There have been a lot of conversations in the snow sports industry lately about diversity and inclusion in the sports. Most of the discussion revolves around consumers but one study looked at the role that women ski and snowboard instructors play. In 2018, the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) established a Women’s Initiative Task Force (WIT). The group was formed to advise the association’s operational leaders on the needs of women in the organization, provide a voice, and advocate on their behalf. A key part of the mission was to increase the number of women in leadership roles throughout PSIA-AASI.
With that in mind, the WIT worked with industry consulting firm RRC Associates to develop a survey that was distributed to over 9,200 female members. It had a 45% response rate including over 5,000 open comments.
Survey comments indicated that, despite their love for snowsports and teaching, many women encounter motivational roadblocks inhibiting their progress and leave before they achieve higher certification level. What motivates women instructors and what has impacted this numbers? According to survey results, some 85% of the women who responded rated the opportunity for skill improvement as their “why” for staying engaged. On the other hand, 28% said they lacked access to training, and 50% felt that the barriers of cost and travel are too high to overcome.
As noted in the industry version of The Snow Industry Letter, the project unveiled many other revelations and the results produced the first comprehensive report that examined women’s experiences within PSIA-AASI and the greater snowsport industry. Titled “Women Belong on the Mountain – Investing in Women in the Snowsports Industry”, it identified Six Key Findings:
1. The Big Picture – Culture and Belonging: An overview of systemic issues affecting underrepresentation of women in PSIA-AASI.
2. The Pipeline: Understanding the pathway to high levels of certification within PSIA-AASI and beyond.
3. Professional Development (Parts 1 & 2), Certification, Traits of Trainers: The challenges of professional growth.
4. Mentorship: The value of mentorship in supporting personal and professional growth.
5. Gear Factors: Gear limitations and the roadblocks to skill development.
6. Implicit Bias: Awareness of the issues that hinder success at high levels. While the report was distributed solely to female members of PSIA-AASI, the findings are valuable to all stakeholders within the snowsports industry. Currently, women make up roughly 29% of the total 32,000 PSIA-AASI members. This presents an immense opportunity to support and grow this base of professionals into leadership roles, both within and beyond professional ski and snowboard instructors.
Heidi Ettlinger is an experienced ski instructor at Heavenly in California, a member of the PSIA National Team and also a member of the WIT. She noted that the report’s findings are consistent with what she has personally witnessed for women who are simply recreational participants as well.
“The report may offer valuable insight for stakeholders looking to grow women’s participation overall in snowsports, she said. “In outdoor recreation pursuits that include a gear factor, instruction to obtain skills, and time for guided practice, women either encounter experiences that support them and they continue – or they don’t return. These are perceived barriers that might prevent women from starting the sport, or might lead to women quitting. I believe we would serve women better by helping lower these perceived and real barriers to entry.”
One aspect of the report may not be surprising. Most participants in the snowsports industry know that that the ratio of men to women has stayed the same for a very long time. In PSIA-AASI, men make up 62% of the current membership while women consist of about 30%. Some did not indicate gender so the numbers do not add up to 100 percent.