Ski Like a Girl: Women in big mountain ski movies. – april 2014

Ski Like a Girl: Women in big mountain ski movies. – april 2014

Bec Johnson

Since the inception of film, directors have enjoyed capturing the thrill of sliding down snow on celluloid, and skiers of all ages have enjoyed watching, and often re-watching, these captured moments of snowy exhilaration on the silver screen, the big screen and more recently on their electronic tablets.

The genre of big mountain ski movies has established itself as one in which ski athletes perform ever-increasingly death defying stunts on skis and other items of snow equipment. These films are shot on location all over the world from the swank resorts of Aspen to remote locations such as Lesotho and Antarctica and nouveau ski areas such as the giant indoor refrigerators of Dubai. They have become an integral part of the ski culture, pipe-lining fantasies of travelling to exotic ski destinations, providing substitute experience during snow-less months and parading the very latest in must-have ski gear and attire. They dichotomously mirror and create rhetoric of the skiing culture; documenting the ski scene of the moment as well as subliminally dictating what one should be, to be considered a part of a culture as notorious for is exclusivity as it is for it’s ability to be the great equalizer.

The marketing power of such a strong cultural influence is not lost on the multi-billion-dollar ski industry. Skis, ski clothing, ski resorts and heli operations are just some of the products that suppliers pay film producers to feature in their movies. Many a skier has found themselves sporting the same jacket or goggles as their favourite ski hero in the latest ski film or web browsing flights to a featured location. There is no denying the tremendous influence these movies play amongst the members of the ski culture. Thus the messages they communicate have the ability to reach and influence a vast audience, many of whom are at an impressionable stage of life.

This paper serves to discuss the role and portrayal of women through this genre, and the rhetoric, both spoken and unspoken, delivered by these movies, as well, how this may impact the intended audience. I will also explore some of the influences on the current rhetoric of women in action ski movies and what are some of the challenges women face in this traditionally male dominated industry. Finally I will look at what is the potential for change.

As very little academically published material exists on this discussion, I sought out direct, first-hand feedback from some of the key players, the athletes and the film-makers themselves. The response from these key people in the ski film industry has been invaluable in the research for this discussion paper. I warmly thank all of the respondents, without whose feedback this paper would not have been possible.



During the 1920’s Arnold Franck of Germany produced several ski documentaries and mountain movies, then in 1935 Californian native Frank Howard released All Year Skiing in California, blazing the trail for what was to become an annual ritual amongst skiers world-wide. The pre-season ski movie, designed to tickle the passions and elicit delights of snow enthusiasts eagerly awaiting the upcoming season. Warren Miller, perhaps the most widely recognized name in the ski movie film genre, started releasing his annual ski movies showcasing athletes and ski resorts from around the world in 1949. Generations of skiers can punctuate their skiing life by the Warren film of the year. This led to the rise of numerous other ski film directors and production companies such as Greg Stump, Matchstick Productions, Teton Gravity Research, and many fabulous Indy ski companies including Sherpa Cinemas and Sweetgrass Productions.

The portrayal of women in ski movies has been a roller coaster ride of cameos and short segments throughout the history of the genre. In 1986 Warren Miller included a brief segment of women skiing some technical terrain, his iconic voice-over introducing the clip as, “The nice thing about women is that women like to watch good women skiers, and men like to watch good women skiers.” A truism identified by a mogul in the industry nearly 30 years ago, it has unfortunately not been acted upon to any great extent.

The advent of more extreme big mountain ski movies, such as the land mark, 1988 Greg Stump production, The Blizzard of Aahhh’s marked a decrease of female athlete footage and the cameos became more rare. In fact, in this, arguably one of the most famous ski movies of all time, there is not one female skier.


The 1990’s saw a host of new ski movie companies, the two most notable ones being Matchstick Production (MSP) and Teton Gravity Research (TGR). MSP released their first ski movie in 1993, Soul Sessions it headlined ten male and two female athletes. TGR released their first movie in 1996, Continuum, headlining ten male and one female athlete. Both of these movies set the stage for a new standard in big mountain ski movies with ever more extreme skiing, sought after soundtracks, and the film device of the token female.

The main stage entrance of two of the most influential female big mountain skiers to date was seen in MSP’s 2004 movie Yearbook. In this movie we are introduced to Ingrid Backstrom and Sarah Bourke as scantily clad schoolgirls, cheerleaders and a sexy school nurse. Sarah Bourke, born in 1982 in Barrie Ontario has since become a Canadian icon in the ski industry. It took her several years of hard work and dedication to the sport, engaging in an elite level of competition and training before she could break into the ski movie world by way of the Poor Boyz movie Propaganda in 2001 and most notably in Yearbook in 2004. Sarah was one of the strongest advocates for promoting women to the sport but died tragically in a training accident in 2012, she has since been celebrated in a number of ways by the Canadian people and the Canadian government, and was given a memorial tribute at the 2014 Sochi Olympics when her ashes were spread along the half pipe. Her legacy of encouraging women and girls aspiring to be professional skiers, and to embrace their own identities and personal power in a male dominated sport, is one that has altered the landscape of big mountain and freestyle skiing.

