Ski Women was added as a category to the Xtreme Verbier in 2006, two years after the Men joined what was previously a snowboard only event. The Xtreme grew to become the Freeride World Tour, which has featured events from Alaska to Japan. Today, the FWT announced that for all future events, starting with Hakuba this weekend, Men and Women on the main tour will compete for equal prize money, rather than prizing calculated based on the size of the competing field.
The official press release from the tour states that: "The FWT makes this milestone announcement today as a commitment to gender equality in modern sports, striving to keep inspiring new generations of freeriders to chase the ultimate dream of earning a spot on the FWT."
Two-time Snowboard Women World Champion, Marion Haerty (FRA) said, "competing since the age of 10, I have been able to observe positive developments so that women, too, have the means to create their dreams in this discipline. For my part, I was lucky to be surrounded by incredible men who served as role models and encouraged me to keep progressing. I hope that this sends a message of empowerment to the next generations.”
Manuela Mandl (AUT) continued, “equal prize money is a sign of respect towards female athletes. I hope more and more girls will compete in the future and push the level of freeriding higher and higher. Freeriding is such a fulfilling and exciting sport, where you can learn a lot about yourself and nature too.”
2020 sees 24 Men and 11 Women scheduled to compete on the tour, and that money should, as stated in the press release, act as a significant incentive for the ladies coming up through the ranks of the qualifying tour to push towards making the big show.
*Update: Equal Prize Money rule applies also to Qualifier level, and all events, for all regions.*
But while equal prize money is a definite positive step, the numerical disparity between men and women on the tour still exists. This disparity has been used to justify equal-average prize money in the past (prizing based on the number of entries in each field) but the difference in the number of competitors appears to be largely a result of available spots rather than a lack of incentive or drive on the part of the women trying to make it. It only takes a quick look at the FWQ startlists to see that there is no shortage of riders trying to make the cut. With only two qualifier spots available to female skiers, which this year went to Jessica Hotter and Emma Patterson, it's incredibly tough to make it on to the tour in the first place.
Today's move is undoubtedly huge progress, so credit must be given where due. Few, if any, competition circuits in snowsports have even made this step. But hopefully, we'll see the FWT take the next step soon, and open up more spots for the women who are crushing it at the qualifications all over the globe (and eventually an equal number of spots!), for a more truly equal tour in years to come.