SKI (OR BOARD) LIKE A GIRL? HELL, YEAH!

Whether it was originally meant as patronising or insulting, the slogan 'ski like a girl' should be taken as a compliment.

With today's high altitude female role models as inspiration and the drive to increase female participation in sport AND on the mountains, it's time for the media to make more of action women, the glossies to rethink their covers - and guys to make way, because here come the girls.

Who would have predicted that a snowboarder would be on the front page of every UK national newspaper on 9th February, 2014? Not only a snowboarder but a woman snowboarder? Coming third in slopestyle at the Winter Olympics and becoming the first GB athlete to win a medal on snow rather than ice, British snowboarder, Jenny Jones achieved heroine status. Her frontside 720 leap on the slopestyle course was, also, a giant leap stomped for womankind in snow sports.

Jenny Jones makes a giant leap for womankind in snow sports

Of course, it doesn't mean that suddenly every five year old girl wants to grow up to be a freestyle snowboarder. Or that they'll ever visit an indoor snow slope during their lives let alone the mountains. But, for once, they have a role model feted by the media who is the epitome of cool and not a clothes horse or celebrity, famous for her jutting hips or pouting lips.

Can it be that the media has woken up to women in sports as more worthy of front page news - and covers - than Cheryl Tweedy/Cole/Fernandez-Versini, that vacuous celebrity trinity?

Time to move those mountains - and fixated worship

I have worked on glossy magazines for over 30 years including Cosmopolitan, Mail On Sunday You Magazine, Hello and Tatler and I have seen the style heroine barometer swing from supermodel to royalty to Hollywood celebrity to pop stars to reality show wannabes; from Kate Moss to Princess Diana to Angelina Jolie to Rita Ora to the whole Kardashian shebang. Sadly, I cannot think of any time when a woman on the magazines I worked on as Fashion Director was ever featured on a cover because of her success in business. Nor in sports.

But now it's time for changing heroines. To move those mountains - and fixated worship of boney bodies and tiny brains; to give girls role models that they will want to emulate because of their success in brain or brawn. Like Lindsey Vonn, US Alpine skier, winner of four World Cup championships.

Lindsey Vonn, the ultimate sports pin up girl

She is not only a pin-up role model as an awesome sports woman (and, ok, blonde and gorgeous, as it happens) but she is also leading by example AND action, having set up the Lindsey Vonn Foundation to empower girls to grow as athletes. As her career has taught her to 'never give up' and she continues to overcome obstacles including pulling out of the Sochi Olympics because of an injured knee, she wants to use her experience to help girls follow their dream and is 'dedicating her future to ensuring young girls are ready to conquer the world'.

How refreshing to see her fully-clothed in ski gear, albeit skin-hugging racing Lycra ski gear, on the cover of Sports Illustrated, a magazine better known for its models in barely-there bikinis and non-existant 'sports' prowess. Or brains.

On the cover of Sports Illustrated in ski gear

You'd hope that more girls would be motivated by the athletic figure and achievements of a top woman skier than a model in a bikini? Unless the model has abs, that is. How much healthier for body image is a rippling torso than the concave stomach of a fashion model living on lettuce leaves? Three years ago, when Jessica Ennis won the gold medal in the heptathon and displayed a perfect six pack, the Ennis Effect was felt in gyms up and down the country with rows of women reclining over exercise balls crunching head to knees.

But it is three years since the Olympics at home in London and the fear is that competitive sports, let alone women's sports, are going off the radar and slipping down the UK Government's funding agenda (although a large proportion does come from the Lottery).

To exercise, to enjoy sport and to get physical

The good news, though, is that Britain has a woman Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch. And she is also an FA qualified football coach for the girls under 18 squad. So that's someone who won't need convincing when it comes to women's sports.

And,as a female, you'd have to be in total denial not to notice - and be influenced - by the current campaigns targeting women and sports. There's Women In Sport crusading for more media coverage and sponsorship of women's sports, the Women’s Sport Trust Be A Game Changer awards recognising individuals and organisations doing the most to progress women’s sport and, concurrently, This Girl Can, the motivational campaign by Sport England to inspire more women to believe in their capabilites to exercise, to enjoy sport and to get physical regardless of their shape, size and ability. 

Sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox

The campaign has clearly hit a nerve: more than 13 million people have now viewed the flagship This Girl Can film online.

There are no holds barred in trying to encourage women to overcome their barriers and embrace the effort and the benefit of working out. 'Sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox' is among the provocative quotes used in the campaign to prompt a change in attitudes towards exercise and help boost women’s confidence.

