Chinese-American skier Eileen Gu (right) hugs winner Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud after the freeski slopestyle event at this year’s Winter Olympics.
Chinese-American skier Eileen Gu (right) hugs Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud after the freeski slopestyle event at the Winter Olympics. (Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty)

Why I Want My Daughter to Ski Like a Girl 

Whether on the Olympic stage or the home hill, women on skis demonstrate what sportsmanship, bravery, and self-love could look like

Chinese-American skier Eileen Gu (right) hugs winner Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud after the freeski slopestyle event at this year’s Winter Olympics.
Tracy Ross

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My ten-year-old daughter, Hollis, was standing on the ridge above the double-black-diamond East Face at Colorado’s Steamboat Resort, muttering to me through clenched teeth that she wasn’t going to ski it. Hollis can ski that kind of terrain; the cliff- and rock-riddled slope wasn’t the problem. What was freaking her out was the pack of 12-and-under boys from the local junior freeskiing program, who themselves had just skied the face and were circled up with their coaches at the bottom of the run, talking fluidity, line selection, and how much air they planned to catch at the junior regional freeride competition happening in Steamboat the next day.

The funny thing was, not one of them was watching Hollis. But I understood the fear that froze her and made her feel unable to start her first turn down the run. Like her, I had once been a little girl in the throes of prepuberty who both felt the drive to push herself athletically but also internalize all the bullshit that came with growing up female in America.

One of the reasons my husband and I had signed her up for the freeride development team, Devo, back at our home mountain, Eldora, was because we’d recently seen her morph from a girl who cared little about what others thought into one who often returned home from school in tears and falling apart. It seems that fifth grade might be the year girls learn the power of bullying each other—and Hollis had been on the receiving end. (I’ll also note that Hollis has done her fair share of playing favorites and leaving other girls out.) When I later discovered, through other parents, that Hollis had been crying at school but not telling me, I panicked.

I know from raising two other kids that only bad things can come from them withholding such important information. So in hopes of building Hollis up, my husband and I enrolled her in Devo, thinking it would be a good antidote to her suffering. She’s been skiing since she was a toddler, and the sport is a huge part of our family’s identity. As my husband and I both know, ripping around on snow is one of the best ways to make lasting friendships. When she joined the team in December, she immediately showed signs of feeling better. She’d get up without complaining on mornings before practice, when we’d have to hit the road to Eldora by 6:30 A.M. to avoid the weekend crush of traffic. Things continued to improve, and then she got a jolt of inspiration.

Two months after she started training with the team, we sat down to watch some of the women’s events at the Winter Olympics. We snacked on salt-and-vinegar chips as her eyes locked onto the strands of face-framing hair each woman pulled to the front of their helmet. Affectionately known as “slut strands” (or “beauty strands,” as snowboarder Chloe Kim opts to call them), they ensure the world knows that it’s a woman throwing these unfathomably huge, technical tricks. Hollis found her brush and had me braid her hair while she carefully held two front pieces apart. Now they always hang outside of her helmet (and dip in her ski-break French-fry ketchup—thanks, ladies.)

Then there was their skiing and riding. Kim made history by winning her second Olympic gold medal in the halfpipe with her twisting cab 900 melon grab (an insanely difficult spin, with a grab and 2.5 rotations) and soaring a double cork 1080 (three 360’s). And Chinese-American skier Eileen Gu made history, too, when she became the first athlete to win three medals in three different freestyle-skiing disciplines at a single Games, with tricks like her double 1620 (four and a half full rotations and two off-axis flips), which she had never performed outside of practice (and which French skier Tess LeDeux first executed at the X Games in January, becoming the first woman ever to land one in competition).

This time, thanks for real, ladies: Hollis is now obsessed with landing a 360 and executing sporty hand drags, both of which keep her mind off things like painful school fights or stealing my iPhone to watch strangers apply makeup.

But more importantly, as we sat on the couch watching the Games over multiple nights, with Hollis snuggled into my side and her bearded dragon, Audrey, on her lap, she got to see what real female support and camaraderie look like. She stood up and cheered when silver and bronze snowboard medalists Julia Marino, from the U.S., and Tess Coady, from Australia, sprinted to hug New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott after she won slopestyle, also making history as the first-ever Kiwi to win gold at a Winter Olympics. When all of Sadowski-Synnott’s competitors piled on, Hollis spontaneously hugged me (careful not to crush Audrey). And when LeDeux crumpled to the ground in tears after losing gold to Gu in the big-air competition, Hollis cried, “That’s not fair!” But Gu showed Hollis how to be the ultimate good sportsperson. She went to LeDeux and tried to console her, kneeling beside her and rubbing her back.

Through it all, a little girl who’d been struggling to hold her center during her first real experiences with bullying saw women at the highest level of competition supporting and championing themselves first—because that’s what it takes to be an Olympian—but also respecting, holding space, and caring for their competitors, regardless of who won or lost.

It took me back to Hollis and her first freeride competition.

At the bottom of her scouting run, she insisted she was too scared to compete. My intention all along was to present her with the option, not force her to do it, and I told her as much. At bedtime that night, she seemed iffy. But the following morning, she got up, dressed herself, ate breakfast, and went with her team to the venue. When her name was called, she skied along the ridge, dropped in, and linked a few turns before crashing. It took forever for her to dig herself out of the snow, recenter, and keep skiing. But when she got to the end of her run, everyone cheered for her. You could see that camaraderie going a long way in a little girl trying her best to navigate tweendom with compassion and composure.

Lead Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty

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