There is no doubt that both Ingrid and Sarah were able to showcase their ski talents because of the amazing skills they have, and not just because they happened to be very attractive women; but the rhetoric of how they were dressed, as they entered the male dominated terrain of big mountain ski movies, says as much about the genre at the time as it does about the male gaze of the audience. It was the dawn of the 21st century, and two of the most celebrated big mountain skiers to date, inspirational leaders for young women skiers and advocates for gender equality in the sport, were asked to dress as sexy cheerleaders.


Women in movies now

From research and from the responses for this study from female pro skiers it was discovered that the issue of over-sexualisation of women in ski movies is not in fact the main issue any more. The key issue is not so much how they are portrayed, more the point is that they are hardly there at all, generally as a token role.

Lynsey Dyer, a professional big mountain skier, and driving force behind an all female ski movie project, states on her website, “Despite women’s presence in: ~40% of the skiing population and ~30% of the adventure sports film viewership:…only 14% of athletes in major ski films were female this past season. Additionally, last season’s 14% was record female representation, up from 9% the previous season.” Lynsey Dyer, film maker and pro skier.

In a genre that is fast approaching its century anniversary 14% representation of female athletes is not an ideal state of affairs. A growing segment of female athletes are trying to change this and increase the presence of women in ski movies, but they do face challenges. Lynsey Dyer has been raising funds and awareness to produce an all female ski movie called Pretty Faces that is community sourced and funded. Using the Kickstarter website her group aimed to raise $60K by January 2014, they actually raised $130K which is a testimony to the growing interest in an all-female ski movie. It is important to bear in mind however that an average budget for a main-stream ski movie these days is well over a million dollars, sometimes in excess of two million.

Landing a part in a ski movie is not as simple as turning up to an audition and being the best skier. The usual path for an athlete into movies involves winning many competitions, either in big mountain freeride skiing or park and freestyle skiing or even both; as well as creating a marketable product of themselves along the way. The next major stepping-stone is to get sponsors. Big ones. Companies that can afford to put you in the movies they wish to advertise their products in. These would include major ski companies, main-stream outdoor/ski clothing companies and fizzy drinks that can buy you wings.

These requirements are generally the same for men as they are for women. However, the added pressure of feeling that they need glamour shots, showing that their body is bikini or promotional-poster-worthy, is an aspect of the path to a part in ski movies experienced primarily by female athletes.


Questionnaire, responses and emergent themes.

As this is a relatively new field of growth for female athletes there is very little academically published discussion on the topic and I could find no references in any peer-reviewed journals to this specific topic. To find accurate raw material from which to draw sound discussion, I devised a questionnaire that was then distributed to some of the key players in the ski film industry, including female athletes and film-makers to find out their thoughts and opinions.

The responses were highly insightful, and from these results I realized that this was a far more complex issue than I had originally assumed. I posed seven main questions as shown below. Participants could choose to keep their answers confidential or open. A number of respondents did request that we quote them anonymously. Where that has been done please know that these confidential answers do come from industry leaders, but we are asking them to pass opinion on their business, their employers or potential employers and their colleagues so in some cases athletes and film company executives opted for more privacy.


Questions that were sent to female pro skiers and ski film producers.

  1. Do you feel that current ski movies (2012-2014) portray women big mountain skiers in a positive and accurate light?
  2. Do you believe there is a balanced portrayal of both male and female athletes in Big Mountain Ski movies?
  3. Do you feel that the path to being an athlete in a ski movie is different for women than it is for men? If so, what unique challenges do you think female athletes face?
  4. Why do you think it is more difficult for a woman to get sports sponsorship in big mountain skiing than it is for men?
  5. Have you seen advancement in the portrayal of women in ski movies since the 1980’s era of the Blizzard of Aahhhs? And if so do you believe it has evolved enough or at the right pace?
  6. Do you feel the audience would like to see more women in these movies? Do you think more female athletes in ski movies would contribute positively to the ski industry as a whole?
  7. Is the way female athletes are portrayed in ski movies today providing a good role model for female athletes of the future?


During their hectic schedules, many of todays most inspirational female professional big mountain skiers took the time to sit down and write carefully crafted answers. The general sentiment is that they want more women to ski with them at that level so they are not so alone when running with the wolves. They want to foster and increase female participation to allow a larger skier girl culture to evolve in the face of the roar of bro culture. The major ski film companies were also very supportive of this study and ready to assist, also expressing that they believe it is an important discussion to be had. I would like to thank Warren Miller Entertainment for their support as well as Matchstick Productions (MSP) and Teton Gravity Research (TGR).

There is a strong sense that something is shifting and in an industry that survives on being the first, the newest and the leaders at the edge, it is apparent that many key players see the potential successes in a stronger female presence in ski movies.

From these responses there were four key themes that emerged:

  1. The token female.

The most prominent emerging theme from this research is that of the ‘Token Female’. That is, in a strongly male dominant representation there will be one ‘token’ female; perhaps because a film-maker feels some obligation to represent women in response to an unspoken political correctness of gender equality. In the very worst case scenario it could be to add a ‘sex-sells’ element to the production. It is a familiar trope and one that was branded ‘The Smurfette Principle’ by Katha Pollitt in her 1991 essay to the New York Times.