Provocative quotes used for This Girl Can

It comes as research, carried out by Sport England, reveals that by every measure, fewer women than men play sport regularly – two million fewer 14-40 year olds in total. Despite this, 75 per cent say they want to be more active. In some other European countries, this disparity doesn’t exist.

Further research into what's stopping women turning their ambitions into reality found that a fear of judgement – on appearance, ability or how they chose to spend time on themselves – puts women of all ages off exercising. In fact, being 'gymhibited' is what happens when women in the gym feel inhibited working out alongside testosterone fuelled jocks.

More fearful of risk let alone judgement on the slopes

But what about skiing and snowboarding? There's certainly an element of women being more fearful of risk and the cold let alone judgement on the slopes which is reason for fewer women taking part recreationally. It's written in most women's DNA to avoid both the thrill and the chill factor of extreme mountain sports.

Three years ago, a Sport England's survey reported that there was a larger bias towards males participating in snowsports in England (including participation on English artificial slopes). Age also affected the percentage split of men and women. Participation in snowsports was just under two-thirds male. It was highest amongst men in their early 20s and 30s, with a long tail in terms of drop-off. Female participation showed peaks in the late 20s and again in the mid to late 40s.

Women falling into the stereotypical trap

Having children can explain the drop off of women participating in their 30s. But why women and not men? Is it a case of women falling into the stereotypical trap of looking after the kids while their husband goes off skiing with his mates?

Encouraging more women to ski has become a commercial mission in the ski industry. Plenty of initiatives have been created to attract women to skiing or boarding in the mountains with numerous women-only lessons, off-piste courses, touring and camps, even Mommy and Me classes in the US. Many emphasise the point that they use women instructors, coaches or guides in a 'fun and supportive atmosphere', underlining the fact that some women prefer a more sympathetic, sensitive environment than guys. And, also, one without guys.

Coation Snow: skis and boards designed for women by women

Notably, the ski and snowboard industry has made significant efforts to produce equipment specifically aimed at women. In a bloke-orientated world, the temptation is to focus on the larger - and more lucrative - masculine ski and snowboard market but many companies do provide kit essentially designed for women, acknowledging their lighter weights and, normally, less aggressive style. There are even brands created JUST for women such as Coalition Snow skis and snowboards designed for women by women. The Coalition Snow belief is that: 'women aren't at a disadvantage when it comes to skiing and riding. We focus on what women can do rather than what they can't.'

Women's achievement in the mountains

Women have come a long way in snow sports since the first Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix in 1924, when there were only 11 women participants out of the total 258 competitors. There were only two events for women, figure skating and mixed pairs, until 1948 when skiing was opened as a female competitive sport. And it wasn't until Sochi that 'ski jumping like a girl' was even possible when the event was allowed in the Winter Olympics for the first time ever.

Now doing any sport 'like a girl' has a postive spin thanks to the phenomenally successful campaign by Always. Lauren Greenfield, the director of Like A Girl, comments that the campaign's aim was to  'empower girls (and educate our audience) to always align the expression #LIKEAGIRL with the meaning of strength, confidence and empowerment.'

Empowering girls from a early age is the mission of Lynsey Dyer, American Freestyle and big mountain skier, photographer, filmmaker, TV host, mentor, action sports model and adventurer, who co-founded the non-profit SheJumps.org encouraging women to participate in the outdoors through mentorship. Her recent film, Pretty Faces, was created to celebrate 'women's achievement in the mountains while inspiring girls of all ages to believe in their dreams'. 

Lynsey Dyer, Jackson Hole backcountry

According to her campaign site, despite women's presence in 40 per cent of the skiing population and 30 per cent of adventure sports film audience, only 14 per cent of athletes in last season's major ski films were female. Also, statistics show that most kids are active but girls from 11-15 years old tend to drop off participating in sports. Lynsey's hope is to direct her message towards this group, making skiing look 'so fun that they won't be able to stay inside any longer'.

If she can do it, then so can I

'Young girls need more positive role models to offer them an alternative to the world of skinny jeans, reality TV and fashion magazines.' she says. 'We aim to provide a positive source of inspiration for young girls first and foremost. The lessons learned on the mountain parallel those learned by many women who take the path less travelled. Our documentary ski film (Pretty Faces) showcases women walking that path to deliver the message “If she can do it, then so can I.”'

Girls on top. Top of the world somewhere in Alaska  Photo: Scott Dickerson