit to meet those demands. In order to increase participation, as Aiden had mentioned in class discussing the topic, we need these female athletes going out and taking part in ski programmes and clinics to create their presence in younger generations. They could coach combined sex groups and/or just single sex groups. We need those female role models to break down the stereotype walls for both boys and girls to see, to influence boy’s way of thinking, and helping reinforce reasoning to continue participation in girls because they both see that women can be successful in skiing.

    I guess my contribution to this discussion is this, we need to take self and sport promotion into our own hands. If we, as female athletes continuously put ourselves out there, people have to notice! But, referring back to the women and media discussion group, we need to do so in a way like how men promote themselves; in athletic competence in popular sport literature, social media, and becoming involved extensively in the community via clinics, appearances, etc. We’re the generation that goes against the saying “good things come to those who wait; no, we go get it ourselves.

    Again, great post!

    Lacey

  4. Hi Erin,
    Like you, I grew up skiing every winter and love to hit the slopes when I can. The terrain park always looked like an exciting challenge but the number of guys and snowboarders was intimidating to go and try it. Thanks to athletes like Sarah Burke, I am able to see other women compete in these events and maybe see younger girls venture into the terrain park more to compete with the guys.
    Seeing strong female athletes compete in the same events as men creates role models for younger girls and shows them that they can do the same tricks as the guys. Getting more females involved in competing and promoting a sport will hopefully attract more media attention and thus more spectators and participants. Emphasizing athletic competence instead of appearance and sexualisation enables women to show that they are just as capable as men to “spread the shred.”
    Thanks for your post! I had not thought about the divide and between men and women in skiing much before or realized that it was so recent that they were allowed to compete in the same events as men.
    -Andrea J

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