Really, it’s not up to us. This is something for the International Ski Federation (FIS) to decide. Still, it’s an interesting discussion that’s been going on for a while – at least since 2012, when Lindsey raised the idea of competing against the men at Lake Louise. At the time, the FIS rejected her request, saying “one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other” and that “exceptions will not be made to the FIS Rule.”
But Lindsey Vonn is no ordinary racer. We’re talking about one of the best ski racers ever, and the winningest female ski racer in history. She’s racked up 77 World Cup wins, two world championship golds, two Olympic medals — including downhill gold at the 2010 Games in Vancouver — and four World Cup overall titles.
This month, US Alpine director Patrick Riml says he’s going to push for rules alterations at the FIS meetings to possibly give Vonn and other female skiers that opportunity down the road.
Is this something that’s going to break down gender barriers, or give women a benefit they didn’t have before?
Not really. The purpose here is not to change the face of World Cup racing in any way. Women would still race in women’s competitions, men in men’s. That’s how it should be. The physical differences between men and women don’t lend themselves to a level field of competition. What’s more, men’s courses are longer than women’s. And yes, there are differences in equipment, too.
According to Lindsey, racing against men is just a personal goal; something she’s always wanted to do. In an interview with the Denver Post (January 16, 2017), Vonn said, “I train with the men all the time and I really enjoy it. They push me to be a better skier. I always find myself skiing my best when I’m skiing against them. I talk to them, I pick their brain, I see what they’re doing and I, in turn, ski faster. So I would like the opportunity to race against them and see where I stand.”
She continued, “I know I’m not going to win, but I would like to at least have the opportunity to try. I think I’ve won enough World Cups where I should have enough respect within the industry to be able to have that opportunity.”
Nonetheless, if it happens, it’s going to generate a ton of interest. And that’s not a bad thing.
Over the past few years, ski racing has seen a marked decline in TV viewership. This race could change that. After all, Lindsey Vonn isn’t just a star on the ski circuit. She’s someone who’s crossed over into the culture at large. You see her on red carpets, TV shows, and magazine covers. People — and by that I mean non-skiers — know who she is. Which means people who don’t ordinarily watch may find themselves tuning in
Then there’s the whole ‘battle of the sexes’ thing. Way back in the 1970’s, for example, tennis star Billie Jean King took on Bobby Riggs in a TV ratings bonanza that gave the sport a huge boost. Sure, it’s partly theater. But it’s theater that lends itself to ratings gold. And if that helps raise awareness for skiing — and respect for women’s skiing — then I’m all for it.
So should it happen?
Why not? It’d certainly be exciting to watch. And if Lindsey wins, I can’t say I won’t feel a measure of pride for women skiers everywhere. Sure, Lindsey is way above a mere mortal like me. But in a race like this, she’s a stand-in for all of us. So go, Lindsey, go!
If you want to think about women breaking gender barriers in skiing, think about these women, instead:
Jeanne Thoren: The first person in the ski industry to realize that women were not just miniature men and maybe, just maybe, we needed gear engineered to suit us.
Suzy Chaffee: A three-time world freestyle skiing champion, and the first female member of the US Olympic team board of directors. But I think her most far-ranging achievement is her work as a champion of Title IX legislation. Suzy was instrumental in convincing federal lawmakers to enact the statute that guarantees equal opportunities for men and women in federally funded sports and education programs.
Lynsey Dyer: A phenomenal world-class skier who was named Powder Magazine’s Skier of the Year, Lynsey is also the founder of SheJumps.org, an organization dedicated to encouraging women to participate in outdoor activities. But that’s not all: Fed up with the fact that only 14% of the athletes in major ski films are female when women make up around 40% of the skiing population, Lynsey took it upon herself to produce Pretty Faces, an all-female ski movie
Lindsey Van: In 2009, she became the first World Champion in women’s ski jumping after winning the first World Championships to allow women to compete. She also holds the North American women’s record with a jump of 171 meters. Before the Olympic Games in 2010, she held the hill record for both men and women in Vancouver. More importantly, her continued efforts not only helped put women’s ski jumping on the map, but helped put it into the 2014 Olympics.
Pam Murphy: There still aren’t a lot of women in the upper echelons of ski area management, but the first to break the snow ceiling was Pam Murphy. Starting in the ticket office at Mammoth Mountain in 1973, Pam rose through the ranks to vice president of marketing and sales and in 1998, became Mammoth’s general manager — the first female GM for a major ski resort in the country.
Angel Collinson: Angel is kind of the ‘it’ girl of skiing right now. But not without cause. Angel was the first woman to win the Best Line at the Powder Awards, creating what the Ski Journal called “the burliest—and most entertaining—female film segment of all time.”
Jen Gurecki: What do we do when we’re unhappy with the women’s skis out there? Here’s what Jen did: she stepped up and created Coalition Snow, the first ever woman-owned ski company — not an easy task in an industry that’s dominated by men.
There’s no doubt there are a lot of inspiring women in the ski world; these are only a few. And yes, Lindsey Vonn is definitely among them. But is her race a triumph for women in skiing? Not necessarily. Does she continue to inspire young women in skiing today? Yes. And that’s what really counts.