23 June 2023

[5 min read]

Is Ski and Snowboard Instructing a Man’s World?  

Well, yes, but things are beginning, just beginning, to change it seems … 

Skiing like a girl should be a compliment!”  

Emma Cairns, Level 4 BASI ISTD Instructor 

SnowSkool looks into snowsports through the female lens over a series of blog posts. First up, a dip into industry research and activity around women in snowsports

Gender equity given top level prominence across the industry 

Not one but two presentations including the keynote address were on this very topic at this year’s Interski in March. Interski is the international congress for ski and snowboard instructors held every 4 years. 

An outdoor/ indoor snowsports event, BASI (British Association of Snowsport Instructors), brought a 50-50 split male-female demo team for their outdoor mountain displays and an indoor presentation about their work to improve female participation and representation within the sport. I spoke to Donald Musk, BASI’s Head of Marketing, Membership and Insights, who also happens to be researching diversity as part of his current career development. He is passionate about moving things forward to make systemic change that will help more women achieve their ski and snowboard instructing goals and ambitions. 

One of the things Donald sees as crucial is changing the culture and perception at senior levels. BASI have recruited a Diversity and Inclusion Director to their Board as a starter for 10. They recognise that while they are aware of the issues and doing what they can, they are not experts in the field, and are keen to involve more diversity and inclusion experts at strategy level.  

Sounds like BASI is taking Casey Purdie’s 2021 research and recommendations around gender stereotyping as a barrier for women seriously. Casey researched and wrote An investigation Into the Presence of Gender Stereotype Threat in British Snowsports and Its Effect on Women in the BASI Instructor Pathway, and concluded the following: 

 “Ultimately, women deserve equal access to all that the snow-sports industry has to offer and as social discourses continue to focus on the betterment of women’s rights and the dismantling of out-dated and regressive attitudes, the snow-sports industry, and BASI, must continue to work actively to counter the impact of gender stereotypes and gender discrimination.” 

Casey thanked her female BASI colleagues for their support with her project. And impassioned in her acknowledgements: “Specifically, the Cream Puff Crew (Carrie, Georgia, Holly, Hiamh and Tessa) thanks for reminding me on the daily that seasonaire sistas are the baddest ever, that women can absolutely send it and that no matter what, together we can achieve more. You’re all so incredibly inspiring”. 

Her paper is equally inspiring and interesting. Give it a read if you are interested in some detailed lowdown.

A sharing spirit across organisations is driving progress 

Ann Schorling from PSIA (Professional Ski Instructor America) AASI (American Association of Snowboard Instructors) -‘creating lifelong adventure through education’  followed BASI’s Interski presentation with her keynote address: Gender Equity in Snowsports Instruction. Ann presented the findings of her masters research looking into gender ratios internationally, why there are so few women Level 4 instructors compared to women participating in snowsports as a whole, and what can be done to begin improving this. 

Ann Schorling

Before getting into it, Ann praised BASI for their presentation and their longstanding work in this area. Having spoken to Donald from BASI (who also attended InterSki), what struck me was the sense of mutual respect across snowsports organisations working to improve inclusion and diversity internationally. Informal, open sharing and learning together appears to characterise work in this arena. This humble, collaborative approach seems like the way forward for what is sensitive and innovatory work. 

While there is no formal movement for information sharing as yet, BASI have proposed that all members (nations) of InterSki agree to a diversity strategy prior to the next InterSki 2027. The vision is for an organisation that can commit to shared goals and work together in a more formal and accountable way. 

Drawing on this informal sharing across organisations, Ann was able to pull together international statistics showing similar patterns across the UK, US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. When it comes to ski instructor levels, 40% or fewer women have the Level 1 instructor certificate and this drops to 20% for the Level 4 instructor certificate. 

Her next question was Why? In summary the answer she found was bound up in gender bias based on deeply ingrained gender stereotyping. She pointed out that gender is the first thing we remember about someone before race or height or anything else. Men are seen as decisive with technical competence and therefore having agency to make things happen; while women are viewed as empathic and communal.  

This feeds directly into the kind of instructing men and women are assigned, and also the choice of instructor by guests. Which is limiting - for both men and women when you come to think about it, which Ann touched on. But it is more limiting for women in terms of getting the more challenging technical competences required for Level 4 instructing and beyond. 

So what can we do about that? Ann came up with some great empowering ways of beginning to overcome barriers for women, not least of all activities that helped male instructors really see the snowsports world through the eyes of female instructors. It sounded like a very positive bonding experience for everyone involved, men and women. Illuminating too. 

Watch Ann’s presentation to really appreciate her findings and suggestions looking ahead. You might find yourself joining in with the standing ovation at the end. 


Annie Thallon is one of our highest achieving SnowSkoolers

At 18 yrs old, Annie finished the 13 week course with CSIA Level 1 Ski Instructor CSIA Level 2 Ski Instructor, CSIA Snowpark Instructor ACA-CSC Entry level Race Coach and CASI Level 1 Snowboard Instructor. She has never looked back, has been working back to back seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres and gone on to get her CSIA Level 4 Ski Instructor and a CASI Level 2 Snowboard instructor qualification. Nice! 

"One of the highlights, possibly the most obvious, of a SnowSkool course is the people that you are surrounded by ... To this day, I am still in contact with many of my original trainers and see them at least once a season"

See more of what Annie has to say about her experience on our Banff course here

We are right behind the gender equity work at SnowSkool, and want to encourage more women onto our courses - it’s generally a 65/ 35 split male/female across our resorts, 60/40 in the Three Valleys. Let's see if we can push those stats towards 50/50!

Next up

Next in our series of posts looking at gender equity in snowsports we'll take a look at media representation. Watch this space. 

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In the meantime, if you have been inspired check out our SnowSkool ski instructor courses in France, Canada and New Zealand.   

Talk to us about your dreams and ambitions. We can help make them come true! 

Writer Kate Swainson Price

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