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Jessica Sobolowski (dark blue jacket) and Ingrid Backstrom (yellow pants) with the women who participated in the Next Level Women’s Freeskiing Camp.
I’m standing to the side on Chute 75, watching a young woman slide head first down the steep slope. Jessica Sobolowski and a group of women shout instructions on how to self-arrest just above me.
Sobolowski and Ingrid Backtrom are in the midst of teaching the Next Level Women’s Freeskiing Camp at Squaw Valley on January 9 and 10. While taking 50-yard nosedives isn’t in the lesson plan, it all works out for the best. The next day, the same student will tackle bulletproof steeps with confidence.
Despite rain, flat light, and tough snow conditions over the weekend, Sobolowski and Backstrom show 10 women, ranging in age from 13 to 50, how to take their skiing to the next level. They share a few of those lessons here.
For a refresher on just what Backstrom and Sobolowski are capable of in the snow, check out the latest ski films from Matchstick Productions or Warren Miller. When the two women signed up to coach a big-mountain camp for women at Squaw Valley, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. “I had actually never heard of a women’s freeride camp before and when I did I thought it was amazing opportunity and signed up right away,” says Emma Andersson, a camp participant. “Not only to meet Ingrid and Jess, but because the fact that skiing with women is something special.”
The women take a break for a photo op at Gold Coast.
The group started with early morning yoga sessions to emphasize strengthening hips and legs to improve skiing performance. They ended the day with video analysis to watch and critique the participants’ technique. “Our goal is to get these women up to that level where they can keep up with husbands or whoever,” Sobolowski says. “But in order to do that, you have to break down skills so on powder day they see lines and feel comfortable because they’ve done it before. I think the biggest thing is [having] confidence and being surrounded in a noncompetitive, non-pressure environment.”
When husbands, boyfriends, and brothers are left behind, Backstrom sees a chance for women to focus on their own style of learning. “Women are used to being behind guys and having [men] waiting for them, telling them how to do it,” Backstrom says. “Women are more cerebral. Men can say, ‘Sweet, I’m dropping in,’ and muscle through it.”
The ladies were taught skills to help them self-arrest on steep terrain by swinging their feet downhill of their body and digging their ski edges in. Variable conditions led to Sobolowski teaching a group of women how to sidestep over steep slopes.
Ingrid Backstrom (left) shared big-mountain tips with Emma Andersson during the Next Level Women’s Freeskiing Camp.
The camp focuses on teaching the women how to see lines and prepare themselves before dropping in. “I learned to think better when you’re standing at the top of the mountain,” Andersson says. “To think not only when you’re skiing down but to have a plan. I learned more about tactics.” Backstrom teaches the women how to use all the information at their disposal to plan their route down by scouting from the chair, the top of the run, or while they’re skiing. “You can see lines by scanning the hill and taking every opportunity you can to look at the run,” she says. “When you’re skiing it for the first time, notice features.”
The women pose outside the Olympic House at Squaw Valley after a weekend on the slopes.
Let it Flow
Another lesson that Backstrom repeats over and over while watching the women on video after the Saturday session is to loosen up. “You have to trust your muscle memory,” she says. “Turn the brain off and let your body go.” Sobolowski agrees with Backstrom’s advice. “It’s really easy to get real tense and be rigid skiing,” Sobolowski says. “Sometimes when you let it loose it just comes easier.” The message is well received by the students. “Be aggressive, but be steady and in control. Both [Backstrom and Sobolowski] taught us how to find that,” Andersson says.
Sobolowski sees improvement as the women were able to take in what she and Backstrom have to offer and put it to work on Squaw Valley’s formidable terrain. “Squaw Valley can be a super intimidating mountain, but it can be the best mountain in the world if you know it,” Sobolowski says. “We’re just really excited to introduce people to that. We would continue to take the women down runs they’ve never done, and suddenly they’re doing it 10 times faster.”