Backcountry Skiing Gender Statistics

It has been a while since the last post. However, armed with rocket fuel coffee, a moment of free time, and some interesting statistics (still yet to be fully analyzed) I thought I would share some insights on what appears to be an imbalanced backcountry skiing community. This isn’t to imply that men and women don’t ski together, or that they don’t explore the same dangerous terrain, it is simply to highlight that there are far more men skiing in the backcountry than women. Why? What results from such an imbalance? According to SIA 2013 statistics women comprise 40% of the alpine skiing community and 36% of the freeskiing community. Additionally there are 1,078,740 female tele skiers (a form of skiing that has typically lead people to the backcountry). Yet women only comprise 27% of “non resort skiing” (according to SIA), they only accounted for 10% of my survey population interviewing backcountry skiers, and according to AMGA women make up 11% of the current guide population (they do not define discipline). Outside magazine’s upcoming October Issue discusses the recent rise in popularity of backcountry skiing. The featured article states that 5 million people went backcountry skiing in the 2012-2013 winter season. Moreover, backcountry gear sales have increased by “85% over the past four winters.” Thus my question is why do we have such a decrease in the female population from alpine and freeskiing to backcountry skiing during a time of significant growth for the sport? There are most likely numerous answers to this question (all of which I look forward to hearing and thinking about) however outside of participation rates I see something a little more alarming and that is the seemingly greater distance women have to travel from alpine resort skiing to backcountry group leader than men. While I have had the good fortune of being mentored by female backcountry skiers, and thus frequently traveled in groups where women are the primary leader, I found this past winter that this group dynamic isn’t common (at least based on self reports). The results from a survey I distributed show that while a large number of participants report skiing in mixed gender groups, an overwhelming number of participants also stated that they rarely ski in groups in which women are the primary leader. This is important for many reasons, all of which cannot be addressed in this blog post. However, I do find it interesting that in an era when so much time, effort, and energy is dedicated to finding safer ways of traveling in the backcountry little attention has been given to the fact that we know complex and diverse groups are far more successful (see recent Business Insider article http://www.businessinsider.com/stocks-with-female-directors-outperform-2014-9) and resilient than homogeneous ones. Thus as everyone scrambles to develop the next backcountry safety device to save us from flawed decision making, perhaps we should begin our season by inviting a broader range of voices and perspectives into the conversation before we start beeping, digging, and deploying. Note: No matter who you are, where you ski, or your preferred means of sliding down snow, if you plan on traveling in the BC start practicing with your beacon now!! Great time of year to brush up on those skills. Ride safe and enjoy the turns. Note 2: Valid backcountry statistics are hard to find due to the wide dispersal of participants. These numbers are assumed to be generally representative and not pinpoint accurate.

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