“Little girls learn to split their consciousness, filtering their dreams and ambitions through boy characters while admiring the clothes of the princess. The more privileged and daring can dream of becoming exceptional women in a man’s world — Smurfettes.” Katha Pollitt, 1991

This theme is strongly recurrent throughout the action sports world. Kim Woozy, founder of Mahfia.TV a website aimed at promoting women in action sports using the hashtag, #killinitsoftly, made the following comment in an interview with Grind TV when asked, “What, in your opinion, is the biggest obstacle facing women’s action sports?”;

“One of the biggest obstacles in our industry right now is the broken link between the brands who sell products based on the action sports lifestyle and the actual female athletes who are progressing the sports. A lot of core action sports brands are using models, celebs, musicians, artists, etc. for their marketing initiatives and might have one token female rider on their team or none at all. This is a problem because the girls who have the talent and skills to progress the sport are not receiving the support they need in order to keep riding, and that means the progression of the sports is being stunted. This is also sending young girls the message that it is more appealing to be an action sports model than an action sports athlete. Suddenly young girls only care about their looks and social media popularity as opposed to what they can accomplish”. Kim Woozy (2013)

This theme was observed by virtually every respondent to my questionnaire. It was by far the most consistently discussed phenomenon of the genre. The term ‘Token Female’ being used at least once in nearly every questionnaire that was returned. Here is just a small selection of examples;

“According to SIA statistics almost 40% of skiers are female, and the fact that there is only 1 female represented (and zero in some movies like Level 1) at best in ski movies does not reflect how many women are skiing and sitting in the audiences watching these movie premieres…… for all ski movies they all stick to the token female paradigm or none at all. The only movie company (which, by the way is the most successful) that has lots of female athletes in their movies is Warren Miller.” Confidential, Female pro skier.

“[T]he fact that there is just one female represented (generally speaking) does not show a positive portrayal of women.” Claire Smallwood, Executive Director of She Jumps and pro skier.

“Prior to Warren Miller all female segments, women were lucky to have more than 30 seconds in a ski film. Most of the ski films have the one token female that has a few seconds in the film.” Jess McMillan, pro skier.

“There seems to only be one token female in each of these [older] big films, but times are slowly changing and a lot of these girls are going out on a limb and creating something new that they are more in charge of.” Michelle Parker, pro skier.

The term ‘Token Female’ is a heavily loaded one that comes with a bevy of sub-textual implications and has been widely discussed in feminist literature.

“Token women have been allowed into pieces of patriarchal territory as a show of female presence. They are understood to represent the female ‘half of the species’ in male terrain. The hidden agenda of their role includes thinking ‘like a man’, that is, with the set limitations of patriarchal thought as prescribed for each situation, while at the same time behaving according to the feminine stereotype.” Mary Daly (1978)


Some messages that the viewer may interpret of the Token Female in this context include;

  • Why is there only one female, was she the only good skier girl they could find?
  • Male athletes are more interesting that’s why they get more screen time.
  • It is more important to see how big an athlete can send it off a cliff than to explore all the stories that go with female (and male) professional skier life.
  • Females don’t really belong in big mountain sports.
  • There are more male role models in this sport than females.


That is not to say that these messages are accurate or the intention of the film makers. They are just potential interpretations of this trope. This genre of film is not alone in its employment of the Token Female and like other media outlets it carries with it a powerful, unspoken presence.


  1. Unequal pay and screen time

It is important to note that screen time is often determined by the sponsors of the athlete. The sponsors are not only paying for advertising space in the movies but are the ones funding the athletes. Often, especially when an athlete is starting out, this funding is primarily in the form of gear and clothing and perhaps transport and accommodation costs.

“Big mountain skiing is a relatively small industry compared to a lot of sports industries, so competition is tough regardless of gender. But hopefully companies will realize that lots of women do ski, and they want to buy product that corresponds to good athletes using it, so hopefully more women will get sponsored.” Confidential, leading female pro skier.

“I don’t think it is more difficult for women to get sports sponsorship in Big Mountain Skiing. I do think it is more difficult for women to get paid the same amount of money as men in Big Mountain skiing sponsorships…. Companies are starting to see more and more women buying product and out using the product. My hope is that as the market share for women grows so will the sponsorship” Jess McMillan, pro skier.

“Based on our own market research, we know that we’re reaching a mostly male audience. Sponsors see that as an opportunity to sell to men, and they spend their marketing dollars accordingly. If they saw a larger demographic of female skiers, they would probably be more inclined to spend more on the women’s market, which would include sponsorship of female athletes.” Confidential, producer from a major ski film company.

The level of pay and the amount of screen time is directly linked to the choices of sponsors. A sponsor in this sense is generally a ski or ski clothing company or manufacturer of ski accessories such as goggles or helmets but sponsors can also be derived from many other avenues.


