The third week of January, former World Freeskiing Champion Jess McMillan was mentally preparing herself to compete at the Chamonix-Mont Blanc stop on the Swatch Freeride World Tour. Who was she thinking of for inspiration?
Well, myself and the 49 other women at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Terra Women’s Camp that she and fellow pro freeskier Crystal Wright were coaching at.
"I’ve never been more inspired by a group of women,” McMillan said at the camp’s closing night banquet. Campers, most of whom had skied over 100,000 vertical feet over the previous four days, were sporting everything from chic Chanel-looking black wool suits to red leather pants. Jess wasn’t just inspired by how well we cleaned up though. “You are some of the toughest, most-badass women I’ve ever met. I leave for Cham on Tuesday and I’m so inspired. I’m going to ski for all of you.”
Jackson has had women’s camps for over a decade. I’ve purposefully stayed away from them. I’m not a girly girl and feared women’s camps would be more rah-rah than ripping. More group hugs than getting after it. But when Jackson Hole locals and former Freeskiing World Tour Champions Crystal Wright (2009, 2012) and Jess McMillan (2007) both signed on to teach at the Terra Women’s Camp, I figured they’d kick my ass just fine. And then maybe give me a hug.
I missed the first morning of Women’s Camp because of a man. I had a real-life James Bond visiting. Meeting up with my group over lunch—mixed green salad, curried chicken wraps, couscous and two varieties of oversized cookies (chocolate chip and oatmeal)—they didn’t hold this against me. Walking to the tram, they did pump for details though. “A real-life James Bond? Seriously??”
By the time we were stepping into our skis in front of Corbet’s Cabin, conversation had gotten serious: the importance of smearing turns and what brands of sports bras wicked the best.
About to drop in at JHMR Terra Women's Camp. Photo: Patrick Nelson/JHMR
We flew down Rendezvous Bowl to Bivouac Woods to North Woods to a North Hoback. It had been several days since Jackson Hole had gotten significant snow and conditions on these black diamond runs were far from easy. At the top of one of the steeper, bumpier, and tighter pitches, one woman remarked, “This is when the voices in my head start.” She paused a few seconds and then dropped in. She nailed it.
We stopped every so often for our coach, one of the few women skiers good enough to be a member of the infamous Jackson Hole Air Force, to offer up tips and demonstrate for the group. There was no hugging. There was some whooping and cheering though.
At the bottom of the Hobacks heading for the Union Pass lift, there was also talk of how good each other looked. “You had great flow through the bumps at the bottom.” “You’re a really beautiful skier.” “You nailed those trees.”
Wow, serious shredding and support. Why had I been afraid of skiing with a group of women?
Although this was my first Women’s Camp, I had previously done a Steep & Deep Camp at Jackson Hole. Steep & Deep isn’t only for men, but, when I did it, there were about 45 men and five women. I think that’s the norm.
In Steep & Deep, as at the Women’s Camp, campers talked about runs at the bottom. Instead of “You’re a beautiful skier,” though, Steep & Deep talk was more like, “Wow, I nailed that.” Or, “I was so on that run.”
Loading the Union Pass lift, it was only 2 p.m. There was plenty more skiing to get after. Two of the five women in my group were done for the day though. “I’m going to go and soak in the hot tub,” one said. The other said that if she kept skiing it wouldn’t be fun anymore. “I’m here to have fun, right?” A third group member bowed out after the next run. “I’m beat,” she said. “I’ve got a massage scheduled and I think I’ve reached my saturation point for the day. We learned a lot.” Used to skiing with men, I was bowled over by the “smarts” of these women.
Ladies ripping up Jackson Hole's terrain with JHMR Terra Women's Camp. Photo: Patrick Nelson/JHMR
In my Steep & Deep Camp, come late afternoon I saw my group mates’ quads quivering. Stepping into and out of the gondola, they’d wince in pain. They were obviously not having fun. But never once did one of them quit before the lifts closed for the day.
“Steep & Deep campers aren’t so interested in anything as in beating themselves up,” said one coach who has taught numerous S&Ds and Women’s Camps. “They pay us to thrash them. I’ve got to protect them from themselves. In the Women’s Camps, it’s more about learning than self-inflicted pain.”
I was on time for day 2. While my first group skied the entire mountain and generally looked good doing it, I skied a bit faster. So I was in a new group starting this morning. It was a perfect fit. I’m not sure how Jackson Hole manages to do it, but the five of us all had the same level of desire, skied similar speeds and could get down similar terrain, although we did each have our own bad habits that we were looking to break.
Also, while I was the only single woman and woman without a kid in my first group, my second group was uniformly childless. We talked about pets—Puggles and Pekinese—and shared photos of them over lunch. Ages ranged from 37 to 53. The 53-year-old was a world champion powerlifter. Another was a former ski racer who threw herself down the mountain with an aggressiveness I rarely saw in female skiers. It was awesome. I was a little jealous.
I was a leery, however, because this group had self-titled itself the “Princesses of Power.” I’m not a princess of power. There was no doubt these women ripped but I feared the on-slope hugs might still get me out of my comfort zone. Full disclosure, the number of on-slope hugs I deem to be appropriate is exactly zero, unless I happen to ski into Robert Downey, Jr.
But there were no hugs. There was plenty of girl power though.
Building friendships at JHMR Terra Women's Camp. Photo: Dina Mishev
While we were skiing double blacks like Paintbrush and Toilet Bowl:
“We are the Princesses of Power! Yeee-aaaahh!”
"You are so killing it! Woooo-oooo!”
“Something magical just happened back there! You were shredding! Wooo-ahhhh!”
Exclamation points aren’t quite as anathema to me as on-slope hugs, but they’re close. I’m more comfortable ending sentences with periods. And “Yeee-aaaahh” doesn’t naturally roll off my tongue.
I don’t know if it was Coach Kori Richards’ infectious positivity, the red long underwear dotted with sumo wrestlers that poked out of the top of her ski pants, or the fact that the tips she was giving me were making me a better, prettier, more in-control skier, but by that afternoon, I was “yeee-aaaahhing” with the best of them. I was getting to know my inner princess of power and she was all good. I was even starting to speak in exclamation points.
Earning turns at JHMR Terra Women's Camp. Photo: Dina Mishev
By the time Jess was sharing how much we had inspired her at the closing banquet I was wearing a bedazzled tiara alongside the rest of the Princesses of Power, whom I now considered friends. After all, we witnessed each other become better skiers. One morning, just for fun, we had skied together from the top of the tram, where temperatures were only slightly above zero, in bikini tops. We watched as one of us had broken her humerus landing flat on a cat track. (FYI—there were no tears and she skied down to the clinic at the base.) We shared cookies and wine. We had done shots of something pink and frothy called “Alpenglow.” We had ventured, with a guide, into the resort’s backcountry and applied our improved skiing to variable and wind-slabby conditions. We had all gained confidence. And, as the banquet drew to a close, we all hugged each other.
Details: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Women’s Camps welcome intermediate through expert skiers. There were two four-day camps in 2013. The camp is $1,000, not including lift tickets. Camp costs include four days of instruction, video analysis, four lunches, early tram access, après ski parties, an opening banquet and a party the final night.