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SkiMums: Energizing and Empowering Women in Utah

Just finding that balance between work and play.

Just finding that balance between work and play.

Copyright: Scott Markewitz

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Women in Utah.  It doesn’t matter whether they are natives or transplants, something kinetic happens to women who live, work and play in the Beehive State.  Whether they’re standing on a snowy summit or biking over sandy slickrock, the landscape and the lifestyle here rouses something in them and, as the Chinese proverb says, “When sleeping women wake, mountains will move.”  The history of Utah is filled with female pioneers, politicians, professionals, and parents banding together to move the State and country in exciting and even historic ways.  Today, you can find many such women on the ski lifts at Snowbird.  They draw inspiration and strength from the mountain and one another to make great things happen and thoroughly enjoy themselves along the way.

I am not an inspirational quote kind of person.

Chrissy Teigen, Utah native, supermodel and political provocateur

They’re called SkiMums (a cheeky twist on ski bums), a network of intermediate to advanced women skiers and snowboarders at Snowbird in Salt Lake City.  The whole concept of SkiMums is something that could only happen in Utah; just try imagining it in Texas or New York.  Local women arrive at 9:30 am on winter Wednesday mornings at the Gadzoom Lift and ski until … whenever.  Some ski one run before heading to work; others ski until they have to pick up the kids.  If it’s a powder day, then most will call in favors begging others to cover both and maybe pick up dinner, too.

“When sleeping women wake, mountains will move.”  - © Scott Markewitz

“When sleeping women wake, mountains will move.”

Copyright: Scott Markewitz

On any given week, there can be four to twenty-four ladies ready to shred, but they typically aren’t the same ones week-to-week or even year-to-year.  Utah women are busy and drop in when they can, but many come often.  This mix keeps the vibe, conversation, and trail choice fresh.  It’s not a club or organization; there are no rules or dues. Some SkiMums don’t even have kids.  It’s more like a book club or playdate with the shared interest of skiing Snowbird’s challenging runs, exploring new trails and, some days, conquering fears.  Like most activities in Utah, hearty laughter, strong sunscreen and a girlfriend or ten are recommended.

What I have discovered as a person in this world...is this: you can’t do it alone…

Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you,

spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life. 

Amy Pohler, actor, comedian and fictional civic leader

A bit of magic occurs when a group of women get together for a shared purpose.  SkiMums see it each week and are often awed by the totality of those moments each season. Most Utahns will tell you if you can ski Snowbird, then you can ski anywhere.   For some, the challenge is its appeal.  However, if you’ve spent the last seven or seventeen years trailing kiddos on the bunny slopes, then the issue becomes: How do you recover your shredding mojo or just your courage to tip your skis over the edge of a black or double-black diamond run in Mineral Basin?

”Excuse me while I crush this line”  - © Scott Markewitz

”Excuse me while I crush this line”

Copyright: Scott Markewitz

Although strength is helpful in skiing and snowboarding, Snowbird instructor and SkiMum Susi stresses that, as in life, balance is more important and, in the end, more powerful.  Balance involves grounding yourself on the ski, on the mountain, and in the moment.  It involves letting go of the What-ifs and Can-Is as well as the rest of the internal monologue that constantly, frustratingly throws you off.  Once you find this equilibrium, gravity — nature’s powerful and perpetual force — takes over.  Then, the magic.  As you glide down, your skis striking the granite face like a flint, you feel the mountain move beneath and, for an instant, everything is illuminated and possible. 

 You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it.

You have to go down the chute.

Tina Fey, writer, philosopher and bossypants  

SkiMums is full of some amazing skiers and snowboarders and, in any other setting, following people with such skills could be intimidating.  Here, it is empowering.  Every single SkiMum can recount how a well-intentioned spouse, significant other or colleague mansplained them down a run or chute or through a forest.  “Just do [insert instructions here]!”  It then becomes about meeting his needs and expectations, not her’s.  Could you ever imagine a bunch of women saying that?  More likely, a Mum will holler, “You can follow me, Julie,” or “Wanna go another way this time, Steph?” or “I know you can do this, Valerie!”  SkiMums don’t tell each other what to do; they remind each other that they can do anything. 

