How world-champion freeskier Alison Gannett slashes glass ceilings

Alison Gannett raises the bar in Valdez, Alaska. [Photo] Scott Markewitz

When Alison Gannett won the Freeskiing World Championship in 1998, she established her name in the sport. In 2001, she created her women-specific Rippin Chix Steep Camps and, in doing so, challenged skiing’s male-dominated landscape. Now, this year, Gannett is putting another crack in skiing’s glass ceiling.

“I’m finally, after all of these years, working on my first pro-model ski,” Gannett says. “It seems to be a given for most men [in professional skiing], but it’s taken 20 years for me.” For Gannett, the achievement symbolizes a larger shift in the sport’s gender balance.

Since its 2001 inception, Rippin Chix Steep Camps have taught more than 5,000 women skills like how to make jump turns, air cliffs and hit pillow lines—all techniques Gannett learned on her own and wished someone had taught her. In turn, the camps’ female coaching staff of professional skiers and riders now offer that mentorship.

“I was lucky to grow up in Crested Butte where I had people like Alison and Susan [Medville] to look up to,” says Pip Hunt, a freeride athlete and current Rippin Chix coach. “It’s been a passing of the torch, in a sense, because I got to learn from these women, and now I also get to work with them.”

As Gannett brings more women like Pip into the freeride fold, she’s also growing the sport’s female voice—demanding equal payouts at competitions, more roles in the big ski flicks and higher-quality and more suitable gear for women. And she’s warmed by the strides women have made—not only in confronting gender inequalities, but also in taking on the physical challenges skiing present. That’s in part, she thinks, to an uptick in role models.

“I think women have become more bold in their goals,” Gannett says. “I used to hear, ‘I just want to get down that double black diamond.’ Now, I hear, ‘I want to flash that line and put an air in the middle.’ The ladies who attend my camp are seeing more women in all sports achieving at higher levels, and they are motivated to do the same.”

Susan Medville, a former pupil of Gannett’s and another coach for Rippin Chix, sees parallels in how Gannett approaches her different interests and how she teaches freeride skiing to her camp students.

“One of the things that I have learned from Alison is that if you have a problem or a bigger goal, you break it down into little pieces,” Medville says. “You solve for those, and then all of those pieces come together to form the bigger picture.”

Rippin Chix set the stage for other women’s-specific camps, too. In the U.S., organizations like SheJumps—cofounded by Claire Smallwood and Lynsey Dyer—and Keely’s Camps—run by former U.S. Ski Teamer Keely Kelleher—are taking lady’s ski education to new heights. On the international stage, Canadian Leah Evans’s Girls Do Ski camps provide an outlet for women and girls to test backcountry and freeride waters. And with each new participant, these camps pass down the wisdom of what it means to be a female athlete.

“There are basically three generations of skiers teaching the camps now,” Medville says of the Rippin Chix experience. “Alison was a mentor to me, and now we have Pip Hunt on board as a coach, and she is from a newer era of freeskiing. Hopefully, we’ll continue to pass that knowledge down through the generations.”

As far as that pro-model ski of Gannett’s? She’s partnering with Glenwood Springs, Colo.-based Meier Skis to craft a product hewn from Colorado-grown trees that, she says, will marry her passions for sustainability and skiing.

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