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Women's Freeski Day boosts participation

female skiers improve when skiing together



Even though it's only been around a short time, a local group has already made a major impact on local freeskiers.

Founder Sarah Hopwood started up the Whistler Women's Freeski Day in December, and already the group's Facebook page is already closing in on 500 members.

One of them, Vibe Mikkelsen, has seen major development in her freeskiing ability in just a few biweekly sessions.

After finding the group on Facebook, the product of Hillerød, Denmark was intrigued, appreciating the opportunity to go shred with other women as she sought to learn how to use the terrain park.

"My skiing has improved a lot," said Mikkelsen, a former snowboarder who began skiing after a rib injury. "We don't feel insecure about our abilities when we're skiing with each other compared to when we ski with guys. It instantly takes away the fear of falling because we know we're all the same level and we know no one will judge if they do.

"Instead of worrying about how we look, we start worrying about 'How can we get this done? How can we learn this better and faster?' We get stoked for each other and that's a huge plus."

Hopwood noted participation tends to max out at about 30 riders per session, which take place every second Wednesday. The next ride will take place on March 25.

Though the program is ostensibly to help riders' skills, Hopwood feels it's becoming something deeper, noting women are rarely ever seen in ads or on social media ripping it up in the parks.

"It was a way to improve people's riding, getting everybody uphill, having fun, while we're all here," said the Englishwoman, who is in her second season in Whistler. "It's become more than that. It's really become a female movement for the sport. We have such a huge participation (level) now and it's so good to see that talent really showcased because you don't see it in the media.

"I've met some really amazing chicks that are shredders, that are absolutely killing it in the park and you never get to see them. I really feel that it's helping to push the sport in that way as well."

Hopwood has observed participants like Mikkelsen make major strides in the handful of sessions that have been held.

"We've got girls who have never skied park before and they're hitting rails," she said. "One of the girls today (March 11), I was just so happy, she never dreamed that she could have done that a couple weeks ago.

"It's awesome to see them so stoked on the skiing, there's energy coming back from it despite the conditions and the pretty negative season."

Hopwood started the club in December after suffering a knee injury — her second serious setback in as many years. Though unable to ride herself at the moment, she's able to explain how attendees should approach different challenges.

"It kind of sucks — (you think) 'What am I doing in Whistler?'" she said. "I'm injured and I can't demonstrate anything, but I still feel I'm able to teach the girls quite a lot."

Hopwood, who for liability purposes is not a coach but rather a group organizer, noted riders are paired off in a "buddy system" so people of similar abilities can learn from one another.

In addition to spreading the word through Facebook, Hopwood also put up posters around town in places like ski shops.

She hopes to stick around Whistler and is applying for residency, but regardless of how that plays out, feels the club is now well established enough to be self-sustaining.

"It's great. This will never stop now, I feel," she said. "It's always going to have that energy. There are always going to be the girls."


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