I handed over a wadded up ten dollar bill to the guy behind a sign that said “Jersey Rail Jam sign-up.”
The woman behind the table ecstatically informed me that I was the first female skier to sign up all day. I asked if there would be a female category – expecting the usual “There aren’t enough of you. So no.”
At this point, I was pretty used to the “female at a local rail jam” routine: Show up, be the only girl, compete in the amateur category, get lumped in with the boys, feel a little weird but still have a lot of fun, go home.
Sometimes though, there are other girls.
In one competition a few years back, there were five girls combined between skiers and snowboarders. A couple of them were quite young, about ten years old. I took it upon myself to ask the judge’s panel if we could have an overall girls category between skiers and snowboarders – we had the numbers for a podium. “Sorry, there just aren’t enough of you.” I pleaded “you don’t even have to give us prize money like the boys, just throw one or two of us a beanie as honorable mention or something.”
Nothing. We got nothing.
You Suck at Skiing
There are few casual female freestyle skiers compared to men. With an atmosphere like that previously described, it is not hard to see why. Combine that with occasional sexist heckling from the lifts and freestyle skiing becomes quickly unappetizing.
“Hey you suck at skiing, but you’re hot!”
These are actual words yelled to me off a lift line at my home resort. Generally, us female skiers are very grateful to receive such helpful feedback.
But tides shifted that day in New Jersey, as I was informed that not only was there a female category for both skiers and snowboarders, female skiers and boarders would also receive the same amount of prize money as the men. Suddenly, I felt a little bit like I mattered.
When it came time to practice for the Rail Jam, my second surprise of the day came. I was not the only girl – there was another one.
When I saw her at the top of the hill, we locked eyes. My sole competitor opened her arms and we instantly brought it in for a hug. “I’m not alone!” I said. She echoed my sentiments. We agreed that this was going to be way more fun having someone to compete against.
Practice went on, we talked tricks. We watched each other, we sized each other up, we cheered for each other. It was wonderful to have a competitor.
Then came the actual competition.
What is a Rail Jam?
If you have never witnessed a rail jam, it works like this: there are a series of features set up that the participants can use to do whatever tricks they want. The competition is an open format and there is no order – it’s a free for all. After you complete your run, you hike back up to the top of the hill and repeat. We had an hour to “jam” and judging is usually based on overall impression – how hard are your runs in terms of technical difficulty, how clean, etc.
My competitor Jess and I went with the boys. Before the competition, I was a little worried about this. I was concerned that I wouldn’t get as many runs in as I wanted to since there were so many people – 98% of which were men (and by men I mean mostly teenage boys).
My final shock of the day was that at the top of the hill, I was treated with respect. I was not harassed, I didn’t feel “special” or “weird” or like I was on the verge of being asked on a date or something. I was just a skier competing, like everyone else.
First Place in Fun
One of the mothers on the sidelines commented that I looked like I was having the most fun out of anyone. She might have been right. I was so satisfied by the community I got to be a part of that day that it showed all over my face.
Though I technically ended up in last place – I skied better than I ever had in a competition. I had never landed a front 270 in competition before until that day. And because rules are rules, as the second place winner for the ladies ski comp, I walked away with $150 and a neat little swag bag.
Make it Accessible
I know, I know. The second place male skier had to compete against way more people. He did harder tricks than me and admittedly, receiving prize money when you came in last place really doesn’t make any sense.
But consider that if we are ever going to increase female participation in action sports, we must figure out a way to make women feel like they belong there. Competitive skiing has increased my confidence and enriched my life in many ways. I think there are a lot of young girls and women out there that would really enjoy it too, but they don’t feel like they’re invited to the party. If competition sponsors decide they want to shell out the extra dollars to make the ladies feel like they’re worth a damn, then I truly do not see a problem.
For many, the 2020 Jersey Jam was simply a strange gathering on the side of a small ski hill in New Jersey. For me, it was a win for the women’s ski community.
Thank you, Mountain Creek for hosting this event. I had so much fun and it feels good to matter.