By Kimberly Beekman
In order to be a successful female pro skier today, you have to also be hot.
This is the topic of discussion around the coffee table of our Jackson Hole rental house. Anne Wangler, Blizzard/Tecnica athlete and the brand’s social media manager, sits cross-legged on the floor by the fireplace, her baggy moto shorts revealing a tattoo as bad ass as the trenches she lays. I’m on the couch, and Frank Shine— brand creative manager, photographer, and official token dude of our annual Women Summit—is on the leather chair across from us. It’s late, and we’re drinking our last beer before bed.
Suddenly, Anne’s eyes get wide and she jumps. “What was that?” she points out the window. I saw something too—it looked like a big dude carrying a pole. “Do we have a pool here?” I ask, stupidly. Then there is a loud knock at the door that startles a squeal out of Frank that in both decibel and pitch reminds me of the noise my 10-year-old daughter makes when she pretends she can talk to the birds.
Keely and her best friend, Ollie the Aussie, aka Mr. Toes
He jumps up and stands by the door, hand outstretched toward the doorknob, but not touching it yet. “Who is it?” he asks. “It’s Keely. I brought your skis.” “Oh my god I thought you were an axe murderer,” he says, laughing and opening the door to welcome a disheveled and exhausted Keely Kelleher, who just drove in from coaching girls in Utah. “Nope, just me, high on coffee,” she says, kicking off her shoes and throwing her legs, one sweat pant cuff pulled up higher than the other, up on the ottoman.
Keely, pro skier and former speed skier for the U.S. Ski Team, is someone I’ve always admired for many reasons, but mostly for starting ski camps for girls coached by women—Keely’s Ski Camp for Girls. Now, seconds after meeting her, she seems like someone who will be a friend for life. “And yes, I’m wearing two different socks,” she said, wiggling her toes in display on the ottoman. “Awww, Frank, don’t be scared tonight in your man cave—we’ll protect you,” Anne says. “Whatever, I’m just happy we’re not going to die,” Frank says, laughing so hard his eyes close for a second.
The roster of our women’s summit is impressive to say the least. In addition to Keely and Anne, we have Crystal Wright, former two-time Freeskiing World Tour Champion, pro skier, gym owner, and founder of the Jackson Hole Babe Force; former Italian ski teamer Maria Elena Rizzieri, who runs the Blizzard women’s program in Europe; Claire Abbe Brown, former NCAA All American and publisher of Ski Racing who will, along with digital director and drone pilot Suzy Theis, document the summit on video; Leslie Baker Brown, former NCAA champ and longtime marketing manager of Blizzard Tecnica; and me, the former editor in chief of Skiing Magazine and the first woman to hold the title. (My ski resume includes, among other shining moments, the glorious backscratcher I almost nailed before I caught my tips and faceplanted in front of the whole Winter Park Freestyle Team when I was 12.)
We’re all here to discuss gear, sure, but Blizzard’s Women to Women initiative is so much more than just how to build boots and skis for women. It is about empowerment: If women feel empowered in this tiny circle of the universe, it can transfer over to other aspects—maybe all aspects—of their lives.
We offer Keely a beer, but she’s tired and doesn’t want to stay long. Frank asks her about the race she’s just coming back from, and despite the hour, she instantly lights up. “Oh my god it was so sick. I had a girl win on the second run with a bib of 98….” and Keely tells all the details of coming up from behind. “And then at the end when I went to congratulate her, she said, ‘It’s not that big of a deal.’ I told her you have to be psyched when you do something like that.”
We wake the next morning to falling snowflakes glittering through the pines and several inches of fresh turning the rocks and stumps on the ground into marshmallow lumps. We gear up for the day—no small task when we have four women, 10 pairs of boots and skis to choose from, and an entire day of shooting to plan for.
I look at all our stuff crammed into Frank’s Subaru and laugh, because I find that particular kind of high-maintenance quality endemic to skier girls endearing, because, well, I am one. (I forgot to bring a hairbrush and haven’t showered in three days, but I schlepped three pairs of boots, two pairs of skis, and all my avy gear in a bag that took three people to zip and weighed far more than the pinch-faced United Airlines desk attendant felt was reasonable.)
After several dashes to retrieve forgotten items, we crank Michael Jackson and eye the lines off of Cody Peak as it comes into view, and then the ones on Rendezvous. The high ceiling of wispy clouds is breaking up and the light is straight out of a Thomas Moran painting.
We park in the upper lot, after Frank tried and failed to talk his way in for free, and head to the tram. We’re early, so we’re among the first to stack in the maze. When we finally board, the tram operator plays some bad jam band that I joke might be the single most effective tool for keeping kids off drugs, and we strain to catch sight of Corbet’s and S&S through the heads, skis, and packs in our way. The tram slows and we each walk out onto the dock, the railings coated in two inches of rime. These peaks might be familiar, but they never lose their power.
