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”.