  1. Sex sells

There is nothing new or ground breaking about the concept that sex sells, more specifically the female body has, and always will be, an area of intense interest for males! The portrayal of women in sport in rife with over-sexualisation of women to promote either themselves as a marketable product or to promote the sport or an item of equipment or clothing associated with the sport. There have been countless words written on this subject and nearly every sport has been covered. It has been labelled, ‘The Kournikova Syndrome’ by Alina Bernstein (2002). It has been iconised by ski boot maker Lange with their annual posters of ‘The Lange Girl’; scantily clad women in ski boots adorning the walls of ski tech shops all over the world since 1970. And it has outraged, such as in 2011 when members of the German women’s soccer team posed for Playboy. It is an old rhetoric; low-brow, yet successful.

Does this exist in the big mountain ski film genre? Yes. But not as prevalently as one would expect.

Perhaps one of the more famous examples in this film genre displaying stereotypical over sexualisation of female athletes would be MSP’s 2004 production Yearbook as discussed earlier in this paper. But this type of highly sexualized portrayal of female ski athletes appears to be on the decrease, in large part due to the choices of the athletes themselves.

“You have a choice whether to show your skiing or your looks or both, no one is forcing you to do anything.” Confidential, leading female pro skier.

“It seems that the inclusion of women in ski movies today has less of a ‘token female’ stigma than it did 20-30 years ago. The women featured in films then were always competitive with the men, but they were featured for their looks or in ways that showcased a more feminine side. Women today are featured alongside men for their talent more than any other reason.” Confidential, producer from a major ski film company.

Virtually every respondent had something to say about this topic but the strong message was that, in the current day, it is the athlete’s choice. There are some athletes that have a stronger propensity toward exploiting their sexuality to more rapidly climb the ladder of success even in recent releases. Either this is their conscious choice or perhaps their exposure to societal norms has made them believe that this is something that is expected of them. Whilst it is the athletes’ choice there are two key questions to ask;


  1. Does the athlete feel that they will attract bigger sponsors by allowing themselves to be portrayed in a way that may accentuate their attractiveness and over shadow their athletic abilities?


  1. Are these athletes fully aware of the rhetoric that this is creating? Do they consider the message they are sending to their audience and most importantly the message they are sending to their young and impressionable fans?


When commencing this study there was one scene in particular that featured this year in a main-stream ski movie that seemed to be focus more on the athletes non-skiing talents than her raw skiing. However, I have come to realize through this research that the film maker was merely documenting the story as they saw it; the athlete was portraying herself as she truly is. Whilst the accurate portrayal of oneself is in itself admirable the intent of this message may have been lost in the melee of images. It is certainly likely that teen girls aspiring to be a pro skiers may find it easier to connect with a message of visual looks rather than skiing talent.

“As female athletes it is up to us to decide whether or not we would like to be shown as athletes or just girls. It is up to us how we want to featured in films. The door has been opened and I hope future female athletes decide to market their skiing, not their boobs.” Jess McMillan, pro skier.

On a significantly lighter note another popular scene that went viral this season was the naked segment from Sweetgrass Production’s Valhalla. In this segment both male and female athletes were equally portrayed in that no one was clothed. In an interview with the Huffington Post, producer, Nick Waggoner cited this as where he came up with the idea for the scene;

“I think a lot of the inspirations for “Valhalla” were these ’60s and ’70s films and photos. It was really an era where people were questioning a lot of the boundaries around them, looking to form their own opinion about good and bad, based on their own individual experience.” Nick Waggoner, 2013

In recent years it does seem that this area of sport suffers the Kournikova syndrome far less than most other sports. This can only be truly attributed to the integrity of the women involved in this sport and their aim to continue to make it about the skiing not the body of the skier, despite ever increasing competition to attain one of the ‘token’ places. This is exemplified by words from Angel Collinson;

“I think women have to be more careful than men of how they “come off” in the industry. We have to be more mindful so that our actions won’t be viewed as “exploiting our sexuality to get more opportunities”. Guys don’t ever really have to deal with that. It can be a fine line of portraying yourself as beautiful but not scandalous, as feminine but not “slutty”. While some people think that “sex sells” and “if you show some skin you will get more opportunities in the industry”, the truth of the matter is that when women do this, no matter how good of a skier they are, their skiing loses credibility- especially among the core community who are the ones that actually give us the key opportunities. So if we do something that comes off as exploiting our sexuality, we can potentially kill any chance we had by people not taking us as seriously.” Angel Collinson, Pro Skier


  1. Men are built differently.

The female pro skiers that responded to my questionnaire were all very down to earth, pragmatic and realistic. A life lived in the mountains does that. Many of them noted that the fact of the matter is that men are different to women. There were comments regarding both the physical and psychological aspects of these differences. Several respondents talked about how women needed to work harder at their fitness to stay stronger to be able to perform at the same level as men. It was agreed that as it stands now women are not pushing the envelope as far as men.

