A couple of years ago, Vail Resorts, which is probably the largest mountain destinations company in the world, found an interesting anomaly: that while women are the major decision makers for their family’s winter vacation, a surprising number did not take part in skiing or snowboarding, which is the main purpose of the trip.
They explored the reasons why and much of it came down to logistics – how Moms typically spend their morning frantically getting their kids into their ski outfits and then into ski school, at which point, the Mom can’t get into her own ski group on time, or, being practical and frugal, decide there is no point spending the money.
There were other reasons, too, that have to do with the fact that many women did not feel comfortable in group programs, and that women learn differently and ski differently from men.
Last year, Vail Resorts came out with a new program tailored to women to address these major impediments – Women’s Ultimate 4. And this year, as part of the Vail Resorts’ ski and snowboard school initiative designed to improve the on-mountain experience for women, the company announced a re-imagined version of its specialty women’s programs, incorporating guest feedback to give busy women or moms the ability to enjoy a guilt-free ski vacation themselves.
“Women’s participation in skiing and snowboarding is critical to the future growth of the sport,” said Kirsten Lynch, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Vail Resorts. “As a leader in the industry, Vail Resorts is committed to continuing to listen to what our female guests want and need in a ski vacation and investing in ways to enhance their enjoyment of it.
“Piloting the Women’s Ultimate 4 lessons last season helped us learn more about barriers that keep women from skiing and riding more and we applied those insights to enhance and expand the program for this season.”
The Women’s Ultimate 4 was developed exclusively for women and taught by female instructors in a small-group setting with only four students per class. Lessons took place during a four-hour time period well after kids were dropped off at ski school and ended before pick-up.
Key takeaways from the Women’s Ultimate 4 lessons included: the women enjoyed female-led instruction in a less intimidating environment; the timing of the lessons better accommodated their schedule; the women probably would not have taken a lesson without this environment.
As a result of the success of last season’s pilot program, Vail Resorts is expanding the availability of Women’s Ultimate 4 lessons, offering classes at its four Colorado resorts as well as Park City in Utah, and Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe.
The lessons are designed to instill foundation-building basics while navigating beginner trails and developing on-mountain camaraderie in “first-timers” through advanced-beginners (ski and snowboard ability levels 1-4). Classes take place at all resorts between 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. local time Dec. 26, 2015-Jan. 3, 2016, Feb. 12-21, 2016, and March 4-April 4, 2016 (all dates by reservation only). More dates may be available at specific resorts and guests are encouraged to check the desired resort’s website for additional offerings via www.snow.com.
The response to the Women’s Ultimate 4 and other women-specific programming inspired each resort’s Ski and Snowboard School to create a number of new events and classes for the 2015-16 winter season, including:
- Vail Mountain’s new Women & Wine FAC (Friday Afternoon Club), a new event in January featuring demos, clinics and VIP experiences exclusively for women; Outdoor Divas, a new women’s snow sports shop in Vail’s Lionshead village; plus equipment demos and clinics throughout the winter.
- Beaver Creek’s Women’s Social Tour, a complimentary program designed to welcome women skiers and riders to explore the mountain together in a more casual, social atmosphere with one of the resort’s female Ski School Ambassadors.
- Breckenridge’s Women’s Ski Week, Feb. 14-20, 2016: five new women-specific ski school classes, wine pairings, gear demos, First Tracks, a ski day and more.
- Keystone’s Betty Fest, a two-day program aimed at facilitating on-mountain camaraderie with women who will enjoy on-hill instruction, as well as video analysis and lunch at the Alpenglow Stube, Keystone’s on-mountain, fine-dining restaurant.
- Park City’s Women’s Camp Feb. 26-28, 2016, offering small class sizes with female instructors and the same group and instructor for each day.
“In terms of getting more women on the mountain, Vail Resorts is just getting started,” said Lynch. “The ultimate goal is to make sure women are having just as much fun as everyone else in the family on their winter ski or snowboard vacation at our resorts.”
Last season, we had the chance to experience a version of the Women’s Ultimate 4 Northstar, the stunning mountain resort above Lake Tahoe in California.
This is a luxurious destination resort to begin with, and the Women’s Ultimate 4 only enhances that feeling of being pampered – it is the closest equivalent to a Red Door Spa Day on the slopes as you could ever experience on snow.
Northstar’s 4Her program is a personalized lesson for no more than four women in a group (usually 2-3) with a female coach, designed to learn or brush up on skiing, from foundation-building basics of a “first-timer” class (open to all), to navigating the easiest greens, to sharing tactics and camaraderie on green and blue runs.
The 4Her clinic at Northstar which we sampled combined the fun of a gal getaway with superb personalized skill development. Our coach, Susie Minton, knew just how to assess our strengths (and weaknesses) and break down the techniques and tactics to conform with a woman’s physical makeup (our balance is in our hips, not in our shoulders), and yes, our psychology, and as we were more successful, our confidence on the mountain was boosted. Lo and behold! our skiing – and our self-confidence – improved significantly even after one clinic.
“We create an environment that is comfortable for the skier, the best environment to learn. We find out her intention. To learn a new technique, we put her on terrain that she is comfortable on,” Susie tells us. “It’s easier for men to overpower [bad form]. Women de-select in the learning process because she feels it is harder than men. Women have to master technique early.”
Systematically, during the course of our time together, she proceeds to teach us good form – balance, edges (the inclination of the ski), rotation, and pressure (adjusting how you weight the ski in order to turn effortlessly).
She shows how to address the fact that women’s center of gravity is different from men’s. She makes us feel absolutely comfortable – shaping correct form with gentle encouragement rather than criticism. She makes it all so effortless, seamless, comfortable, even natural.
Susie even discusses different equipment for women (you might be aware there are skis that cater to women – actually the shaped skies do that – but did you know there are even women’s poles?)
We leave feeling we have the basics of good form and techniques we can continue to practice on our own.
For more information, visit www.snow.com.
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