Girly grit taking over from timid turns, trusty teamwork eradicating harrowing hang-ups – just some of the reinventions made possible at Elevate Women’s Camp. With many strong intermediate and expert female skiers lacking likeminded and motivational ski buddies, Elevate offers a networking solution as well as inspirational instruction.
Held at Jackson Hole, the camps attract up to 65 women at a time divided up between a team of 12 female ski instructors and three female freeskier pros who troubleshoot each group. During the challenging four-day course, the famous freeskiers – Kim Havell, Jess McMillan and Crystal Wright – circulate among the ability and attitudinally-matched groups. Their role is to elevate mental and motor skills via extreme-ski example.
Instructor Christina Cartier says the pros add so much to the camp on many different levels: “I think that it is always eye opening to realize that amazing athletes are women just like ourselves who, for a number of individual reasons, have taken their passion of a sport to a full time and rather extreme level. They help us understand that fear is a natural component of big mountain skiing, without it having to limit us.”
Hard-core in a semi-soft sort of way, they also push the campers, inspiring in them the confidence to take their skiing to the next level, says Cartier – “whether that means a steep couloir or jumping off of small cliffs, or even just getting off piste for the first time.”
But it is the repetitive reinforcement of having the same female instructor for the entire course that really facilitates technical improvement among the four and five-women groups. Cartier has been working with Elevate for nine years. A Jackson Hole transplant with French and Swedish heritage, she is a meticulous instructor, focused on finessing technique in order to provide a security blanket of skills for double diamond skiing over Jackson’s tough topography. “The two biggest things I have experienced with most women is that they will not attempt something new or challenging until they believe that there is a 100 per cent chance of success,” says Cartier. “The second piece of the puzzle which is mostly relevant to the camps is that they actually do well being pushed a little in a group once trust has been established.”
Group dynamics is important to Cartier who is happy to take more of a backseat at times, while different group members help each through the frustrations and fears of adopting new skills in tricky terrain. “It is critical to set the group up to be supportive rather than competitive,” she explains.
With an emphasis on teamwork, the level 3 PSIA instructor also gives each camper individual feedback, aided by video analysis, to improve movement patterns as well as mental and tactical approaches to skiing. “My hope is that at the end of the four days, each participant feels that she has skied hard, and ideally has felt a tiny or large ‘butterflies’ moment when looking ahead at something she is about to ski that is visually challenging to her,” she adds.
One of the things Cartier has noticed since becoming an alpine ski instructor in 2008 (she taught Nordic before) is that women are hard on themselves. Because of this, her job can involve emotional buttressing as much as technical tampering. “Finding a way to help them improve while giving them room to not be perfect and still enjoy the sport is a delicate balancing act,” she says. “Every other camp I seem to have at least one, if not more, campers break into serious tears of either fear or frustration.”
With improvement varying among participants, changes over the four-day course can often be subtle. But, says Cartier, stronger skiers typically only need slight tweaking to take them to the next level. “Some of the improvement is not always visible, but more in the mental/psychological game part of the sport,” she explains. “I suspect that many women end up enjoying terrain they previously dreaded, or come to realize that the skills they already had actually carry over to more than they ever imagined.”