Girls Who Ski | Why Are There So Few Top Female Ski Instructors?

Just 15 per cent of the top British ski instructors are women. So why is there such a discrepancy between men and women when it comes to making it to the top?

Main photo by Melody Sky

Women are constantly pushing boundaries in all sports – from rock climbing to surfing to skiing and snowboarding.

You only need to look at women like Jenny Jones, Bethany Hamilton and Sierra Quitiquit to see what we mean. But when it comes to skiing – in particular ski instructors – why are there so few females who gain the top qualifications in the ski world?

Emma Cairns, 33, is a BASI Trainer which means she not only gained her BASI ISTD Level 4, the top ski instructor qualification in the world, but she is also qualified to train other instructors.

Photo: Element Concept

Emma started skiing when she was three years old on the windy mountains of Glenshee in Scotland. After university, she spent two years as a chalet girl in Courchevel before moving to Verbier in Switzerland.

For the last 11 years, she has lived in Verbier as a ski instructor. Last year she founded her own ski school called Element.

It was only when Emma was training for her Level 4 that she noticed the biggest contrast between the number of male and female instructors.

There are nearly 400 ski instructors with the highest British qualification (BASI Level 4) yet only 60 of them are women. That’s a mere 15 per cent. Even fewer become BASI Trainers. So why are there less women reaching the top rankings of the ski world?

“Skiing like a girl should be a compliment”

“We know that proportionately more men ski. It could be partly because men have a more competitive streak. Conversely, women can be put off by that competitive mentality – they simply aren’t motivated that way,” says Emma.

She believes technically there isn’t much contrast between men and women, but psychological motivations are very different between the genders.

“Women get into ski teaching, for example, for the challenge of teaching skiing and to improve our own technique. Not because we’re wired to compete with our peers in the exams in the same way as men.”

Photo: Melody Sky

Not only are there less female ski instructors, there are less female skiers on the mountain as a whole. 41 per cent of skiers in America are women, according to a study last year by SnowSports Industries America. Snowboarding has an even greater gender gap with only 38 per cent of female snowboarders.

So what sets apart the women who make it to the top level of ski instructing? Emma believes top female ski instructor tend to be focussed, confident and determined – but these aren’t necessarily qualities that are engrained from the start. Coaching has a lot to do with how a woman can progress in a sport.

“By tailoring how we teach women, we can encourage more of them into skiing,” says Emma. “This will lead to more women enjoying skiing, achieving more goals and I hope more women believing they can become ski instructors.”

Photo: Thomas Roulin, Alpimages

Emma is running all-female camps in Verbier this season to improve women’s technical performance but also discover off-piste skiing as part of a fun female crew.

“By skiing in women-only groups we can learn together, deal with the positive and negative psychological influences at our own pace, focus on female physique and biomechanics and take our skiing to the next level. Skiing like a girl should be a compliment!”

So what advice would Emma give to a woman who is thinking of making a career from ski instructing? “I always remember thinking as a BASI Level 2 that Level 4 seemed so far away – but you just need to train hard, get in the gym and make sure you are strong.”

“It is all achievable if you are physically and mentally strong as well as determined. The more women who reach the top, the more role models there will be. Then more girls will want to train and climb the ranks themselves.”

Emma is running another Women’s Performance Camp on 14th – 18th March focussing on piste performance, bumps and off-piste technique.

There will be an advanced group and an intermediate group both running that week. Women must be able to ski red runs on piste for intermediate course.

The price for the Women’s Camp is 625 CHF for 5 full days. Please email [email protected] for more information.

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