“There are many challenges that we face. For one, we simply aren’t at the same level as the men. Yeah, the girls these days are absolutely ripping skiers and are super inspirational and doing amazing things, but we aren’t at the same level and I don’t know if we ever will be.” Michelle Parker, pro skier

Several athletes also mentioned that men are naturally more mentally developed to throw themselves off a cliff. Women generally take a more passive role and often think through consequences more deeply than their male counterparts.

“Men have more testosterone. They don’t overthink things. In this sport, you need to have balls to go big and to take chances. The male nature is more likely to just go for it and see what happens….. Women have a more difficult time throwing our inhibitions to the wind and saying “screw it” and just doing it. We overthink things way too much.” Angel Collinson, pro skier.

“Out there in the field, when we are filming, it’s tough at times to speak up and to be less passive. As a female, I have the tendency to be kind and polite, but the male athletes are less likely to give up a line or to give you the first choice at times…it can be tough to speak up and to point out a line first and claim it. I’m also out there with the world’s best male skiers. So I’m watching them ski the craziest lines you see in films and have a constant battle inside thinking…can I do that? Should I do that?” Michelle Parker, pro skier.

Another sentiment that came through on several occasions is that women have a different story to tell and it is just as valid. Several athletes touched on this and expressed that more depth of a skier might enable the audience to emotionally connect in a different way to the story.

“I absolutely think everyone wants more women in the movies, but they need to be portrayed in a more soulful, story-line approach. … women have their own story to tell and it’s just as beautiful.…It’s these characters who would add so much depth to an industry already saturated in “bro-culture” where everything is about “how big you can go” and the limits to which you can push it.” Claire Smallwood, Executive Director of She Jumps and pro skier.


  1. Other themes

Other emergent themes touched on the accessibility to new media with new technology widely available now, and how that does aid in getting the skier girl story out there. The way that athletes interact with one another under the current structure was also mentioned as demonstrated here

To change the world, we have to change the way we communicate and for women that means not only talking about them and their talents, but also talking about them (showing them in films) more often. The current template for women in ski films, the “token” female strategy, also drives unnecessary competition and changes the female role of fostering community and encouraging your “sisters”. Molly Baker, pro skier.

No doubt, with further discussion and study, more depth for the nuances of each of these themes could be uncovered as well as the identification of other important themes.


All female ski movies

There have been two all-female ski movies produced to date with a third underway. Hopefully these projects will grease the wheels of change that are slowly moving in the genre right now.

Say my name

A 2010, Red Bull funded and produced movie that highlights Grete Eliassen a Norwegian born skier as she skis around the world with a cast of other female skiers including Sarah Burke, Lynsey Dyer and Elyse Saugstad amongst others.


As we are

A 2010, Sweetshots Productions’ (Austria) movie which features European female pro skiers that visit each other’s home mountains.,en_as-we-are-a-girls-ski-movie


Pretty Faces

In production as this paper is written. This project was primarily community funded and crowd sourced. That is, calls were made for female skiers to send in footage of themselves skiing in big mountain terrain. Lynsey is quoted on her site as to the impetus behind this project:

“I wanted to give young girls something positive to look up to…I wanted to give them their Blizzard of Aahhhs, Ski Movie or High Life, but done in a way that also shows the elegance, grace, community and style that is unique to women in the mountains.” Dyer 2013

The Pretty Faces project is a hot topic of conversation in the industry right now with many eyes on them to measure their success as a litmus test of the waters of change for a greater presence of female athletes in big mountain ski movies.


The world of sponsorship

The world of big mountain ski movies is quite unlike that of Hollywood in the way it is funded and produced. The majority of ski movies are primarily funded by sponsors. These sponsors typically consist of ski and equipment companies, ski clothing and accessory companies as well as other ski operations. The typical process is for an athlete to gain ethos by competing in well-recognized events then to apply for sponsorship from (ideally, large) ski companies.

These sponsors then purchase advertising with ski film production companies to show case their latest offerings. Usually each company has their team of skiers, (usually with significantly more males than females on their teams), and some of these team members are selected to feature in the movie thereby promoting the latest ski/jacket/goggles of their sponsor brands. The aim of course being that viewers become inspired by these athletes and go out and purchase these products. This is a highly simplified model of the process but is over-all a good representation.

The elephant in the room then may ask that, if according to SIA statistics, 40% of skiers are female, and potentially far more than that responsible for purchases in ski retail outlets why then is the representation of females in this advertising avenue so very small (14%, Dyer, 2013)? Possible explanations:


  • The sponsors do not consider this an effective means to target their female buyers.
  • The film makers have been unable to afford expensive market research to confirm or deny that female viewership would increase with an increase of female athletes shown in each movie.
  • The elephant’s mouth has been silenced with bro culture duct tape.


Extensive and accurate market research can be very, very costly. Perhaps Warren Miller entertainment is the only one that can afford it, certainly they are showing more women in their movies; but of course these kinds of research results are not public information. There is also the possibility that it just hasn’t been a priority for some film companies when conducting their market research.

“We’ve never polled our viewers to find out whether they would like to see more females in our film. There would likely be more interest from females in seeing additional women on the big screen, which – in turn – would probably increase our overall female viewership.” Confidential, producer from a major ski film company.

