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Reflecting on the Evolution of Women’s Freeskiing at X Games

Rachel Karker, X Games 2023. Photographer Joshua Duplechian.

The energy at the Winter X Games is electric. Year after year, history is made at every event that progresses the sport even further than the pioneers of freeskiing could ever have imagined. The women at the Winter X Games this year pushed the sport into a new era, with tricks like triple cork 14’s and double cork 16’s. This current wave of progression is one to be proud of, but where would we be if we did not honor the history of the women that came before? The ones that paved the way for equal representation so that women’s freeskiing could evolve into something that inspires and elevates.

The fight for equal representation has been ever present when it comes to any female sport, especially ones in male-dominated spaces. We owe it to legends like Sarah Burke, Kristi Leskinen and countless others for their work to get women into competitions like the Winter X Games. In the space of freestyle skiing, this work shows up in equal prize money, number of athletes invited to compete and the difference in disciplines offered between men and women.

Tess Ledeux, Megan Oldham & Kirsty Muir: Women's Big Air, X Games ’23. Photographer Jamie Schwaberow.

It’s safe to say that Brita Sigourney falls under the pioneer category after completing a decorated 14 year run at X Games. She’s a five-time X Games medalist in SuperPipe and was the first woman to land a 1080 in the halfpipe. This past weekend, she reflected on her career and the groundwork that was laid for her to progress the sport to where it is today. “I was really fortunate to be in the generation after Sarah Burke,” she said, “because she was really the pioneer who fought for those rights for us. I’m forever grateful for Sarah, Jen and Kristi and those women who blazed the trail for us, because I just got to come in here and focus on my skiing.”

Equal prize money has always been a topic of conversation, but X Games made that change in 2008 to offer equal checks for both men and women. When compared to other competitions like the Freeride World Tour, who agreed upon equal pay just in 2020, X Games is ahead of the curve. Plus, the argument that women aren’t throwing the same difficulty of tricks compared to the men is slowly waning - as we saw Megan Oldham stomp the first triple cork by a woman in competition in Friday night’s Big Air event.

Zoe Atkin at the 2023 X Games. Photo by Jamie Schwaberow.

Overall, the female athletes are happy with how X Games continues to show up for them. Local Aspen halfpipe skier Hanna Faulhaber comments that “There is pretty equal representation. It’s great to be out here and have an amazing experience at X Games.” There are some discrepancies though. One example is that the Knuckle Huck has only men competing, and another is that in slopestyle, men are allotted 10 spots while women only get eight. Faulhaber hopes that, “In the near future, I think that we should be looking to expand the amount of competition, instead of eight girls to 10, because there are 10 amazing athletes that should be here.”

While there is still work to do to bridge some gaps, the women competing in X Games are grateful for their experience and what they can do to push the sport and inspire the next generation. As Sigourney turns a chapter in her ski career, she knows that “the next generation is in good hands. The future of women’s freeskiing is taking such a steep climb right now.”

Megan Oldham, Women's Ski Slope, X Games ’23. Photo by Trevor Brown.

On the other side of this conversation are all the young girls watching these athletes on the big screen and it’s the representation that really matters for them. Natalie Nelson, a local grom in Aspen says, “It’s really inspiring to see all the women at X games and see what they are doing - like Eileen Gu and Hanna Faulhaber. I really look up to them.” Nelson is on the big mountain team with Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and aspires to be a professional skier one day. Seeing the level of skiing this weekend at X Games inspires her to progress her skiing even more.

For two decades of women being in the X Games, so much progress has been made. We owe the ladies of X Games, past, present and future, to keep pushing this sport to new levels and showing up for all the young girls watching in the crowd or on TV. There is a snowball effect here, for lack of better terms. Sarah Burke inspired an entire generation of skiers, girls and guys, Brita Sigourney has done the same, and the young guns like Hanna Faulhaber and Eileen Gu will continue to fan the flame for the generations to come. 

Watch the Women's Ski Slopestyle Top 3Women's Ski Big Air Top 3  and the Women's Ski SuperPipe from the 2023 X Games here. 

Rachael Karkar, Zoe Atkin, Svea Irbing, Womens Ski Super Pipe X Games '23. Photo by Jamie Schwaberow.

From The Column: Women in the Mountains

About The Author

stash member Sierra Schlag

Because of its inherent hazard, freestyle skiing has always been mainly uncontrolled. However, it has developed into an organized sport. These ladies really killed it!

Skiing is for everyone who is passionate about it. It brings new experiences with countless challenges. The daredevils will be very interested in this sport. You can also learn it through Drift Hunters

It’s great to see the progress women have made in the sport of freeskiing, thanks in part to pioneers like Sarah Burke and Kristi Leskinen who fought for equal representation. X Games has been at the forefront of this progress, offering equal prize money and representation for women. While there are still some discrepancies, female athletes are grateful for their experiences and are inspiring the next generation of skiers. I have here a very good article on this theme. It’s clear that the future of women’s freeskiing is in good hands, and the young girls watching can be inspired to reach new heights.