Building the stoke

Mackinnon along with his athletes at the Girlstylerz camp in Whistler. Photo submitted.

Girlstylerz freestyle program a success for Sun Peaks club

Female athletes in the male-dominated sport of freestyle skiing are gaining more support and advocates across British Columbia after Vancouver Freestyle Ski Club’s coach Danika Mazur’s Girlstylerz program expanded provincially.

“At the heart of it all, it was just about giving the girls who were in the sport that identity,” said Mazur.

The Girlstylerz program started three years ago when one of Mazur’s female athletes placed last at a competition and confided in her coach that she wanted to train and to become an athlete. Mazur realized her athlete needed a group to rally behind her, have the same excitement for the sport and to train with other girls instead of the boys group.

She created a spring camp for the female athletes in her club and spent the weekend skiing with six athletes. Mazur realized that was something her club needed every weekend and Girlstylerz was created.

“There’s a good chunk of girls who wouldn’t be willing or capable to get involved in that setting (training with the boys). Having this option alongside training with your male peers and having a co-ed program, having it as an option has opened up the door and the opportunities for girls (who) otherwise wouldn’t want to participate,” she said.

This past season Mazur and Freestyle BC launched a pilot program which saw almost 100 per cent participation from the freestyle clubs across the province to offer girl’s programming.

“I think this is important because, like I said, having Girlstylerz offers more entry points for girls who don’t typically fit that mould of keeping up with the boys or being ‘tough,’” said Mazur.

The girls-only programming has taken away the embarrassment factor and fear of falling creating an environment where girls feel safe trying something new.

“Boys don’t care how they look. They don’t care if they look ugly or stupid when they fall. They just want to get the trick. There’s a well known idea boys perform to be accepted, and girls need to feel accepted before they can perform,” she said.

“Having a program like a Girlstylerz program is really great for overcoming those types of barriers when you’re learning a new trick, or a new skill or you’re in a new terrain,” stated Mazur.

The provincial program not only focused on creating advocates for female athletes in each club but also gave the girls a space to make friends with others in different clubs by hosting activities like tube nights or rail jams at provincial competitions.

At Sun Peaks, assistant coach Cody Mackinnon was named the program co-ordinator for the Girlstylerz initiative. He said he saw many of his athletes come out of their shell this season thanks to the program.

“It was cool to see they made some new friends. They were definitely engaging with the other girls from the other clubs a lot more than they did at the start of the season,” he said.

Mackinnon took 11 local athletes to Whistler Blackcomb for an end of the season Girlstylerz camp to celebrate how far the girls had progressed and to learn new skills. Focusing on park and rails, moguls and airbag training, the athletes worked with the Girlstylerz coaches, Olympic athletes and provincial level athletes in a three day progression camp.

“A lot of girls got their first rails, first full rails, so it was a big learning opportunity for them as well, just to have a different coach and so many different points of view because every coach brings something new to the table which is really good for them,” said Mackinnon.

Watching his own athletes, Mackinnon noticed a lot of progression over the course of the weekend especially with getting over their fear of the airbag. Mackinnon said watching one of his athletes hit the bag was incredible. She had been sitting at the top for two hours afraid to go and after his session in the park with his athletes for the day he went back and she was still there.

“I sat with her for another half an hour, and she said she was too scared. So I just talked to her, breathed through it, hungout, finally got her up and going,” he said. “I had to ski the inrun right beside her, cheering her on the whole time but she finally hit it. It was pretty cool, she was almost tearing up. I was stoked to see her conquer that fear.”

When asked why he believes the pilot project is important for the sport, Mackinnon said to get more girls involved because it’s a male dominated sport and to introduce them to something new.

Mackinnon said the Sun Peaks program is looking to develop and expand but in order to do that they will need more coaches, hopefully include female coaches.
Next season McKinnon is hoping to see his athletes build off the high note they ended the season on while the Girlstylerz provincial program continues to grow.

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