This question clearly needs to be taken to the sponsors, and whilst it was beyond the scope of the time frame for this study, and sponsors are not very open about this topic, it would be a valuable area to investigate. When we do look at the major companies, presumably those with heftier market research budgets we do tend to find a higher ratio of female skiers on their teams. Examples of sponsors that fit this category would be The North Face and Spyder. Perhaps it is the bigger companies with the bigger budgets to analyse their demographics in more detail that will need to lead the charge in any shift that may occur away from the Token Female toward a more gender balanced representation in the sport.

“There is for sure a shift happening, but it is slow. It’s difficult to convince sponsors that even though you get the same amount of media coverage or more than other men on the team that you are worth more or the same to them. They just don’t see it that way and it is a bit of an uphill battle at times for many women in the industry. Women sell clothes. Women buy clothes! We represent 82% (last I checked) of the buying power within a household…so why are we not marketed to more so in the action sports industry? I don’t know and I would like to see that change for the better. It slowly is, but we are not there yet”. Michelle parker, pro skier



While on the surface, the topic of women in ski movies would seem simple; from the evidence, there are women in the movies that are sexualized, also there are not many women in these movies. However, after analysis of the topic as well as thanks to the insight afford of some of the very best in the industry, it is clear that this is a complex and nuanced form of rhetoric, and one that has a direct impact on a large culture of our society. Just about every female athlete on the circuit does have glamour shots on their website, some more than others, but the story to be told here is not as two dimensional as one would expect. The portrayal of women in the ski movies today is generally one of a strong athlete with a well-rounded sense of self and environment. Certainly the majority of female athletes are fully aware of how their portrayal in these movies impacts their young viewers who may look to them as role models. The film companies today give scope to the athletes to represent themselves as they choose, placing the responsibility of providing a strong role model on the shoulders of the athletes themselves.

It is the frequency of appearance and screen time of these athletes that is most in need of change. It is the unspoken rhetoric of the token female and what that is saying to our culture and future generations of female pro skiers. The intimation that they are not as interesting to watch as male skiers or that the only story to be told in big mountain skiing is how big your line is.

It is the sponsors that ultimately decide on the distribution of gender representation in ski movies as a direct result of their advertising dollars and directives to the film companies. However, the responsibility for a more balanced portrayal of men and women must be spread across all parties including the audience. More discussion and study of this topic will serve to educate all participants of this film genre including the athletes when choosing how to represent themselves. It was clear from the comments of the film-makers that they are interested to provide a piece of art that is what the audience wants to see, allows the athlete to be who they are and meets the needs of the sponsors. Further discussion will help them meet all of these parameters more effectively.

To leave you with the words of another leading female pro-skier:

“I obviously cannot speak for all the industries of action sports out there. I know my small little niche. However I believe that across the board in individual action sports there is a lack of proper female representation… a lack of opportunity to be showcased… a lack of personality in presence… a lack of stories being told… a lack of honest representation of the sheer number of female participants in their various disciplines.” Rachel Burks, pro skier.



Wegrich (2013). Kim Woozy changing the game for girls in action sports. Grind TV. Retrieved March 15th 2014.

Bernstein (2002). Women in sports media. Play the game. Retrieved March 15th 2014.

Waggoner (2013). Naked skiing scene from Valhalla. Huffington Post. Retrieved March 15th 2014.

Daly, M. (1978). Gyn/ecology: The metaethics of radical feminism. Boston: Beacon Press.

Sage island (2014). Snowsports Fact Sheet. SIA Snowsports Industries America. Retrieved March 15th 2014.

Rachel Burks (2011). A note on credibility and why do this. Female Wolf Pack. Retrieved March 15th 2014

Does nothing exist? – march 2014

Does nothing exist?

Musings by: Bec Johnson – march 2014

What does nothing look like? Close your eyes and put your hands in front of them. That is pretty much what nothing looks like. Can you think about nothing? I mean really nothing. Empty your mind like a mountain yogi and truly block out all of the millions of little thoughts that flit through your mind every minute of the day. Can you imagine what was here before the Big Bang? Does nothing even exist?

Creation myths often address the problem of the existence of nothing. In the Sanskrit text written 3,700 years ago, the Rigveda it names the nothing Sunyata and says of it:

“There was neither non-existence nor existence then. There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.” Rigveda 10.129

This concept of Sunyata is still embraced today in Buddhist practice where the ability to meditate on nothing and experience the void is seen as a path to enlightenment.

The Ancient Hebrews called it the Tohru wa Bohoo. It was spoken of in Genesis: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Genesis 1:2

The Greeks especially did not like the idea of nothing. Thales categorically stated that “nothing can come from nothing; does not thinking about nothing make it something?” Parmenides said, To speak of a thing, one has to speak of a thing that exists. Aristotle was particularly adamant that nothing does not exist; “Nature abhors a vacuum” was the aphorism, he cried. As much as we students of rhetoric like to place these noble Greeks on pedestals, the Italians unquestionably proved them wrong. And science continued to prove them wrong time and time again, finding ever-unique ways to describe, catalogue, and define…nothing.

