(Editors Note: Since the article was written the FWT reinstated women's events at two of the stops. See the full schedule here)
This season, you won’t be able to follow the progress of your favorite female freeskiers (or snowboarders) on the European-based Nissan Freeride World Tour anymore. Tour organizer Nicholas Hale-Woods recently informed female athletes that, after 3 years of competing alongside the men on the entire pro tour, they would only compete on the professional level with the men at the last competition, the Nissan Xtreme by Swatch in Verbier. The subsequent press release to the media all but ignored the development, concentrating on the men’s tour, which has added one more competition.
Citing a lack of competitors and that the women were lagging behind the men in ability and line choices, organizers presented the news as a positive development for women. Following this announcement, female competitors will no longer receive lift passes and accommodations, and can compete in 14 lower level competitions with little to no prize money. The athletes are, understandably, upset. We talked to professional freeskiers and Nissan tour veterans Jess McMillan and Crystal Wright, to get their take on the news.
So, is this as a positive step for women on the tour, as presented?
JM: I think this is a huge blow to women’s snow sports. They’ve taken away this great opportunity to affect and progress the women’s side on this tour.
CW: It is regressing the sport whether they want to call it that or not.
What about the statement that the venues are not showcasing women well?
JM: Every year the girls are going faster, bigger, and skiing more difficult lines. As evidenced at Squaw (the TramFace Nissan FWT event) last year: the winning male and female skied the same line, including the same fifty-foot air. This doesn’t make sense.
CW: Maybe he [Hale-Woods] doesn’t watch us. I don’t know. Everybody was throwing down; the bar was raised at every competition. There were so many people and families watching us compete, with the next generation of skiers to be inspired. I mean, are all those kids going to ask their parents where we are this year?
What kind of media attention were the women receiving?
CW: The competitors themselves were pushing women’s skiing… some amazing lines were skied. The UK and Russian media, for example, loved us, but I didn’t feel very respected by the organization or the French, German, or Austrian media. In contrast, in the States, when I won the Subaru Freeskiing World title [the US-based tour], I got the same amount of press as Julien Lopez, who won the men’s title.
JM: It depended. For example, I had a six page spread in Russia’s version of Powder. They loved us. In my opinion, the tour didn’t promote the women at all—they didn’t create that buzz for the media.
Organizers stated as one of reasons that the field was too small. There were only 5-8 girls, after all.
JM: As invite-only competitions, they limited the amount of women competing themselves. So that is a false statement. And now they want women accumulating points in the qualifying series. The one qualifying event I did, we skied a bump run. That kind of competition doesn’t prove you can ski the venue at Verbier. And they are not making more spots for women in the final this year either-it is the same 5-8 spots.
CW: They could have way more competitors; other women in the world can ski these lines. I don’t think they looked for more women.
What does this mean for women’s freeskiing?
JM: There are other venues to compete in, like the Subaru Freeskiing World Tour, which supports the women incredibly. The women who are out there are incredibly good—they’ll find a way to showcase themselves.