Ski Like a Woman -- And Mean it

Spend more than five minutes on any ski slope and you'll see it: loose-limbed men exploding down a run, catapulting over moguls, shredding the snow. Followed, in the distance, by girlfriends and wives trying to keep up, petrified on a precarious ridge, paralyzed in a mogul field, anxious, intimidated, embarrassed into an awkward snowplow to salvation.It's no wonder fewer women than men ski, and that those who try are more likely than men to quit after one or two seasons. They've been teased, babied, bullied and buffaloed. They think they're simply no good.Claudia Carbone is here to tell them differently."They think they are inept; they have no clue that it could be their equipment, their bodies, the companion they ski with," says Carbone, author of WomenSki (paperback, $14.95), which became a bible for women skiers when it was first published in 1994.Available now in a second edition, the easy-to-read, no-nonsense book remains the only work of its kind to proclaim a fundamental truth long disregarded by the ski industry: Women's approach to skiing is as valid as men's."I wrote this book for women skiers -- beginners, experts, dropouts, terminal intermediates and, especially, wives whose husbands ask them to take a long lunch so they can do some real skiing," Carbone writes in the book's introduction. "Men, too, should read this book to gain insight into the frustration women experience on the slopes and learn ways to encourage them."Women's biological and psychological makeup shapes their approach to skiing, which typically emphasizes technique and grace over speed and aggression, says Carbone, 54, a Breckenridge, Colo. ski journalist who has been honing her technique for more than 30 years."Testosterone makes you very, very aggressive," she says. "We [women] don't have that killer instinct, or that kamikaze approach to some of these risk-taking sports. In that regard, I think we approach sports differently: We might look for more of the aesthetic values instead of some of the aggressive -- speed, daredevil antics."That natural inclination is tempered by cultural influences, Carbone notes; younger women more easily adapt to a male model of skiing because they grew up playing competitive sports. Women in their 40s and 50s carry social conditioning that exacerbates trepidation and timidity on the slopes."When I was younger, women were just expected to fit into the man's mold, to try to be the Barbie-doll wife," Carbone says. "The notion that we could step out and do things for ourselves, take care of our own equipment, put our foot down and say, 'No, I don't want to ski this particular slope,' was pretty much unheard of."The misogyny that permeates other male-dominated sports is readily apparent on the slopes where, as in other sports, performing "like a girl" or "like a woman" is grounds for derision."If you're told you ski like a man, then that's considered a compliment," Carbone says. "But if a guy is told that he skis like a woman, my God - he would hate you forever."When I say, 'Ski like a woman,' what I mean is, 'You are a woman, and this is a man, and you're never going to look like this man skiing down the mountain, because you're not built like him, and you body doesn't move like his.'"When I say, 'Ski like a woman,' I don't mean, 'Ski slow,' or 'Ski whimpy, 'or 'Ski in a snowplow the whole time. ' I mean, 'Ski like your body tells you how to ski.' "Chance are, that's not what a man's body is telling him as he maneuvers down a slope.Women's wider pelvic structure makes skiing more difficult, as does a lower center of gravity. Women generally are shorter, lighter and weaker than men. Add those biological obstacles to the fact that ski equipment - critical to performance -- is designed for men, and you begin to understand why women have a harder time on the slopes.But help is at hand. WomenSki offers tips on modifying equipment, and, since the book was published two years ago, the industry has begun to acknowledge women skiers in equipment design."The manufacturers are a little chagrined, because I've sort of exposed them, but I think in the end it will be a win-win situation for everyone -- women as well as manufacturers," Carbone says. "Whether it's for marketing reasons or because they really want to get more women involved in the sport -- they know that, if they start making more equipment for women, it's certainly going to increase their bottom line."She's also encouraged by the second annual National Women's Ski Week (Jan. 20-26, 1997), and by a growing number of women's ski programs taught by women instructors. In Colorado, such clinics are offered at Aspen, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Monarch, Snowmass, Winter Park and Telluride, where ski school director Annie Savath runs one of the state's oldest women's programs."They are finding now that all-girl classes are very beneficial because, even today, in coed academia, women are still hesitant to shout out answers or respond, for fear of looking silly," Carbone says. "I think the same thing is found in classes for sport."In the women's classes I've taken, there has been a lot of mutual support, a lot of understanding. There's competition, but it's healthier because it's on the same level; you're not coming from the male's strength vs. the female's."The support of other women and the knowledge in WomenSki can provide a powerful tonic for women battered by their experience on the slopes, Carbone says."I talked with a woman who says that when she goes skiing, she doesn't wear mascara, because she knows she's going to cry and she doesn't want it to run. I just want to embrace women like that."This ski thing is very deep: It's about self-esteem. It's about self-worth."

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