The issue of equal pay has caused discussion, debate and frustration for decades. As of 2017, the average full-time working woman in the US earns 82 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same work. In the sports industry, this gap is even larger in most sports with female athletes making a fraction of the millions of dollars that professional male athletes receive each year.
Skiing, however, seems to be an exception. According to FIS, the top female alpine skiers have out-earned the top male skiers for the second year in a row, with American Mikaela Shiffrin earning the most prize money of any male or female alpine skier.
“The more we talk about equal pay, the more insane it sounds that there are sports that pay the athletes differently,” says Megan Harrod, Alpine Press Officer for the US Ski and Snowboard Team. “These women are really dominating… I think this is the golden age for women athletes.”
Part of the reason women are having so much financial success in alpine skiing is because FIS requires equal minimum prize money at all Audi FIS World Cup events. According to a BBC study on 44 different sports that provide prize money, alpine skiing was one of only 35 that award equal prize money for male and female athletes.
Upon first discovering that she made more than her male teammates and competitors, Shiffrin says, “I was a bit surprised, but when I looked at my results compared with the top male alpine skier this year, on paper it actually makes sense. My season was equally as successful as him in terms of race wins and podiums and I raced in a few more races than he did so I had a greater opportunity for earning there.”
“Our athletes feel honored to be part of a sport that recognizes the equality,” says Harrod, who compares female skiers to professional female soccer players like Abby Wambach. By the end of her soccer career, Wambach had scored the most goals of any soccer player, yet, she received an annual salary of only $200,000. Lionel Messi, with less goals and less World Cup victories, earned over $50 million a year.
Additionally, the US Women’s World Cup Soccer Team has had three FIFA World Cup wins since the tournament began less than 30 years ago, while the men’s team hasn’t made it to the finals once in the near 90 years of the Men’s Soccer World Cup. Furthermore, the US Women’s final game against Japan in the 2015 FIFA World Cup was the most watched soccer game in United States history, yet the team was awarded only $2 million for their victory compared to this year’s Men’s World Cup winners, who will be awarded $38 million.
“Having a daughter I would want her to be given the same opportunities as men and have equal pay due to her ability to influence. Over 50% of the world is women correct?!” says Steven Nyman, Olympian and member of US Ski and Snowboard Team.
As women like Shiffrin and Vonn continue to shatter records, they also establish themselves as role models for young women around the world. Harrod and Shiffrin claim that equal pay makes the sport even more appealing for young women.
Shiffrin praises her competitors for the fan base they help create. “These are women who bring a really high level of skiing to almost every race,” says Shiffrin. “They make it exciting to watch and they have exciting, edgy, fun personalities that draw in fans and viewers to the sport. And just like any sport, ski racing needs these personalities and a high level of competition in order to thrive.”
Though ski racing seems to be on the right track in regards to gender equality, there’s still much to be done in regards to other sports and general occupations where women will continue to earn less money simply because we are women.
“It’s important to keep the discussion going and its important to giving hope,” says Harrod. “We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.”