Women reach new areas in snowboard realm
These women aren’t looking to fit in.
In the image driven industry of snowboarding they have found their niche, and they’re blowing away the Generation X slacker label. Contrary to popular belief that snowboarders don’t think beyond their next big air, these riders prove that although their choices may be different from their parents, that doesn’t make them less valid.
At the second stop of the Vans Triple Crown of Snowboarding G-Shock North American Championships held last weekend at Sierra-at-Tahoe, four women riders took time away from the slopes to discuss their lives and dreams.
When Lisa Kosglow told her parents she was going to wait on college to pursue a career in snowboarding they “were not stoked.”
“I made a deal. I said I wouldn’t just go to a ski area and be a bum. I said I’d get on a team and train,” she explained. “When I won my first grand prix, I called my dad and told him I’d won $6,000. He couldn’t believe it. He just kept saying ‘You won $6,000.’ “
Now at 25, Kosglow is debt free, has a retirement plan, and is planning on buying a home this summer in Boulder, Colo.
“I travel a lot. I play. I don’t do anything serious,” she admitted. “Snowboarding has allowed me to make a great living. I have no complaints. College had to be put on the back burner because your athletic window is so small.”
Kosglow isn’t the norm. She learned the hard way that to make money a rider has to have some business acumen, or hire an agent who does.
“You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate,” Kosglow said. “In the beginning I got taken advantage of a lot. You’re just so happy that someone is willing to pay you to snowboard. Now I have an agent, and my mother is my manager.”
After competing on the World Cup racing circuit for seven years, Kosglow was listed as one of the top 15 snowboarders as of February. She’s also gained several sponsorships during her travels, including Naya bottled water.
April Lawyer, 23, can’t seem to stop. During the summer she’s a mountain bike racer, ranked eighth in the United States last year. In wintertime she pulls out her snowboard.
“I spend a lot of days healing wounds and hurts. Sometimes you wake up and hurt all over, and you ask ‘why am I doing this?’ ” Lawyer joked. “But it’s just such a rush.”
The blonde, blue-eyed, Southern California girl, calls Big Bear her home mountain. She admitted that her parents were also a little skeptical about her career path, until she started winning.
“I really wanted to go to college right away, but money was tight. I applied for grants, and went to a junior college,” Lawyer said. “When I said I wanted to try just competing for a while, they didn’t say no. They just weren’t overly enthusiastic. My parents knew I would do well. I’ve always been an overachiever. Everything I do, I go at it with everything.”
Lawyer hopes her years of competition will open doors to her next career choice.
“I’ve always wanted to be a television commentator. There are so many things snowboarding can lead you to. ESPN has called and asked me to test,” she said. “Once my competitive career is over, I would love to eventually graduate into that.”
In the beginning
Circe Wallace, 27, started snowboarding before it was cool.
With tinges of regret, she has watched the sport grow into a mainstream marketable business. The regret is tempered by her own financial gains. Wallace teamed with Vans three years ago to create her own women’s specific snowboard boot, and has traveled around the country promoting it. The Seattle native made the transition from skateboarding to snowboarding in 1986.
“I consider Mount Baker my home mountain. When I started, there were so few of us it was really hard core. If you saw another rider, there was an instant connection,” Wallace said. “I feel lucky to have been able to watch the sport grow, but I struggle with the changes a lot.
“Still, the fact that the sport has gone mainstream has enabled me to do it for a living. And I’m totally grateful for that. I own my home. I have a retirement plan, and I’ve already done a lot of marketing and public relations work. I’ve gained knowledge you can’t get in college. It’s amazing how much you can learn if you pay attention.”
Although she’s riding the wave now, fame and fortune didn’t come immediately for Wallace.
“I made it happen for myself,” she said proudly. “I worked full time at Starbucks for several years before things started happening. I never needed to rely on my parents. I paid my own way.”
Wallace said unlike surfing and skateboarding, which tend to be male-dominated sports, snowboarding has welcomed women.
“Women have a good presence in the industry. There aren’t really any barriers,” she said.
With three knee surgeries in her past, and still recovering from her last, Wallace is selective about her activities.
“The general progression is riders come on the scene, do well in contests, and then graduate the the big mountain riding experience,” she said. “What I really love to do is ride mountains. I don’t compete much anymore. I do mostly free riding, film, and editorial for magazines. I’m always thinking about my future. The opportunities are pretty wide open.”
Time in the sun
Kristie Elder Ussher, at 26 is coming into her own. A South Lake Tahoe native, her parents met at Heavenly Ski Resort.
After several years of poor health, during which Ussher said her faith sustained her, she has emerged as one of the top riders in the country. Backed by Vans, Drive snowboards, Anarchy goggles, and local sponsors Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Rip N Willies, Ussher said her goal is to buy her first home from snowboarding profits.
“I’m so stoked that I can do this for a living,” she said. “I made a deal with my parents in high school. They agreed to give me their blessing to go on the pro tour if I graduated early. They didn’t agree to help me financially, just to give me their blessing. I graduated early with college credits. I’ve been traveling the world since I was 16 years old, and I’ve learned hard life lessons. Traveling is a school of its own.”
Ussher said GEN X’ers are unfairly targeted.
“There are slackers in every generation. We saw our parents and grandparents do what they didn’t love for a job. They worked at jobs they hated until they retired and were miserable. We’re just finding what we love to do and finding a way to make a living at it. I believe everything is just going to go up in quality because the people behind it have their hearts and souls invested,” she said.
Ussher is looking to a future in art after snowboarding.
“I want to be an artist and do original art, perhaps graphics for a company,” she said. “Having my own gallery would be killer.”
All four women acknowledged that there would be an end to their “big air” days. They talked of returning to college, having children, and moving on to other careers. Never was there a whisper of “I can’t,” in their visions of the future. They are comfortable with themselves, their strength, abilities and feminine power. They see no barriers.
“I have pride in the fact that snowboarding is different,” Wallace said. “It’s easy to fit in. I never thought life should be easy.”
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