WORDS: Alexa Owen
While the name Jackson Hole Babe Force fondly resembles the Jackson Hole Air Force, it would be a mistake to compare the two.
The Air Force started as a crew of valley natives ducking ropes in search of the deepest pow and perfect skiing back in the 1980s. The Babe Force began just three years ago as a venue for women of all skiing abilities to simply meet their peers and discover what they can offer each other on the hill. The coveted Air Force patch, reading "swift, silent, deep," is often given to new members whose skiing and attitude fall in line with the group's ideals, but without notice or explanation. The Babe Force patch is stitched with "strong, sexy, soulful," and given to gals who accomplish one of three key factors: facing their fears, helping a peer reach a goal, or having an extreme adventure while maintaining safety, integrity, and conduct.
The Babe Force was hardly unknown to me. I'd seen them sporadically throughout the past few ski seasons: raiding the tram line, pole-whacking at the top of the Bowl, and flash-mobbing Thunder Bumps in tutus and all their girly glory. I'd steered clear of the valley's lady posse since its start in 2011, content with chasing the boys just about anywhere in the mountains, or often going it alone. I made it a point to dissociate myself from their pack.
And yet, I was curious. Was there any substance behind the often-overwhelming girl power ideals?
I'm not going to lie, meeting thirty or so strangers at the bottom of Bridger Gondola on Sunday, February 9 for a ladies ski soiree was not the first place I wanted to be at noon on a powder day in Jackson Hole. I stood there awkwardly outside the corrals, watching as women gathered in twos and threes, politely declining invitations from friends who passed by asking if I wanted to go shred. They were all dudes, and they all had icy remains of face shots clinging to their beards.
My growing interest in the Babe Force landed me here, at the first annual JHBF "Galentines" Ski Day, to be exact, organized by Force founder Crystal Wright to bring women skiers and riders together to celebrate the sport and each other.
"I didn't start with a plan," says Wright of the Babe Force early days. "It was an opportunity to build relationships and find ski partners, push each other and build confidence."
Wright, a Jackson Hole native and two-time Freeskiing Wold Tour champion, is seeking to fill a gap in a big mountain ski culture where horizons for women are continuing to expand. After earning her Air Force patch and becoming a member of Jackson Hole's elite brotherhood of hardcore skiers, Wright got inspired to start a sisterhood of skiing, a group of women who would push, support, and teach each other in ways that guys just, well, can't.
While plenty of us feel perfectly fine chasing our male counterparts up boot packs and down 45-degree faces, there is something quite different about partnering up with our own out there. "Women push each other differently than how they do with boyfriends or brothers or guy friends," Wright explains. "I love skiing with boys. But sometimes I push myself more when I'm with girls, because I see things differently with them."
What followed was an afternoon of charging, jumping, and dropping, chatting it up on chairlifts and challenging each other to do things we may not have otherwise done. For some it meant checking out Corbet's. Others, skiing a tricky line down the Alta Chutes, and still more, hucking off one of Wright's favorite rocks with a blind landing in PBTB. It's not that dropping into one of inbound skiing's most famous couloirs or pointing it down a steep chute peppered with rocks or jumping off any of the drops in one of the resort's sketchier lower bowls is extra rad for us women--it's that many female individuals may not try this stuff unless guided by their peers. They can take their time to analyze a line openly and without intimidation. They can draw inspiration from women in similar age brackets or injury recovery progressions. They can be silly and relaxed in ways they just can't be with guys.
"Goals are relative to ability," Wright insists to all Babes out there, "and we are often more likely to reach those goals when skiing with girls." It comes down to the if she can do it, maybe I can do it mentality. "That is what is inspiring about women’s skiing right now: Women are believing in themselves and being more confident because more women are doing it. In Corbet's, if you see a guy go off the nose, you think, 'Wow, I could never do that.' If you see a girl go off the nose, you think 'I could do that someday, or now.'"
Eight Babe Force patches have been given out since the group's inception, including one to JHAF veteran Brian Rutter, who earned his by helping Wright and co-founders Jess Pierce and Sarah Felton create a vision for the Babe Force and encouraging them to forge ahead with the idea. "We ended up giving him a patch one afternoon on top of the tram," says Wright. "That was a really sweet moment."
By the end of the day, I had ripped around the resort with a ton of cool women. I had fun. I wasn't slowed down. I watched a 58-year-old send it off part of the Bernie's Bowl cliff band. And when the lifts closed, I kicked back with the crew to polish off a pretty perfect Sunday with drinks, nachos, and music at the Moose.
In the future, Wright hopes to expand the Babe Force initiative to include scholarships for female athletes, offer all-women avalanche safety courses, and possibly expand into other extreme sports. For now, though, she's enjoying the ride, and welcomes any women who want to have some fun and meet new people to come along with her. "Ra-ra sisterhood" stuff semi-encouraged...but totally optional.