Alpine Edge

Sisters on the slopes: The rise of women's ski camps

Elisabeth Vincentelli, CNNPublished 16th December 2016
(CNN) — If you have been at a ski resort in the past few years, you may have seen groups of women zooming down the slopes together.
This isn't a coincidence: Women-only instruction is a growing trend in snowsports, and rare is the resort nowadays that doesn't offer it.
"There's crazy demand," says Jen Scott, the lead coach at Alta Lodge's four annual women's ski camps in Alta, Utah. "And we have about a 75% return rate."
No wonder the Ski Diva site was able to compile a staggering list of ski camps for women for the 2016-17 season.
In a recent presentation, SnowSports Industries America's director of research Kelly Davis pointed out that the top two reasons for female practitioners not to ski were nobody to do it with and increased family commitments.
Alta Lodge regular Jody Brettkelly, 52, can relate.
"You have a job, you're a sister or a daughter or a wife," says Brettkelly. "This just allows you to be you -- you're a person again."
Being all-inclusive, the Alta Lodge experience is pricey (three days/four nights in January, double occupancy, will set you back $2,819 a person), but women now have more options than ever, from half-day clinics to multi-day camps.
Crested Butte in Colorado, for instance, offers Women's Tips: two hours every Tuesday where the $67 fee includes an après glass of wine.
At Lake Tahoe's Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, one of the weekly Women of Winter clinics is $69 ($49 in advance) for two and a half hours; a three-day camp in January is $599 (without lift ticket) or $775 (with lift ticket).
That program has roots in Women's Way, which Squaw Valley instructor Elissa Slanger developed in the early 1970s because she felt the "sometimes tyrannical methods used to teach skiing to terrified women."
On the East Coast, Vermont's Okemo started offering women-only instruction in 1987. Now labeled Women's Alpine Adventures, the program features a range of two- to five-day camps.
"It's an environment where women can get comfortable before we throw them into challenges," says Keri Reid, assistant director for the ski-and-ride school and a former instructor. "You get a coach who understands where you're coming from and may be more relatable."
Like Okemo's, many programs cover a relatively wide range of ski abilities, but beginners aren't suited to Rippin Chix.
The Colorado-based company offers steeps camps ("chutes, powder, trees, crud, roots, rocks, moguls, ice, bumps") in funky resorts such as Whitewater and Red, in British Columbia, Silverton in Colorado, and Crystal Mountain in Washington, with prices ranging from around $399-$500 for two days to $2,400 for an all-inclusive, three-day Canadian cat-skiing experience.
The attitude is similarly irreverent. "We teach the fundamentals of skiing but we present them differently," says Susan Medville, a former competitive freeskier who's now Rippin Chix's winter manager.
"Instead of using the usual drill terminology, we'd tell women to 'pour the martinis' when they need to put their hands down the fall line." Lest you think this would draw a young crowd, the Chix range in age from 20 to the mid-60s.
No matter your level, what unites these programs is a shared appreciation for skiing and camaraderie.
Marty Donaldson, 66, lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with a non-skiing husband, so the Alta Lodge camps helped her connect with a network of like-minded friends.
"Skiing with a group of women who are as enthusiastic about the sport as I am was new to me," she says of her first trip there. "The attitude was just infectious."