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Another Year, Another Batch of Male-Dominated Ski Films

As 2019 ski movie trailers drop, so do hopes of seeing more female skiers on the big screen.

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It’s the time of year when the ski world waits with bated breath for the first signs of winter: ski movie season. When Faction dropped the trailer for its second feature-length film, “The Collective,” on social media on July 18, skiers everywhere exhaled a sigh of stoke—at long last, winter was now officially on its way.

TGR soon followed suit with the trailer of “Winterland,” and Level 1 wasn’t far behind with “Romance.” Within minutes of being posted across the world of social media, the trailers showcasing ski porn at its finest garnered thousands of comments in the form of fire emojis and “So sick!” bro-isms. 

Then Matchstick Productions released the trailer for “Return to Send’er,” its 26th feature-length ski film. Fire emojis and stoke followed, but so did criticism.

“Cool, MSP. Just read off 11 male athlete names and zero female. Really keeping last year’s momentum going,” commented Stephanie Peterson, an ambassador for SheJumps, on MSP’s Instagram Trailer release.

More comments in the same vein poured in expressing frustration and disappointment. “I’m disappointed in the 2019 offering,” posted Teresa Hagerty, founder and lead guide of Cascade Mountain Adventures, a Washington-based outdoor adventure company specializing in outdoor activities for women. “[MSP] made a strong statement in 2018 with ‘All In’. It was applauded, celebrated, and shared by female outdoor influencers. We were excited to see MSP lead the way in representation and equality. This sends a message of reversing that course. It’s confusing to say the least.”

Last year, MSP, one of the most respected and longest-standing ski movie production companies, made waves with their film “All In.”  By featuring an equal number of male and female athletes—Angel Collinson, Michelle Parker, Elyse Saugstad, and Tatum Monod in starring roles alongside Mark Abma, Wiley Miller, Johnny Collinson, and Cody Townsend—the company appeared to be disrupting the “token female” formula in ski movies that has been in place for decades.

MSP is seemingly reversing course with their newest film, which stars four men, introduces seven of their male friends, and features no women at all. 

“All In” wasn’t the first time MSP cast badass women skiers in a feature-length film. It was MSP who introduced the wider world to female powerhouses Ingrid Backstrom, Wendy Fischer, and Sarah Burke via their annual films. But “All In” marked the first time MSP, or any other production company, featured an equal number of male and female skiers. What’s more, they gave the women the money shot—an Alaska heli segment that became the pinnacle segment of “All In”. The film not only demonstrated that female athletes are worthy of being in a ski film beyond filling the role of the token female, but that they were worthy of carrying the film’s narrative. It also demonstrated MSP’s trust in Collinson, Parker, Monod, and Saugstad to be able to capture enough amazing footage to make it into the final cut of the film. 

All of this made “All In” a big deal, and that wasn’t lost on female fans. From the moment the “All In” trailer dropped to when Saugstad was awarded the Powder Awards’ Best Female Performance for her skiing in the film, MSP rode a positive publicity wave powered by women and supportive men who were stoked to see the company at the forefront of more equal gender representation on the big screen.

Now, one year later, MSP is dealing with serious backlash for omitting women in “Return to Send’er”.

Matchstick Responds

“MSP has been a huge supporter of female skiers in all of our films…It’s a shame that we are being bullied and attacked this season after our long history,” says Steve Winter, MSP founder and executive producer. “Seems like this discussion is coming up because last year we chose to feature 80 to 90 percent female skiers. This year we decided we wanted a cast that could be available when the conditions were perfect. The four women from last year’s film simply were not available when we needed them.”

It’s safe to say that MSP is being targeted precisely because it broke the mold last year and set high expectations for its future films. This begs the question: Is it fair to hold MSP accountable for leaving women out of the picture this year, while turning a blind eye to the production companies that have never, rarely, or only sparingly included women in their feature-length films?

Level 1, the production company founded by Josh Berman that has produced annual feature-length ski films for the past 20 years, has a history of including only one woman—Tatum Monod—in a cast that regularly exceeds 10 athletes. Yet when the trailer for “Romance” dropped, very few fans seemed to notice or care that female athletes were absent. The only frustration expressed was that “Romance” will be Level 1’s last film, and many fans posted messages of thanks to Level 1 for “pushing skiing in the right direction for 20 years.”

Faction, a ski manufacturing brand planning to release their second feature-length ski film, “The Collective”, also has a tendency to focus primarily on male athletes in its numerous short videos released throughout each season. The brand hasn’t yet released its official cast list for “The Collective”, but with an athlete roster that includes freeskiing phenom Kelly Sildaru, Freeride World Tour athlete Elisabeth Gerritzen, Devin Logan, Caroline Claire, Mathilde Gremaud, Giula Tanno, and Sarah Hoefflin, the brand would be remiss in not including women in “The Collective” and in future internet edits.

