Why is it that there is such a big gender gap in snowboarding? Estimates place male participation at around 66% and female participation around 34%. Why the discrepancy? I have some theories…
In my experience I usually see two types of girls on the mountain-those just starting to learn and those who are getting it done! There are some girls keeping up with the guys (the good guys) and really tearing it up out there. And then there are the girls on the beginner trails struggling to get down without hurting themselves. But there don’t seem to be many in the middle. Why is that?
I consulted with our friend Hanna Haidar of Geeks of Shred about this. He has been a snowboard instructor and coach for years and has seen a lot of people come and go through the snowboarding world.
Here are some of the reasons we think girls don’t stick with snowboarding past the learning curve
- Bad introduction to snowboarding– the night before my first time riding Mark and I stopped at a wine store at the base of the mountain. We mentioned to the lady there that we were heading out for my first time the next day. She said firmly “friends don’t let friends teach them how to snowboard”. She went on to explain the extra strain that learning/ teaching snowboarding can put on a relationship. It has nothing to do with the teacher or the student…it is just a tough dynamic. Learning to snowboard isn’t easy and can be frustrating for both parties, and it can add extra strain if you are out there with your boyfriend who already knows how to ride trying to tell you how to do it when all you can do is fall on your face.
- Intimidation– the mountain itself can be intimidating when you are first starting out, but so can all of the people flying by you on the mountain and in the park looking like they have been snowboarding or skiing since they started walking. Also the snowboarding industry is basically a boys club. Much of the industry is male driven and geared toward males. That’s understandable given the discrepancy between the genders number wise. Don’t let this stop you! The more of us that get out there, the more they’ll have to start to pay attention to us and the less scary it will seem. There’s a comraderie in seeing other girls snowboarding.
- Fear of looking stupid– no one likes to look stupid. I think that learning to snowboard requires a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at oneself and not take things too seriously. Everyone has to go through a learning curve. The process is different for everyone and for those who are lucky enough to start when they are young, it’s probably much less scary and painful, but everyone has to go through some variation of it. We have all taken the nasty falls… over and over again. And we have all looked stupid doing it. After a particularly entertaining fall in Winter Park right under a lift line, I decided that it was ok if people were laughing at me. If I can make people laugh, they are happy and there is no reason to apologize for that. So at least my falls can serve as entertainment.
- Pressure to do too much too soon. We all need to move at our own pace. Some of us move more slowly than others. It can be frustrating for everyone. I am lucky that Mark is very patient. He would suggest ways to push myself, but he never pushed me beyond where he knew I could go, which was sometimes further than I realized I could go.
- A lack of good girl’s snowboarding stuff out there-don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of great gear for girls! There are super fun boards, really cute and functional clothes, and comfy and warm boots. But finding this great stuff at your local shop can be tough. And finding a girl who works at a shop, who has actually tried the gear is even tougher. It makes sense that they don’t stock a lot because there are so many fewer of us out there. But the lack of availability, and the lack of women to talk to who ride the gear, does little to foster the progression of women in the sport. And using your boyfriend’s old hand me down board probably won’t help your cause. It’s very likely going to be too big, wide and stiff for learning on it to be easy for you.
- Not committing to learn. Going out just a couple of times per year is not enough to really learn how to snowboard. So every time you go out you have the same experience over and over again.
So how do you get past all of this, learn to love snowboarding and get to the next level.
- Stick with it! That’s the most important thing. Understand that it will not happen right away, it will take work. There is a book called the “The First 20 hours” by Josh Kaufman. He postulates that if you dedicate 20 hours to actively learning and practicing a new skill you can become proficient at it. If that is true, and for most things it probably is, you need to spend several days engaged in active learning and practice to learn to snowboard. So make sure that you get some instruction. A couple of lessons, and time in between to practice what you learn, should be enough to get you going. And you need to go out enough times to develop muscle memory so you don’t have to go through the awful learning curve every time you go out!!! A couple of times a year will be like the movie “Groundhog Day”…you will just keep repeating the same thing over and over again with very little progression. Once you learn it you own it, just like riding a bike.
- Start slow to go fast…it is important to push yourself, but you can do that in small ways. Spending extra time on mellow trails where you are comfortable and having fun is better than stepping up to terrain you aren’t ready for where you get your butt kicked. It’s not bad to go a little beyond your comfort zone, but respect yourself and your instincts and don’t push yourself too far, too fast. Snowboarding is about having fun! (are you detecting a theme here?) If you are getting pressured to step it up and you get killed out there, you will likely not be having fun. So take a step back, slow down and enjoy yourself. Celebrate the little victories and build off of them.
- Don’t be afraid of the mini park. If you want to get into park riding, the mini park is the place to start. Don’t feel self conscious, most of the people in there are just starting out with park skills too. Give it a shot and see if it’s for you. If you are nervous about it, there are lots of women’s clinics out there. They provide very supportive environments and instruction to try new skills that you might not have considered before in a safe environment. Or you can get a private lesson and concentrate on park riding.
- Intermediate lessons or clinics– you can find lessons and clinics for varying levels at pretty much every ski area. Take advantage of these. If you go with a group, it can be a great opportunity to meet new people and learn in a different ways. And you could have a new riding friend at the end. If you do a private lesson, they will help you with specifically what you want to work on and will move at your pace, so that can be a great option…particularly if you have hit a wall with something specific and you need help getting over it.
Though there are a lot of ski areas offering programs specifically for women, the snowboard industry as a whole is still a boys club. Groups like Shred It Girl, and Shred Betties are focused on girls who ride, surf, skate, etc. so check them out. Slowly pro women are gaining more video parts. Hopefully the more inspirational women we see riding, the more we will be able to progress the sport and make our presence felt. The more of us who get past the learning curve and love the sport, the more girls’ snowboarding will continue to grow. As we develop groups of friends who ride, we will be tearing it up like the boys!
Bottom line is that snowboarding is about having fun! So keep it light. Dress right so you stay warm and dry. And don’t take yourself too seriously. You are there to have fun. Sure there will be bumps along the way, but if you are patient and stick with it, you will get better, you will be able to do new things, you will see new terrain and you will challenge yourself in fun and exciting new ways!