Monday, January 9, 2012

Ski Like a Girl

I spoke last week with Bobby Murphy, head of the Vail Ski School in Colorado, where they debuted the Ski Girls Rock program, designed by Olympic gold medalist and World Alpine Ski Champion, Lindsey Vonn, over the December holidays.

Lindsey’s Lessons, as Bobby referred to the program, was inspired by Lindsey’s own experience of particularly excelling at skiing as a girl when her ski mates were exclusively girls. Not that Lindsey couldn’t give the boys a run for their money: but, as she knows from experience, sometimes it’s a lot nicer just to take the boy factor out of the equation. Take out the boy-ballyhoo and the boy ego, which may over-fire in the face of girl strength.

Bobby was extra supportive of the program idea, because he’d just witnessed the boy factor vs. girls’ only effect on his eight-year old daughter, Ella. At seven-years old, Ella had retired from soccer. She had played for a few years in a co-ed program and lost interest. As Bobby says, “it was like she wasn’t really there,” when he’d watch her on the soccer field. The boys were more aggressive, stealing passes from her, running around her, and generally ignoring her. When Bobby and his wife moved to Vail, they decided to try Ella in soccer one more time. But this time there was an all-girls soccer program. “It was as if it was a different sport, or she was a different girl,” Bobby says. Now his daughter is eager to practice her moves at home, and she’s excited to get to the soccer field.

As Wendy Hilliard, New York City Director of the Women’s Sports Foundation’s GoGirlGo! Program says, in terms of boys and men, the aim of the WSF’s program is to model girl strength for boys, so that they grow up in an environment where strong girls are valued, and for fathers to see and understand the impact of real access to sports (which may mean sports without boys) on their daughters. Bobby, it turns out, is that father; and he’s already sharing his deeper understanding of his daughter’s needs with other girls, through Lindsey’s Lessons.

An aside, I met Wendy, at a meeting with the Consul General of Colombia, Elsa Gladys Cifuentes Aranzazu, and Aurys Espinel, director of Asomujer y Deporte, an organization that works on a range of issues related to empowering women through sports. Colombia is apparently very interested in expanding and deepening the sports programs offered for girls, with the specific goal of girl and women empowerment. How wonderful. I hope at some point to have more to share on that.

In the meantime, back to Vail, CO, where the first Ski Girls Rock lessons went fabulously well. The female instructors are clamouring for the opportunity to teach in the special environment of the program. That is—a small group of girls (four to an instructor maximum) between the ages of 5-15, from low intermediate to the most advanced skill levels, working on skill development and race technique in a low pressure, less-structured environment. There’s not so much standing on the side of the trail and running through race drills, as there is honing their skiing in the midst of having a good time with each other. The social aspect, no surprise, is paramount. And if anyone thinks that the fairer sex can’t chat and excel at the same time…they can think again.

Lindsey’s Lessons are an opportunity for the girls to be girls together, have a good time, and, oh yes, shred some, too. And that sounds just right.