Formed in 2019, the Women’s Ski Coaches Association (WSCA) has been a consistent and ardent supporter of creating gender equality in all areas of North American skiing. With WSCA founders—St. Scholastica Head Coach Maria Stuber and Staffer, Craftsbury Green Racing Project Biathlete (and former St. Scholastica skier) Kelsey Dickinson at the organizational core—a strong actor-network has been formed to advocate for women in the ski coaching profession. This has included some notable partnerships with organizations at the heart of US Skiing, including the foundation of the Trail to Gold Fellowship with the National Nordic Foundation this season which will see five women coaches complete a two-week internship on the World Cup this season.
In its latest program launch last month, the WSCA turned to the ski industry. The GearUP program, which announced its first cohort last month, will see ten women coaches from across the North American ski community outfitted with gear from participating ski brands. Fischer, Rossignol, Salomon, Atomic, Madshus, and Swix are all participating. The coaches in this inaugural cohort are all working with representatives of their paired brands, providing the experience of building a lasting relationship with a ski company. Those relationships are often the difference between a club having a reliable way to outfit skiers, and having to patch together equipment from limited inventories, ski swaps, and used marketplaces.
The impetus for GearUP comes from a perceived skew in the “social capital” within our sport. WSCA staffer Kelsey Dickinson addressed that discrepancy in an interview with FasterSkier:
“I don’t think it is a secret that getting [ski equipment] in [the United States and Canada] is almost entirely up to who you know, and that disproportionately skews towards male coaches when a disproportionate number of brand representatives are male.” says Dickinson. That has fostered a space in the skiing community where women coaches struggle to establish themselves: “It’s not that there is intentional exclusion on the part of these brands. [It’s more so] that there are a bunch of coaches vying for a limited number of brand representatives, and there isn’t a lot of thought put into who is working with who.” The individual interactions in the ski industry sum up to a culture that has excluded women coaches, even if it has formed passively: “The ski coach needs equipment, and they will go to whoever they know best. [The brand representative] is more likely to respond to an old teammate, or an old coach…with both parts of that equation being disproportionately male in [the United States ski community], it has tended to exclude women [coaches],” said Dickinson.
The motivation behind GearUP is to deliberately change some of the individual interactions of ski coaches with brand representatives so that it leads to a cultural shift where women coaches are more welcome in the ski industry space. For nearly every major ski brand in North America, it was an easy sell. “There was almost no hesitation by any of the big ski brands,” said Dickinson. “Once we went to them and said, ‘this is a place where we don’t think women coaches feel welcome and here is why’ they almost universally came back with a response that said, ‘we are willing to help out however we can to start correcting [the culture] on our end.’”
The result was that every major ski brand (Fischer, Rossignol, Atomic, Salomon, and Madshus), as well as Swix, signed on to outfit at least one female coach with a pair of skate skis, a pair of classic skis, and other brand accessories. Swix agreed to provide the whole cohort with two pairs of poles each. Originally, the program was intended to cover eight coaches, but Dickinson and Stuber were able to secure two more additional spots to expand the cohort of coaches to ten. “We had sixty-one applications, which was way more than [WSCA] or the brands expected,” said Dickinson. “Once we went to [equipment sponsors] with the quality of that applicant pool, they were willing to expand the program to reflect the commitment of women coaches in the nordic community.”
The inaugural cohort was announced last month, and Dickinson and Stuber are already brainstorming about the potential for future expansion of GearUP. “Part of why we wanted to do this now is that with the [supply-chain issues of the past few seasons] there was a pressing need for coaches, and also a kind of challenge to brands,” said Dickinson. “We know it’s hard, but this might be an opportunity to come out of this difficult moment with a better culture for women—and women coaches—going forward.”
Future iterations of GearUP will hopefully include a greater percentage of the applicant pool being outfitted, along with more brands from the periphery of the ski industry being involved. Even more crucial may be that new relationships may extend beyond a pair of new skis and boots. “Hopefully, this is resonating out right now,” said Dickinson. “The brand representatives are meeting our coaches and realizing there’s entire clubs and programs with great women coaches that have just been out of the loop on getting the equipment they need, when they need it, to be successful in skiing. At the end of the day, [GearUP] isn’t about skis, it is about skiing.”
The Inaugural WSCA GearUP Program Cohort
- Patricia Casey – Alaska Nordic Racing Program (Eagle River, Alaska).
- Aliya Brown – Bogus Basin Nordic Team (Boise, Idaho).
- Leslie Bode – Thunder Bay National Team Development Centre (Thunder By, Ontario).
- Katie Eichten – Spooner Rails On Trails (Spooner, Wisconsin).
- Rachel Koroscil – Canmore Nordic Ski Club (Canmore, Alberta).
- Dana Hatton – Yarmouth High School (Yarmouth, Maine).
- Sydney Michalak – Crosscut Mountain Sports Center (Bozeman, Montana).
- Callie Knapp – Endurance United (Minneapolis, Minnesota).
- Mackenzie Rizio – Mount Anthony Union High School/Prospect Mountain Ski Club (Bennington, Vermont).
- Kirsys Campbell – Jackson Hole Ski Club (Jackson, Wyoming).
Ben Theyerl was born into a family now three-generations into nordic ski racing in the US. He grew up skiing for Chippewa Valley Nordic in his native Eau Claire, Wisconsin, before spending four years racing for Colby College in Maine. He currently mixes writing and skiing while based out of Crested Butte, CO, where he coaches the best group of high schoolers one could hope to find.