Elisabeth Gerritzen Verbier Xtreme 2019
Gerritzen sending it on the Freeride World Tour last season.Photo credit: Dom Daher /  FWT

For many years, TGR showcased only a handful of women—usually Collinson, Hadley Hammer, Cassey Brown, and Saugstad—among a crowded cast of male athletes. This year’s “Winterland” marks a refreshing departure from the token female formula by including five women out of a cast of 23.

“TGR is a production company that is moving in a positive direction,” says Saugstad, who due to scheduling conflicts ended up on TGR’s roster this year despite initially being offered a role in MSP’s new film. “They have five women starring in “Winterland.” The fact that they had two women out of four athletes on this year’s ‘big production, Alaska heli’ segment means a heck of a lot. It exemplifies that they were willing to take a chance on two women garnering enough footage that would be deemed worthy for the immense cost of production for a trip like that. And it had nothing to do with storyline but rather good ol’ rad skiing.”

Winterland Preview: Angel Collinson

Saugstad’s point about storylines ties into criticism Matchstick is garnering for developing a concept for “Return to Send’er” that, while perhaps not deliberately, made it difficult for women to be included in the film.

“The concept this year was to follow four skiers individually through the course of the winter and have them all join forces for a heli-trip to end the season… [it] required full dedication from both the athletes and the film crew,” explains Winter. “Often skiers can spend all winter working on a 3-4-minute part. We were looking for a 10-minute segment of each skier. It was an imposing ask, even for the most elite skiers.” 

So why couldn’t that cast include at least one or two women? “We reached out to the stars of ‘All In’,” says Winter. “Elyse, Angel, Michelle, and Tatum.. we also reached out to several other female skiers and due to a myriad of reasons—from the movie’s structure to conflicting schedules to athletes’ personal goals and more—unfortunately there are no women featured in this year’s film.”

“In the end, it may read like there are 11 guys, but it’s really four principal athletes and the few friends they naturally brought along,” posted MSP’s director Scott Gaffney in response to a comment on the MSP Instagram trailer. “We didn’t want to dictate who they brought out into the field with them, so this is just how it played out…This year’s absence of women was simply the way circumstances played out in trying something new.”

At the end of the day, the movie-making business is a creative industry, and artistic license is a key ingredient to producing exciting and inspiring movies year after year. If production companies come up with a concept that favors male athlete representation—is there anything wrong with that? Should they be expected to include women “just for the sake of including women” each year?

“Last season’s film predominantly featured women. This year’s film is about four guys. Next year’s film will unquestionably feature women again. One of the wonderful things about what we do is that we can continually mix things up,” says Winter.

“I think it’s fine for a production company to do their own creative thing, after all, freeskiing is built on the basic premise that it’s non-conforming,” says Saugstad. But, she adds, “if it’s economic sustainability they’re after then, yes, it would make a lot of sense to be more inclusive of women because we are a significant market in the industry with buying power. To ignore that does not seem viable in the long run.”

Amie Engerbretson in Bella Coola with WME Timeless
Amie Engerbretson makes a turn while filming with Warren Miller Entertainment for their upcoming release, “Timeless.”Photo courtesy of Warren Miller Entertainment / Zach Almader

“I believe equal female representation should be a priority and we work towards that as best we can given all variables that go into making a ski movie,” says Warren Miller Entertainment Producer Josh Haskin. “It’s always a conscious decision to include women when we are in the planning phase.”

This year’s WME film “Timeless”, the company’s 70th annual feature-length ski film, includes 10 women in a cast of 29. The production company has a strong history of including multiple female athletes in their films, likely because they cast a wider net when looking to fill film roles. In past years, WME has featured ski instructors, ex-World Cup competitors, and Freeride World Tour athletes in addition to established professional big mountain skiers.

In answer to the question “should women be included for the sake of inclusion,” women and men will likely agree that shouldn’t be the case. Women should be included because they are part of the skiing community, and there are more than just four or five badass women skiers out there.

“We have reached a point where the ski industry, skiers, and your target audience is fully aware of the existence of female athletes,” Hagerty continues in her comment on MSP’s Instagram trailer. “They exist. They charge hard. They inspire. They sell tickets and move DVDs. This awareness is especially present amongst the female members of your target market. We are paying attention. We remember. We look for representation and purposefully support brands that provide it. And we remember and share the brands that don’t… Representation matters now more than ever… You can choose whether or not to send the message that we matter to you.”

Note: Warren Miller Entertainment is owned by SKI’s parent company, Active Interest Media.