32 Degrees: Finding Community and Mentor Magic at Women’s Summit
This column by Ying Liu originally appeared in the Winter 2024 Issue of 32 Degrees.
I didn’t start skiing until I was 28. When I started teaching – three years later at Mt. Hood Meadows – I never imagined how important skiing would become in my life. I had no plans to join PSIA-AASI, much less pursue certiﬁcation or attend summits/academies.
Building a career in skiing was something other people did. After all, besides being a part-time ski instructor, I was a part-time yoga teacher and a full-time “corporate” professional.
Surprisingly, the idea of making a career out of skiing was similarly foreign to the women leaders at last season’s Women’s Summit when they ﬁrst started in the industry. Many shared their journey, which typically involved a mentor recognizing their potential, offering encouragement, and opening doors to pursue growth in snowsports. This supportive approach is a critical element to success for women.
HOW I GOT HERE
Over the years, I pursued more certiﬁcations, partly to validate my personal progression but also because I had informal mentors who encouraged my development. I was also given an opportunity in 2021 to join the association’s Women’s Advisory Group, created to accelerate gender equity within PSIA-AASI. Upon learning that trailblazers created the Women’s Summit for women of all skill levels to learn, build community, and foster a sense of purpose to continue their PSIA-AASI journey, I knew I had to experience it.
The 2023 summit at Mission Ridge, Washington, brought together women across all levels of experience – ﬁrst-year instructors to 30+-year veterans – and across the country, from the largest (and only) resort in Tennessee to traveling ski schools in the Midwest. It enabled us to:
- Learn from each other. We shared knowledge about class handling, drills, and movement analysis. Ski patrollers taught us how to work together across departments, and we had open, honest dialogue about challenges women face in the industry. It was a reminder that schools don’t always have equal access to training and development.
- Learn about equipment. The demo day was a great way to try new ski technology so we could dial in our knowledge and help guests with equipment selection. As one attendee said, “They really don’t make bad skis these days.” The bootﬁtting sessions provided insights into boot design according to women-speciﬁc anatomy, a level of depth rarely found in ski shops.
- Inspire continued engagement. In addition to improving our skiing, this event showcased the variety of ways women can stay involved in snowsports.
- Build community. The summit was such an uplifting, encouraging environment that has led to lifelong connections.
KEY TAKEAWAY: MENTORS NEEDED
I knew I would be inspired and meet passionate people from across the country, but I was blown away by the things people were doing to further snowsports accessibility, which left me with the question of what more could I do. The answer is mentorship.
PSIA-AASI’s Women Belong on the Mountain report found that 41% of women did not have a mentor but want one. Hearing about the speakers’ career trajectories really hit home. They shared how unsolicited mentors recognized their potential and pushed them to achieve more. Interestingly, mentors were often men because of the dearth of female leaders.
I encourage all snowports instructors to reach out and become a mentor or mentee because:
- Regardless of gender, mentors play an important role in inspiring the next generation of leaders.
- Mentors don’t have to be in a leadership position. Sometimes all it takes is for someone with more tenure to give a gentle nudge.
So, if you’re a woman looking to grow in the industry, don’t be afraid to ask for help – especially if you’d like guidance from other women. You’ll likely ﬁnd that most are willing to be a mentor if asked.
Ying Liu is an Alpine Level II and Telemark Level I instructor at Mt. Hood Meadows near Portland, Oregon.