Sports | Sexism on the slopes

An interview with Jen Hudak, freestyle half-pipe skier

Jen Hudak is considered by many to be one of the greatest female half-pipe skiers ever. She was thought to be one of the favourites for a gold medal at the Sochi games, but is out of contention due to a recent knee injury at the Dew Tour. Still, on the eve of this young sport’s first Olympic appearance, Freeskier Magazine, the voice of the sport, focused on things other than its athletes’ achievements. The magazine released a feature ranking the ten most attractive female skiers. Hudak responded by writing an article about the implications of this attitude in the industry. The Daily spoke to her to find out what it means to be a woman in action sports. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The McGill Daily: What did you think of the Freeskier article “10 Hottest Female Skiers?” Does it seem like women skiers only get coverage by marketing their sexuality?

Jen Hudak: Yeah, there is an unfair double standard. Just being a good athlete isn’t enough anymore. In order to be successful as a female athlete, you have to be strong and beautiful. You definitely see the objectification of women in the action sports industry throughout marketing and advertising. The Freeskier article really highlights that.

MD: Well, there’s no lack of talented female skiers. For example, I think Maude Raymond is one of the most talented skiers in the sport.

JH: Maude is a tough one for me, because she uses her looks to get more attention. For myself, I dealt with a lot of body image issues when I was younger and I think now: “how can I be an overall role model for my former 15-year old self?” What would I want to see? I would want to see a woman who uses her body to do amazing athletic things and to send the message that your body is not just there to be looked at and admired by men. I wish the media did a better job covering what we do on snow.

MD: On the Dew Tour, they only show women’s highlight runs. Do you think lack of coverage is biased and will affect the next generation of female skiers?

JH: Yeah, media coverage is completely out of balance. It’s the same across all women’s sports; 95 per cent of the airtime coverage is men’s sports and 5 percent is women’s. There are a lot of women doing amazing things but with the Dew Tour, they just do a highlight reel and only the men get live airtime. The year I won [the] X-Games in 2010 was the first and only year where they did a live broadcast. Women have been in X-Games for 10 showings and we’ve only been on TV once. Now, if we’re lucky, we might make the highlight reel. If there’s no way to show people what you’re doing, there’s no way to inspire and grow the sport. It’s very limiting.

MD: For women, it seems like you have to compete [in events] rather than film [ski films], even though there’s been some amazing film segments – for example, Kaya Turski. Women in ski films seem few and far between.

JH: Well, Kaya is a total bad-ass. For park and pipe, to make a career as a female skier, you need to be competing or you’re not getting paid very much from sponsors. So you need to win prize money and pay your way to your next event. It’s a big commitment to be competing and try to film at the same time. Kaya did it for one season but has taken a step back now to focus on competition, which is understandable because of the [upcoming Sochi] Olympics. In the big mountain world it’s possible, but in park and pipe we have competitions that we have to show up at. That’s what sponsors care about and that’s how you get to pay your bills.

MD: I can think of a handful of male skiers who have made a living from the sport. I can only think of one, maybe two females. Is there a wage difference?

JH: Guys make ten times the amount I make, but they probably should because they reach ten times the number of people and sell ten times the amount of product. I don’t have too much of an issue there. I do have an issue with how much it drops off. As a female skier, there are maybe five of us who make a good living and then it drops off to the point where girls have to fundraise and work to find a way to continue skiing. It’s like a mirror image of our society and the balance of rich and poor. The top 2 per cent make 90 per cent of the money but we’re all in it because we love it.

MD: In 2010, you won back-to-back at X-Games Aspen and X-Games Europe. Is it sometimes disheartening, after reaching the pinnacle of our sport, to hear: “that was really good – for a girl?”

JH: You know that year when I was skiing, I had so much positive feedback from everybody – male and female. The next year, I had a small web series following me and people would say, “I had to press mute, but the skiing was great.” I had to laugh at that but appreciated that people were stoked on my skiing. That’s the whole point – to find something you’re passionate about and to follow it through to the end.

MD: Do you think this Olympics, with its focus on human rights, might launch the conversation in freeskiing about gender equality?

JH: I don’t know if the two are necessarily related. I wish the Olympics weren’t in Russia. Russia is a pretty corrupt place and their policies on homosexuality are despicable. But the Olympics are a business. People ask me if I still support the Olympics with what is going on – I do. The Olympics is something a lot of us have been dreaming about for our entire lives. We have sacrificed so much for that goal.

MD: Ski print media seems to be short on content and long on advertising. Your thoughts?

JH: We have a lot more growth ahead of us and I think Freeskier as a magazine is going through changes right now. In this sport, because of how much risk is involved, you’re not doing it for the money. You’re doing it because you love it. You’re doing it to see how good you can get, how far you can push yourself and I think that spirit will forever remain in freeskiing. Ultimately, the athletes are going to dictate the direction of this sport.

MD: After you responded to the Freeskier article through your blog, how did other athletes respond, both male and female?

JH: The responses have been all over the board. I’ve had some guys ask me why I’m making a big deal about this. Why aren’t you grateful doing a sport for a living? This isn’t about being grateful. Then other male athletes are like, “This is garbage, Freeskier. Are you trying to make it seem like a joke by doing ‘10 Hottest Men?’” It was cool that a lot of people appreciated what I had to say. But I didn’t know that I was going to create the amount of waves I created. But I don’t regret writing it because that’s what I believe.

– compiled by Drew Wolfson Bell