Debate: Women’s Snowboarding Needs to Step Up

The profile of the world’s top female riders is on the up - but with 720s still winning slopestyles, is it a case of arrested development? We sit down with two authorities on the subject to talk it over.

This first appeared in WL119.


Stylish, prolific and tough as nails, Desiree Melancon is at the apex of women’s snowboarding. Her video parts (most recently for Think Thank) rank as some of the best ever filmed. 

Girls get sucked into one aspect of snowboarding, and then they tend to stay in it.

In contest riding, women have come really far, doing more technical runs and having better style. However, the ‘gap’ between men and women is largest here. The best professional woman cannot come close to putting down a comparable run to the worst amateur male. Women’s contest riding is strictly strategic; they have limited themselves because of the desire for success. No one is competing at the best level that they can, and this is why we see the same tricks year after year.

In filming I have seen a select few video parts produced from amazing women, and they actually deserved to be in the guy’s video. On the downside of this, we are the smallest in numbers. The only women who have ever filmed parts that were worthy of any recognition are Jess Kimura, Hana Beaman, Marie-France Roy, Janna Mayan, Victoria Jealouse and Tara Dakidies. The current crop need to watch more of the movies, become bigger fans and go snowboarding more. Stop thinking you are girls, and think like snowboarders. Don’t use clips that you think are ‘pretty good for a girl’ – cut the fat and be more critical of what you put out there. Even if that means you only have three good clips, suck it up and try harder next year. Be more creative. Stop whoring yourselves out over the internet. Make movies instead, and take the time to make your footage into something tangible.

A lot of people claim that there are no rules to snowboarding, which is what makes it really cool and free, but that statement doesn’t apply when you are supposed to be a professional snowboarder and you suck at snowboarding. We need to have standards, especially if we want to be respected.

Say What?

As editor of Cooler Magazine from 2007 to 2014, Sam Haddad has followed the recent trajectory of womens’ snowboarding closer than most.

If you asked a good teacher how your kid was doing, they wouldn’t answer by comparing them to the rest of the class – they’d tell you if your child was realising their potential. Yet women’s snowboarding is always rated against men’s, and it’s a contest we’ll never win. Men are physically stronger than women, so there’ll always be an ability gap. That’s not to say some women won’t be better than some men, or that Kelly Clark won’t be better than most men, but the best man will always be better than the best woman. And Torah Bright will always be more stylish than everyone, but that’s a debate for another day.

But why is the technical ability gap so vast? When a man lands a brand new trick, about ten other dudes will have GoPro-ed it within a week. Whereas when a girl does the same – for example Katie Ormerod’s backside double cork 1080 from last April, still to be repeated – it’s a very different story. It’s down to numbers, basically; more men snowboard than women. And the girls that do get sponsored mostly ride in contests to earn a living, where the temptation is to land a safe run rather than pushing the progression. Making killer video parts is expensive, and not a risk that many brands – let alone riders – seem willing to take.

Is women’s snowboarding at the level it should be? Yes. Should it aim higher? Also yes. Chloe Kim and Katie Ormerod are two massive reasons for future cheer, and in the UK snowdomes the impact of Jenny Jones’ mighty bronze at the Olympics looks to be stoking a new generation of super-groms. But for now there just aren’t enough girls riding, and until that changes the true potential of women’s snowboarding won’t come close to being realised.

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