Frank shoots us one at a time, and I watch each skier nail it, despite the tricky snow. “I think these bindings are mounted too far forward,” offers Anne. Not that you’d know it from her turns. The next run, Frank wants a groomer shot, and Anne nearly rips the ground out from under him.
Back at the house, we’re hanging out at the giant picnic table rotating jobs in the kitchen to get dinner made. Here’s the thing about women: We don’t need to delegate, we just get shit done.
“They’re so different,” says Mary, weighing the differences between the Black Pearl and the Sheeva. “But most women don’t know why their construction makes them unique.” “Yeah, I agree,” says Crystal, her freckled cheeks rosy from the day. “I’ll be the first to admit that I know that ski skis great, but I don’t really know why.”
Frank’s on his computer going through the day’s photos, and Leslie puts on her glasses to get a better look. We all move to huddle around Frank’s screen. In turn, we throw out ideas about what worked and what didn’t, and we start to hash out a plan for tomorrow’s shoot. We’re not without girl code here—some tentatively brainstorming, others offering opinions a little too quickly—but after a few awkward steps we all find our footing. “We should shoot the work commute,” Keeley suggests. “Shoot a woman who gets up at 5, parks on the top of the pass, hikes up, skis down, then goes to work. Capture that one moment she has alone that is so powerful. You never want to go, but when you do it it’s always worth it. You’re clear-minded, and it’s all because of skiing. These moments will get your ass out of bed.”
I look around the table. Leslie is diplomatically shutting down one of Frank’s ideas for the Black Pearl ad; Keely is talking to her dog, Mr. Toes; Claire and Suzy are debating how to shoot tomorrow’s segment with the drone (“I learned how to use it on youtube,” Suzy says, laughing); Crystal, Anne, Mary, and me, who are laughing at ridiculous photos of ourselves—so many women here who share a love of this sport. So many women whose confidence in everything they do started with skiing.
Confidence is certainly something women lack in the ski industry. According to the Snowsports Industries America, women consistently rate themselves as worse skiers than men. They also don’t spend the same amount of energy to educate themselves about gear as their male counterparts. This adds up to women being far more likely to let themselves be led into purchases that may not be right for them. This, in part, is why Leslie started a series of events called Powder to Prosecco at retail locations throughout the winter to teach women about gear. It’s all about helping women feel confident to walk into a shop and purchase what they want—not what their husbands and boyfriends think they should want. “Most women don’t spend the time to learn about what rocker is or how metal makes a ski feel,” Leslie said over cheese and crackers in our living room the day we arrived. “Educating them about gear is just one way we can encourage women to be equal.” Mary, sipping her tea on the couch, added that this phenomenon is magnified in Europe. “Women there don’t even care to learn,” she said. “We did a similar program there and we had to give away Smith sunglasses at an event to just get them to show up.”
Leslie brings up a book she’s been reading recently called “The Confidence Code.” “Women are hesitant to try things because they’re afraid to fail. They’re perfectionists,” she said. “If a man walks into a room, people assume he’s capable. A woman has to prove herself,” which may contribute to a woman being insecure in a ski shop.
The conversation migrated a bit, and we wondered how Crystal, a new mom, is balancing everything. “It’s so hard to do everything at the same time,” I said, thinking of the sacrifices I’ve made in my own career to be there for my daughter. “You know what?” Leslie said, setting down her wine. “With every single successful woman I meet or read about, I always wonder the same thing: Did she have kids?”
The last day dawns crisp and bright, with a few more inches of glitter tossed around. We’re bootpacking up to Four Pines and doing what women do best: getting into each other’s business. Not because we’re nosy, but because we actually care. Breakups, makeups, trauma, triumphs—knowing what makes us who we are is what connects us. And that connection gives us strength.
We summit, unshoulder our packs, and slap down our skis on the snow. We’re talking and laughing about nothing in particular, and Crystal pees by a tree while we wait for Suzy and Claire, who were shooting us on the hike.
Then we pick our way, one by one, down around the bony point to the open powdery chute below. The snow is changing by the minute, the sun heating up the pow. Every so often a sagging tree limbs releases its melting pile of snow with a little whumph, and bounces back, green again. When Suzy’s ready with her camera, Claire rips possibly the most perfect, controlled, precise pow turns I’ve ever seen.
Now it’s Keely’s turn. We’re standing in a sun-drenched funnel by a small diving board she wants to launch off of. Claire scouts it for her. She’s waiting for the go-ahead from Suzy, who’s still figuring out the drone—“Ooo I found this compass calibration thing,” she yells from below. I notice Keely’s wearing fleece mitts that look like they came from the dollar bin at Target.
“I have no idea how big this is,” she says, almost under breath. Then, a minute or so later she turns to check her boot heels. “I’m probably still in walk mode.” And finally, “I’ll probably just do a cat roll out of this.” We’re all laughing now. “Oh, and my pants are up my butt. We’ve been out here for a while, huh?”