Sexism and the ski industry

As a female journalist in the male-dominated world of skiing and snowboarding my blood is again boiling after Eddie McGuire's violent comments towards Caroline Wilson and the faux apology that came later. This is not the first time my blood has overheated. Sexism has long been in the DNA of the snow world, especially within the dedicated media.

I have written about this in this column before with particular reference to ski specific media in Australia and beyond. The irony is that I was abused by that same media, albeit behind my back, when I could have worked with them together to create something new to address the issue.

Gender difference permeates so many levels of skiing and starts with the disparity between female and male athlete pay packets in an industry where sponsorship dollars go to the female athlete willing to strip off over the badass female athlete with more FIS points, more podiums, more X Games medals – the one who inspires young girls, those same young girls who are the daughters of those writing the sponsorship cheques.

Jen Hudak is a former world champion halfpipe skier, she battled it out on a regular basis with the late Sarah Burke for the queen of the halfpipe status across elite competitions around the world. Yet, at the age of 17 she was asked by Freeskier to pose in a bikini in a bubble bath in a story that was supposed to be about her skiing.

"The ski media needs to do a better job of covering women based on their skill and resisting the urge and the easy out of focusing on the female athletes who are decent athletes and really pretty," says Hudak.

"It's a tough battle because I see that there's this easy way for me to continue making money in this sport. And I don't want to go there. That's not what I spent my entire career working for."

We are in trouble if Freeskier and the brands that advertise think that the only way to sell skis and outerwear to men and women is to have girls in soft porn lingerie wrap their bodies around that same gear. The 2015 Freeskier Gear Guide was an exercise in female insult.

"I think that brands can do a lot to help women. And it starts by really beginning to understand what women want and need in a company," says Hudak. "It has to be all encompassing. You have to be all-in in your support of women and their unique needs and their unique value. And until you can do that, I would rather you just stay out of it. Don't half-ass it."

When I first entered the realm of ski writing I fully expected to be excluded from the "old-school boys journo ski trips" that one ski wholesaler embarked upon annually to promote his brand. I was. Though I was also constantly informed by others that "there are no female ski journalists that can ski in Australia" so why would they invite me. Ouch. Burned.

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But what I didn't expect was to receive the abuse of industry new school skiers and boarders who should know better, a younger generation that I had hoped had left misogyny and bullying behind.

How wrong I was when I received vitriol from one for pointing out his event press releases only highlighted the male athletes without a single reference to a female one. Females that, in this case, had been more successful on a world circuit than the males he was pushing to the press.

Another ski industry producer informed me when I was putting together a team of athletes to film for a television segment that we needed a male to balance the female athlete I had chosen. When I pointed out that the male segments didn't have any females to balance out theirs, he just ignored me.

I have been bullied by male event promoters in emails that would make a wharfie blush and abused by male internet trolls for the size of my thighs and the reach of my voice as if my weight determines whether I can ski down a black run or not, and my voice should be tethered to match their ideals and values only. It doesn't and it shouldn't.

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Follow Rachael Oakes-Ash on Twitter & Instagram @misssnowitall and on facebook.com/misssnowitall

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