Rachael Oakes-Ash hasn’t always put women first on the mountain. She reveals the error of her Ski ways.
I have a confession to make. I used to loathe skiing with girls. Silly me thought the only way I could improve my skiing was to chase the testosterone down the hill and throw all my technique out the window in the process. First one down wins.
What on earth made me think that a) chicks don’t rip and b) being first means you ski better? I now know the error of my foolish ways but back then I was on a mission, taking up skiing as an adult and then choosing it as my subject of choice as a journalist meant I had to learn, and learn fast.
If only I knew what gift the female skiing fraternity had to offer. My first inkling of how big and badass women skiers and boarders can be was at Hotham on a week long women’s ski improvement camp when I took an morning off from the tuition and met up with Andrea Binning. That’s a big mountain bad ass skier right there.
Andrea had conquered the peaks of Alaska with their sheer vertical faces and awe-inspiring spines. She had won world championship extreme skiing competitions and she had even been in one of the most terrifying slab avalanches caught on film and lived to tell the day.
There she was skiing down Hotham’s renowned terrain with me tumbling in her trail. No male posse of skiers had ever made me ski so hard and she was just on a down day. She would have left the men I knew in her wake like she left me.
As Australia’s most successful big mountain extreme skier, male or female, to date Andrea also provided me with some serious rubbed off kudos when I name dropped back in the women’s week group that afternoon. The women I was skiing with were tough and Andrea’s name went a long way to them accepting me despite my skiing ability, or lack of it.
Thanks to my job I have gone on since then to ski with some of the best the world has to offer of both genders including our own Anna Segal (X Games gold, silver and bronze medalist, FIS world champion and 4th in the Sochi Olympics slopestyle), Natalie Segal (Freeride World Tour athlete) and Torah Bright (needs no introduction). Just saying.
I’m also just going to put it out there that Australian women have done ‘all right’ on the world circuit including Zali Steggall, Alisa Camplin, Britt Cox, Dani Scott and Lydia Lassila to name a few.
Of course Andrea is not the only impressive female athlete to have called Hotham home. Alpine racer, Greta Small, competed for Australia on every event of the women’s Alpine program at Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. Did I mention she grew up race training at Hotham?
There comes a moment in every skier’s life, male or female, when they realize that they can move down the fall line and not die. That moment when you trust your body enough to fall forward not cling backwards, when you have enough technique in a turn on a steep gradient to know the best way is to flow with the mountain not against it.
It is at this moment that the mountain opens up to you and you can start to conquer the entire hill. I learnt that at Mt Hotham on the steeps of Mary’s Slide. If you ever wondered what someone like Andrea was doing hanging out at an Australian ski field then just hit up Hotham’s Extreme Zone and throw yourself down Lindsay’s, Avalanche Gully and even Mary’s.
Like life you can fight the run you find yourself (provided you’ve chosen within your ability) on or you can trust in technique, knowledge and experience and let the flow begin. At your pace. Once I stopped fighting my own gender in my head and went with them not against them I realized that I loved skiing with most women more than I love skiing with some men.
I used to hate the sweeping generalisations and stereotypes thrown at both genders even when I was throwing them myself. But there is something about sharing an outdoor adventure with others you share the same chromosomes with. There’s no need to explain, literally.
Of course there are always exceptions and I still like the thrill of pushing myself to keep up with some of my male and most of my female friends and I love the thrill of passing them even more.
Though on a powder day I don’t care what your gender is if you’re not ready in time for the first chair then I will just leave you behind.
Hotham’s Women’s Specific ski and snowboard programs
Hotham’s Women’s ski Week is a specially-designed female-only ski instruction program guaranteed to improve skiing skills and a great way to explore Hothams beautiful mountain terrain and meet some new friends. The program caters to females skiiers who are confidently skiing on blue terrain or higher.
5 day program: 24-28 July 2017
$999 (excludes lift pass).
3 day program: 24-26 July 2017
$749 (excludes lift pass).
Hothams Women’s 3 Day snowboard program is a fantastic program for female snowboarders confidently riding on blue terrain or higher. Join passionate female instructors for 3 days of shredding the mountain, refining your riding and pushing yourself to try new skills and terrain.
24th – 26th July 2017
Price: $749 (excludes lift pass)
Wednesday Afternoon Women’s Ski Club is a weekly 2.5 hour session for local women. Modelled on the Women’s Week, it will include video analysis and will be run by a top female instructor. The same group will explore the mountain every Wednesday and learn to ski our great terrain in a friendly and supportive atmosphere.
Every Wednesday in August 2017: 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd & 30th | 12:30pm – 2:30pm
Cost: $350 (excluding lift pass)
Must be intermediate and above and have a sense of fun and adventure.
Want to know more?
All your questions answered about female specific ski and board clinics right here.
Sign up to be part of a clinic here.
This article first appeared in Hotham Magazine.