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Hotham Women at the Top

There is something about sharing an outdoor adventure with others you share the same chromosomes with.

By Rachael Oakes-Ash
3 Humans of Hotham

I have a confession to make. I used to loathe skiing with girls. Silly me thought the only way I could improve my skiing was to chase the testosterone down the hill and throw all my technique out the window in the process. First one down wins.

What on earth made me think that a) chicks don’t rip and b) being first means you ski better? I now know the error of my foolish ways but back then I was on a mission, taking up skiing as an adult and then choosing it as my subject of choice as a journalist meant I had to learn, and learn fast.

If only I knew what gifts the female skiing fraternity had to offer. My first inkling of how big and badass women skiers and boarders can be was at Hotham on a week long women’s ski improvement camp when I took a morning off from the tuition and met up with Andrea Binning. That’s a big mountain bad ass skier right there.

Andrea had conquered the peaks of Alaska with their sheer vertical faces and awe-inspiring spines. She had won world championship extreme skiing competitions and she had even been in one of the most terrifying slab avalanches caught on film and lived to tell the story.

There she was skiing down Hotham’s renowned terrain with me tumbling in her trail. No male posse of skiers had ever made me ski so hard and she was just on a down day. She would have left the men I knew in her wake like she left me.

As Australia’s most successful big mountain extreme skier, male or female, to date Andrea also provided me with some serious rubbed off kudos when I name dropped back in the women’s week group that afternoon. The women I was skiing with were tough and Andrea’s name went a long way to them accepting me despite my skiing ability, or lack of it.

Annelies and Belinda ripping on Imagine

Thanks to my job I have gone on since then to ski with some of the best the world has to offer of both genders, including our own Anna Segal (X Games gold, silver and bronze medalist, FIS world champion and 4th in the Sochi Olympics slopestyle), Natalie Segal (Freeride World Tour athlete) and Torah Bright (needs no introduction). Just saying.

I’m also just going to put it out there that Australian women have done ‘all right’ on the world circuit, including Zali Steggall, Alisa Camplin and Lydia Lassila who became household names.

Of course Andrea is not the only impressive female athlete to have called Hotham home. Alpine racer, Greta Small, competed for Australia on every event of the women’s Alpine program at Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. Did I mention she trains at Hotham?

There comes a moment in every skier’s life, male or female, when they realize that they can move down the fall line and not die. That moment when you trust your body enough to fall forward not cling backwards, when you have enough technique in a turn on a steep gradient to know the best way is to flow with the mountain not against it.

It is at this moment that the mountain opens up to you and you can start to conquer the entire hill. I learnt that at Mt Hotham on the steeps of Mary’s Slide. If you ever wondered what someone like Andrea was doing hanging out at an Australian ski field, then just hit up Hotham’s Extreme Zone and throw yourself down Lindsay’s, Avalanche Gully and even Mary’s.

Mary’s slide was named after Mary James (nee Wallace) a champion skier in the 1930-40s who was allegedly seen falling and sliding on her back down the slope.

Like life you can fight the run you find yourself on (provided you’ve chosen within your ability) or you can trust in technique, knowledge and experience and let the flow begin. At your pace. Once I stopped fighting my own gender in my head and went with them not against them I realized that I loved skiing with most women more than I love skiing with some men.

I used to hate the sweeping generalisations and stereotypes thrown at both genders even when I was throwing them myself. But there is something about sharing an outdoor adventure with others you share the same chromosomes with. There’s no need to explain, literally.

Of course there are always exceptions and I still like the thrill of pushing myself to keep up with some of my male and most of my female friends and I love the thrill of passing them even more.

Though on a powder day I don’t care what your gender is. If you’re not ready in time for the first chair then I will just leave you behind.

Rachael Oakes-Ash – aka Miss Snow It All – is an award-winning author, humourist, documentary maker, columnist and travel writer. Keep up with Rachael’s take on all things alpine at snowsbest.com, or on life in general at elephanttruths.com

DO YOU #SKILIKEAGIRL?

Join Hotham’s Ski & Ride School for The Friday Afternoon Club, a weekly women’s ski/snowboard fun and improvement session every Friday afternoon in winter. For intermediate and above riders.

Get involved in Hotham’s Women’s Week specially designed ski/snowboard instruction program for women only. Guaranteed to improve your riding and a great way to explore Hotham’s beautiful mountain terrain with some new friends.

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