Women supporting women. Powderful women.  - © Scott Markewitz

Women supporting women. Powderful women.

Copyright: Scott Markewitz

Among SkiMums, when someone encounters a new trail or obstacle or a run that is steeper or narrower than preferred, three things typically happen: (1) Margit will watch the path Jane takes and follow it turn-by-turn; (2) Libby will watch Jen and say to herself, “If she can do it, then so can I,” or (3) I will watch Katie and concede, “I’m going to sideslip until I find my groove and, if I splay and suffer a total yard sale, then we’ll laugh like maniacs together while we look for my poles.”  SkiMums often intune when another is facing that proverbial cliff and, on more than one occasion, high-five or cheer her at the bottom.  In everyday life, where do women ever get the opportunity to do that for one another?  Such victories on the mountain carry over into SkiMums’ daily lives because, honestly, if you can learn and grow or even stumble and fall on an 11,000-foot mountain, then you can carry that confidence to do anything...anywhere.

[I’m] in this weird endless pit with a certain group of friends

where we keep sending each other flowers

to thank each other for the flowers.

Chrissy Teigen, mother, wife and friend

SkiMums come from all walks and stages of life — professionals, parents, students, retirees — and from all over the Wasatch Front and Back.  They become friends on the mountain and, in many cases, off the mountain, too.  You can learn a lot about a person on a nine-minute ski lift.  SkiMums swap stories, job leads, recipes, and deals on their favorite fringed suede mittens.  However, first, last and always, they are #womensupportingwomen

Although most discovered SkiMums by word-of-mouth, it has developed a loyal following, something Snowbird has encouraged and cultivated since its inception.  For over eight years, the Mountain School (led by a woman) has provided free group lessons to the Mums with some of its best female instructors.  Its marketing department (also led by a woman) has repeatedly offered the Mums First Tracks mornings, Spa Days and mountain bike clinic deals.  Snowbird has recognized their economic power, that buying decisions — from ski passes to lessons to vacations — are often made by women, and building brand loyalty among SkiMums (some of whom buy passes just to ski on Wednesday mornings) and all women is good business.

Empowering women in powder.  - © Scott Markewitz

Empowering women in powder.

Copyright: Scott Markewitz

SkiMums have also become great ambassadors for the resort and the region.  They take a lot of photographs and videos and share them among themselves and online, including on its popular Instagram account (@skisnowbird).  This builds community, spreads the stoke, and allows the Mums to network off the mountain. It, also, provides important but often overlooked affirmation.  Not surprisingly, these women are usually behind the camera documenting their families' moments and milestones and are almost universally uncomfortable being the subject.  However, when their teenagers, spouses, parents, friends, or bosses ...oops, see them snorkeling through powder on Bookends and, then, share the picture with the caption, “Yeah, that’s my Mum,” these ladies become identified as the strong, exciting, adventurous #powderfulwomen they are and try to model for others. 

Something energizes the women of Utah — the stunning landscapes, its adventurous people, people who in the Beehive State have understood from its founding that collective efforts can make large and lasting changes.  The women of SkiMums may just ski and snowboard together, but those shared moments spark, recharge and rekindle their minds, bodies and spirits.  They help forge friendships and develop resources that empower them in their homes, businesses and communities. Yes, they have a great time, but these are women who can move mountains.

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Paula Colman is a recovering attorney and practicing parent. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah where you can typically find her outside hiking, biking, skiing, or otherwise enjoying everything else this ridiculously beautiful place offers.

Gallery

undefined - © Scott Markewitz
Women skiing at Snowbird - © Scott Markewitz
Skiing at Snowbird, Utah - © Scott Markewitz
Powder skiing at Snowbird, Utah - © Scott Markewitz

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