In 1589, Galileo Galilei climbed the tower of Pisa to drop a feather and a stone off the upper most balcony to prove that all objects fall at the same rate despite 2,000 of western Aristotelian beliefs that heavier objects fall faster. Well that’s the urban legend in anycase. He did not perform this experiment, because he knew that the resistance of the air would carry the feather aloft and disprove his own hypothesis. He needed something else, he needed a vacuum, he needed nothing. Nearly four hundred years later, the Apollo 10 astronauts carried out this experiment on the moon. They used a hammer and a falcon feather; indeed, when released, both touched the powdery surface of the moon at the same time, proving the existence of a vacuum.


Torricelli, a student of Galileo, had already shown us a vacuum in 1646. Torricelli filled a glass vial with mercury, placed his thumb over the open end, then inverted it into a bath of more mercury. At this point, some mercury was drawn out into the tub (proving a host of other things such as air pressure, density and flow rates), but what was left at the closed end of the glass vial after mercury was drawn out was a vacuum. (Science 1, Aristotle 0).

Over the four hundred years since Galileo and Torricelli affirmed the existence of nothing by way of a vacuum, science has become ever more sophisticated. The Greeks proposed the existence of the atom, but major understandings of them did not happen until the dawn of the 20th century, most notably by scientists such as Rutherford and Bohr. When we finally were able to understand the structure of atoms, we found that an electron is only 1 / 2000th of the mass of a typical atom, with apparently nothing in between the electrons and the nucleus. Atoms are just 99.999999% empty space. The vast majority of all matter is composed of nothing! Nothing just took a major leap up the importance scale. If you took out all of the space in atoms, you could fit the entire human population into a cube of sugar.

To help visualize this further, if you expand a hydrogen atom to be the size of the Earth (12,000km diameter), the nucleus of the atom would be 192 meters diameter (about 2/3rds the size of the TFDL at the University of Calgary. Picture the library buried 6,000km below us representing the nucleus of an atom, then picture a 9cm long rubber ducky sitting on the surface of the ocean representing an electron.

That is a lot of nothing. Science needed to see even smaller than a nucleus and an electron. Let’s go back to the TFDL analogy. Zoom down to our nucleus and expand one single proton to be the size of the library, then walk inside to see what is going on inside the library/proton. Imagine clouds of busy bees buzzing all through the library representing quarks, filling up the space! However, I need you to take this thought experiment a little further. Each bee or quark is moving and vibrating therefore requiring a space to move through or vibrate into. Is this medium the real nothing? Have we found it resting in between the quarks?

Now things get weird. Quarks interact based on their colour, it’s like a vibrating rainbow in there. There are six different types of quark colours, and these are called flavours. And what medium are the flavours moving through to interact exactly? At this point, physics has not only fallen down the rabbit hole smashing every looking glass on the way, opening up new dimensions to burst through, and currently the best explanation we have is…string

Leaving the bizarre math of string theory aside for a moment let us look at the 2011 the Nobel Prize for physics. It was awarded to three scientists — Perlmutter and Riess of the USA and Schmidt of Australia — who proved that the universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate. By marrying Einstein’s’ general relativity and a something called “quantum vacuum energy”, they were able to prove that 74% of the universe consists of a thing called dark energy; and it’s more powerful than Newton’s apple loving gravity. They took this theoretical math and developed empirical experiments using observations on how light stretches from a supernova or exploding star and produced strong evidence that our universe is expanding faster and faster all the time – a mysterious dark energy expanding and pushing galaxies apart and an ever-increasing rate.

Thus, “nothing” does exist; we can measure it, and it acts in a very strong way on the universe around us, essentially creating the universe around us and allowing us the stars and planets and therefore us to exist. In July of 2012, the Higgs Boson particle was confirmed at CERN, providing a field from which this dark energy could emerge. What comes out of the Large Hadron Collider over the next decades will undoubtedly continue to cyclically confirm and deny the existence of nothing.

Whilst waiting for the latest updates from CERN, let us step aside from particle physics back into the cognitive realm of cosmology. We know the universe is expanding, but what exactly is the universe expanding into? What is outside the universe and what was here the day before the big bang? Was there something outside of the universe that gave seed to this whole bunch of “something”? This question invokes the ontological argument of First Cause, a anathema to science and a prime target for logical disproof, necessitating a vacuous nothing in which this universe or universes must reside. One of our cleverest rabbit hole technicians, Richard Gott, Professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton, has created some elegant yet “stringy” math that eradicates the need for a first-cause principle. Using a math that permits regressive time travel, he is able to postulate a self-creating universe, thus allowing our universe or all universes to self-seed.

Outside of this is possibly nothing. Take yourself there. Now we are floating, completely detached in a sea of pure abstract. Can you close your eyes and visualize it now? Or when you do you see a giant, gyrating trumpet like structure of self-creating universes on your horizon?


Even Gott and his contemporaries, such as Eva Silverstein, theoretical physicist at Stanford University, concede that in this nothing there is a topographical geometry, something from which space-time can arise. That is at least something. Once again, nothing slips quietly through our fingers the moment we grasp it.

