Diva Ski program promises to make women better skiers

Posted By: The Ski Channel on October 21, 2009 4:25 pm


Are you a woman who feels like you’ve reached your plateau when it comes to your skills on the slopes? Do you feel like you’re just following your boyfriend, husband, father, or other male counterpart around the mountain—and letting them put you to shame while you can do nothing but eat their snow? Well, apparently many women feel like this in Europe. That’s why the Brits came out with “Diva Ski”, an initiative that caters to the needs of women and women only. Confused? Yea, I’m a bit lost myself. Here to elaborate about the program and what exactly it aims to do is Liz Hunt, Telegraph correspondent (the Telegraph is a British publication):

“How does a diva ski? Are we talking Diana Ross, wig askew, shimmying down a slope while belting out Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, or Patsy and Eddy in matching Lacroix sharing a bottle of Bolly on a chair lift?

Neither, actually. Diva Ski, a new British initiative catering to the specific ski needs of women – yes, we have them – is no Ab Fab on snow. Champagne cocktails, facials, massages, fine dining and other essentials of the diva lifestyle play their part, but this venture is all about ski technique and improving it. So the answer to the question “How does a diva ski” is this: a diva skis with conviction.

Beginners are welcome, as are advanced skiers for whom there is a Diva Extreme course. The target market, however, is the tens of thousands of women who, like me, are classed as “serial intermediates”. We’re a sad bunch. For years we’ve coped on pistes of every hue, trailing in the wake of testosterone-fuelled brothers, boyfriends, partners, husbands, or speedy children.

Their needs have come before our own; we are the unselfish, forgotten and largely frustrated – in ski terms at least – sisterhood of the slopes. We know that given the number of weeks we’ve spent on skis, we should be so much better and more adventurous than we are. But show us some bumps or a tree-lined off-piste trail, and we fall back whimpering on our snow ploughs.

This is the problem identified by Annabel Dearlove and Fiona Worthington, two working mothers with business backgrounds from London, who were struck by the number of their female friends, keen skiers, who had “plateaued”. Inspired by the work of Jeannie Thoren, an American ski racer who has pioneered female-friendly ski equipment and instruction, they came up with the Diva Ski concept and are now in their first season in Verbier. I had to be persuaded.

Initially, it seemed a rather desperate bit of niche marketing. And how many women want to ski with other women? My enthusiasm waned further when, on the first day of my “taster” course, I found myself performing the kind of exercises last attempted at ski school in the Stone Age. Remember being told to ski as if you were carrying a tray of drinks, and mustn’t spill any? Yep, I was videoed doing that one. All around me, skiers were enjoying the sun-drenched slopes of one of Europe’s prettiest resorts while I was enduring a polite but ruthless deconstruction of my technique – a failure to finish turns, sliding around the turn rather than carving it, a tendency to sit back – as a prelude to its reconstruction.

Mike, our instructor from European Snowsports, said some nice things too, but being women we ignored them. Female psychology is a factor in our failure to improve. We reject the good and focus on the bad, so it is the reinforcement of what is good that is fundamental to the Diva approach, according to Fiona.

Another fundamental is the male ski instructor. “We did wonder,” says Annabel, “if women might like to have female instructors – and they certainly can ask for one if they prefer. So far, we’ve found we’ve had few objections.” (For me it is a no-brainer: divas need an audience, and it has to be male). By mid-afternoon I was a convert.

“Get your head over your toes,” I was advised at one point. The difference that sliver of advice made to my posture and turns was dramatic. We were also introduced by Mike, a sports scientist, to “physical literacy” – in which the muscles hold the long-forgotten key to executing a movement correctly. You did it like that once but fell out of the habit and into a worse one; someone corrects you, and your muscles instantly recognise the movement. It is an anatomical Eureka moment.

Aside from technique, we do not only have ourselves to blame for our lack of progress; our equipment has been letting us down for years.

“The weakest link in a woman’s skiing is usually her equipment,” according to Jeannie Thoren. A woman’s centre of gravity is, on average, one inch lower and further back than a man’s. She carries more weight below the waist – around her hips, buttocks and thighs – than a man, so the question “Does my bum look big in these salopettes” takes on a significance beyond the aesthetic. As a result, when a woman flexes forward on her skis, her centre of gravity is over her heels – too far back – limiting her control of the front of the skis.

We are also more knock-kneed than men, which, together with our wider hips, ensures the skis are not always flat on the snow when they should be, but on an inside edge. These factors make us more prone to injuries. A recent study by the British Orthopaedic Sports Association found that 90 per cent of injured skiers are women with an average age of 40. It was at this point I concluded God never intended woman to ski. But I was assured He did. All that is required is adjusting the skis – moving bindings forward so the centre of gravity moves forward, too. Some women will also benefit from an orthotic insole, or a cant between the ski and the binding to “level” the body. I can’t speak for the latter, but skis with bindings set forward did make control and turning of the ski easier.

All work makes for a dull diva, and there was lots of free-skiing too. There was also the odd vin chaud. By the end of day three, my skiing had certainly improved beyond recognition and proof was in the videos pored over each evening. Skiing moguls, however, remains a challenge, and I have a date with a certain hellish slope called Tortin. It beat me this time, but it won’t the next. Now I ski like a diva, there really “ain’t no mountain high enough”.