Women in Ski Racing: Celebrating legacy and paving the way for the future

Women in Ski Racing: Celebrating legacy and paving the way for the future

As Karin Harjo steps into the role of women’s alpine head coach, it is the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. The achievement of being one of very few women to have ever done so was not something she considered but the impact of this is not lost on the 49-year-old coach. “It’s not the first thing that I think about, but it is really important,” Harjo told CBC Sports of breaking the gender barrier. “I’m really excited, and it is an honour to be entrusted with this leadership role and to work with such a talented group of athletes.” 

When the news initially broke, Alpine Canada reported that Karin was the first female head coach of a World Cup team since the introduction of the circuit in 1967. While Karin’s hiring is historic in many ways, she is joining a very select group of women with this appointment. The Swiss Ski federation has confirmed that Marie-Theres Nadig held the position of Head Coach of the Women’s Swiss Ski Team almost 20 years ago for the 2004-2005 season. Her appointment came after several years of discipline-specific coaching with the downhill team at the World Cup level. 

“I remember working with Marie-Theres back in the day,” says High Performance Director Phil McNichol. “I was with the American team then, and it was still surprising for several on the circuit to see a woman in her position. You would think that it was 1975 and not 2005.” 

Shelley Johnston and Wendy Lumby, two dedicated Canadian ski coaches also coached at the World Cup level in the 2012-2013 season for the Belgian team.  

“I was there with my trainer Shelley Johnston and Wendy Lumby who was assisting,” athlete Isabel Van Buynder once wrote on her blog of her first season on the World Cup circuit before competing in the super-G event at Lake Louise in 2012. “[Wendy] was an Olympian in 1988 and used to race WC and she had great experience to share. I give them my thumbs up for getting so far.” 

As Karin Harjo continues to build on her career, moving from an assistant coach for the American team for over a decade, to claiming the head coach role with the Canadian women’s team, she works as the only current female head coach for a World Cup team on the circuit, and for a top-10 ranked country. Karin was hired through an intensive year-long search; she continually rose to the top as her skills, passion and enthusiasm with a person-centered culture for both performance and leadership showed which has been prevalent throughout her storied career in ski racing. Karin’s strengths will help Canada continue their aggressive pursuit of podium performances, and the organization and domestic sport system will benefit from the addition of Karin as one of several talented and passionate experts in our community. 

Alpine Canada is committed to creating accessible and equitable access to sport for all who are passionate about ski racing. We recognize the intersectional experiences for many of our participants and acknowledge the potential of threats to access sport. Our Women in Ski Racing program has been developed with the goal of addressing and breaking through some of the barriers present for women in the sport who wish to pursue their coaching and racing careers to the next level. Through mentorship opportunities and targeted workshops, we endeavor to create additional support to retain women at all levels in our sport. 

In what is still a very male-dominated industry, it’s important to recognize and celebrate those who have paved the way for women who are continuing to push through the barriers and “ice ceiling.” Thank you to all who have reached out to ACA this week to ensure that we don’t miss accounting for the trail-blazing women who have come before! 

We will continue to highlight the achievements of women in ski racing, and as always, we welcome feedback and information from our communities. If you know of or are one of the dedicated and passionate women in our sport, please send us your stories! We will recognize and amplify the important roles that women have fulfilled in the ski racing community as a small token of our appreciation for the contributions made. We thank you for your commitment to this incredible sport we are all so passionate about. 

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