Would exploring the realm of pure concept of numbers enable us to finally get a grip on nothing? Consider Zero a number that the ancient Greeks barely acknowledged existed it repulsed them so much. They borrowed it from the Babylonians when they needed to make more complex astronomical calculations; then, they would quickly give it back, washing their hands of the stench of nothingness. The Romans, who took so much from the Greeks, did not even have a way to express zero in Roman numerals. Zero did not make a formal appearance in Europe until Fibonacci adopted it in 1202, and, even then, it did not become common among business folk until the 16th century. In our humble little zero, can we find nothing? The ultimate expression of the absence of something? I’m afraid not.

Zero holds the auspicious titles of, non-negative integer, natural number, rational number, real number, algebraic number, and complex number. It also has the more colloquial labels of naught and nil. And, of course, it has its pictographical representations, both with and without the diagonal slash. It shivers at the lowest Kelvin temperature of absolute zero, and, in Celsius, it is the freezing point of water. To a computer, it is half of Everything, being that binary code consists of only one’s and zero’s. Zero is as far from nothing as the vibrating rainbows inside our quarks.

Let’s try out some linguistics, something at which rhetoricians are adept: something familiar and comforting. Syllogistic logic. Assumption: Nothing does exist.

  • By the fact that we are thinking this, something exists; however big or small that something is, it is something.
  • All that exists contains by definition everything that exists.
  • If nothing does exist, then it must be contained within all that exists and therefore nothing does exist.
  • QED


Well that’s that then. We may as well all go sit in a dark coffee shop, smoke some strong cigarettes, and despair in French tones how there’s really not much point to anything: “Nothingness haunts being”, wailed Satre (1943).

I have now given you an extraordinarily brief synopsis on nothing, showing how the very cleverest rabbit hole technicians on the planet can paradoxically and simultaneously prove both the existence and non-existence of nothing. Logical. Precise. Scientific.

Aristotle is dead, and now I feel a step closer to that emptiness.

That quite nagging deep inside that you have tried to ignore your whole life, the one that whispers to you in the dark when you are most alone that from nothing you came and to nothing you will return. And if nothing comes from nothing, as so eloquently proved by Paramenides, then you are by default, nothing. When you die, will you dissipate into a bleak existentialist absence of anything? What if we are alone and nothing matters, not even nothing itself? Has this fear been given new life by my logical discourse thus far as I have rattled at your most fundamental and foundational beliefs? When faced with the apparently irrefutable proof of the existence of nothing, do you wish to spit out the red pill and return to a life less examined?

Invoking Aristotle here may give one pause to hope:

“Although these opinions seem to follow logically in a dialectical discussion, yet to believe them seems next door to madness when one considers the facts.” Aristotle 350 BC

There is just one more thing…All that I have shown you so far are my refutations — not my thesis. Here is my answer to the age-old question: “does nothing exist?” You can take it or leave it; after all, evidence appears to point to a universe of free will.

Thesis: Nothing does not exist because something does exist. And where there is something, no matter how infinitesimally small, there is the potential for infinite something, and that leaves no room for nothing.

For me, there is far too much SOMETHING for there to be an absolute nothing. Rainbows, the same ones that can be found in quarks, supernovae, rabbit holes, and on Hawaiian beaches, are a great little jelly bean of a package to sum that up for you.

To invoke in your memory and imagination something I could show you really anything; a picture of the Tower of Pisa, an astronaut on the moon, or the number zero. I could ask you to imagine an infinite set of numbers. Or I could ask you to remember the smell of the forest after a storm, the touch of an ocean wave breaking on your shoulders, the flutter in your chest when you see an old friend, or the sound of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. I could ask you to go outside and wait for the rain, to feel it fall on your skin, and to witness the rainbow that comes after the rain. There is a video clip that I especially enjoy watching when I feel the nothingness encroach. This video shows the scattering of the ashes of an Hawaiian legend, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole in 1997. This video shows hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the passing of a man who believed in rainbows, and really knew the value of something.

Did he become nothing when he died? Certainly, his memory lives on very strongly for many people, and perhaps in memory, the scribe of consciousness, is an eternal something. If something, even just one something, is eternal, can there really be room for absolute nothing, for at its very depths, there would always be that echo of the eternal, whispering on the horizon? Whispering ‘from something you came and to something you will return.’ So ask yourself when you next see a rainbow, can you state that you believe in nothing or will there always be for you, somewhere over the rainbow, a place where dreams always exist and by their very potential nothing is squeezed out into non-existence.


Rainbow Beach, Queensland, Australia.




Griffith, R., (2004). The Rig Veda. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing. (original work punblished 1896).

Sarte, J., (2012). Being and nothingness. New York, NY: Open Road Media. (original work published, 1943)

Aristotle, (350 B.C.). On Generation and Corruption, I:8. translator H. H. Joachim, The Internet Classics Archive, retrieved 24 January 2009.

Sky Today (2013, June 27th), 7 most colourful beaches. Retrieved from