Women ski jumpers will ski fly in 2022 season

Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Nordic combined skier Ella Wilson gets some good distance on her jump during the Larry Johnson Memorial Tournament and Junior National Qualifier at Howelsen Hill last year. Women’s ski jumpers competing at the highest level will have the ability to compete on a ski flying hill next winter.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The International Federation of Skiing (FIS) Sub-Committee voted unanimously, 14-0, to allow women to compete in ski flying in the winter of 2022-23, on Wednesday, April 13, according to the FIS website. The proposal must go in front of the Ski Jumping Committee on May 9 in order to be confirmed.

“We all agreed to open this door for the women,” read the release. “There are still many concerns and fears regarding safety and so on, but the time is right and we want the women to start on a ski flying hill.”

The women’s ski flying premiere could potentially take place in Vikersund, Norway, as part of Raw Air 2023 and won’t be considered a World Cup event. Not everyone on the World Cup circuit will be able to participate, with just the top 15 in the Raw Air rankings likely competing. Additionally, athletes must be at least 18 years old to participate.

“It’s really exciting,” said Anders Johnson, USA Nordic Women’s Ski Jumping World Cup Coach. “I think it’s the next step to show how far women’s ski jumping has come in the last decade. Going ski flying is the pinnacle of ski jumping.”

A similar proposal came before FIS in April of 2021 as well, but the committee voted 9-7 against the proposal. Johnson thinks the success of the last season convinced the representatives that were hesitant just a year ago.

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“I don’t believe safety was ever really a concern,” he said. “It’s an easy thing to fall back on. … What was limiting women’s ski jumping, is there was always a high level of quality at the very top but there’s a big gap after the top 10 and top 15. There was a bigger disparity than there is for men’s ski jumping, which is natural because men’s ski jumping has this circuit and has been developing for decades longer.”

Whether an American woman will crack the top 15 in the Raw Air standings is hard to predict. While it might be an incentive to do well, Johnson said that’s not a goal for him or his team, which is still focusing on developing and performing consistently at a high level.

Steamboat Springs 19-year-old Annika Belshaw is on the USA Nordic women’s ski jumping team and was one of eight members of the national team in 2021-22. However, the team lost Nina Lussi to retirement and Logan Sankey will take a year off to focus on school.

Johnson has had a front row seat to the growth of women’s ski jumping, starting back in the 2000s as his sister competed in the first ever women’s ski jumping Continental Cup in Park City, Utah. Alissa was also part of the United States women’s ski jumping team that fought for years to get the sport in the Olympics. Women’s ski jumping debuted in 2014 in Sochi. Now, the only sport in both Olympics that women don’t compete in, is Nordic combined.

Johnson said he doesn’t think there’s any sport in the world that’s progressed as quickly as women’s ski jumping. However, he doesn’t think being able to ski fly means the work is done.

“The big one is pay,” Johnson said. “Women’s ski jumpers receive substantially less than men’s ski jumpers do. Competing on the same level, oftentimes competing on the same hill and they make a fraction of what the men make. There are a lot of things that need to be pushed forward in regard to leveling the playing field between men and women.”

Additionally, women don’t get the same television exposure as the men, which makes it harder for them to acquire sponsors to help cover expenses throughout the season.

There is also a disparity in the number of competitive opportunities, which also limits women’s potential sponsors and income. The 2022 preliminary World Cup schedule has 37 men’s events and 27 women’s events.

Johnson said closing that gap and achieving equality is something that women’s ski jumpers and their supporters fight for everyday.

“A lot of countries would say Norway is leading the charge in that sense,” he said. “Norway being a leader in Nordic sports across the board, people look to them as leaders. But we need more countries doing the same thing.”

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