From competition to camaraderie: the rise of women’s ski groups in the Wasatch Mountains

Story by ROSE SHIMBERG

Am I fast enough? Am I good enough?

Newcomers to Womb Tang are often hesitant at first. It’s intimidating to approach a group of women, gathered for a skiing or biking session, talking and laughing and hyping each other up.

Asking the question takes a considerable effort, a deep breath in. A familiar insecurity is suppressed for just a moment.

Can I ride with you?

Nicole Weaver is familiar with those questions. She used to feel the same way. It’s one of the reasons she became an ambassador for Womb Tang in the first place.

Expert, intermediate, still struggling to get your boots on. Everyone is welcome at Womb Tang.

Womb Tang members, from left, Grace Gustaferro, Sylvia Kinosian, and Nicole Weaver enjoying a snowy day at Solitude Resort. Photo courtesy of Nicole Weaver.

“That’s the whole point,” Weaver said.

Womb Tang isn’t just for Utahns. The organization, dedicated to connecting female skiers, started as a school project among friends in Alberta, Canada, and now has members all over the world.

It’s just one of several groups bringing women together in the growing ski community in the Wasatch Mountains of northeastern Utah. More and more women are riding together and fighting back against an industry that’s deeply rooted in misogyny and has historically pitted one woman against the other.

To Weaver, that’s the beauty of Womb Tang.

“We’re not trying to be the best girl in the group or in competition with one another,” she said.

Weaver grew up skiing in the Midwest before she moved to Utah. When she first arrived, she struggled to find where she belonged as an intermediate skier.

At the helm of Womb Tang Wasatch, she’s created a space where women at any level can feel welcome.

Nicole Weaver ski touring. Her friend Nikayla Cooper’s dog, Roo, keeps her company. Photo courtesy of Nicole Weaver.

“No matter what you’re working on, whatever it is, we’re here to cheer you on and help you in whatever you want to achieve,” she said.

But Womb Tang isn’t the only group of its kind in the area.

Alta Lady Shred started in 2017. And its founder, Sarah McMath, is just as excited about it as ever.

McMath has found that skiing with women is all about energy. As a bubbly, outgoing person, her goal is to use her energy to uplift others. This can be challenging in a sport that has historically been linked to competition.

“When it comes to skiing with women, there’s a positivity that we can bring to this sport that has this negative energy sometimes. It’s like this weird negative, combative space,” McMath said in a Zoom interview.

McMath, in a self-described one-third-life crisis, packed her bags and moved across the country from Kentucky to Utah.

She told her friends she’d be gone for six weeks. It’s been six years and she’s not going anywhere.

After getting a job at Alta Ski Area, McMath began to run the social media for the resort. Her first thought (“selfishly”) was that she wanted to get more women skiing together.

She decided on a weekly time and started posting about Lady Shred meet-ups. Initially, she dragged her friends along. But the numbers just kept climbing.

Clare Chapman, on the hunt for female skiing partners, was one of those attendees. She quickly befriended McMath and took a role in helping her run the program. 

“It would be a lot of local girls joining and then we’d have women who were like, ‘I’m sick of skiing with my husband’ or ‘I’m from out of town and my kids are in ski school and I just don’t know what to do,’” Chapman said.

Sedona King, far left, Sarah McMath, Clare Chapman, and Mary Noyes decked out in cheetah print at Alta Lady Shred. Photo courtesy of Sarah McMath.

Chapman is also the founder of The Salt Lake Sisterhood, an Instagram platform connecting and uplifting women around Utah. The project took off at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which pulled people from the slopes and plopped them in front of their phones.

Chapman hoped to use the platform to connect with others in a virtual space and keep alive the spirit of camaraderie found through Lady Shred.

McMath, who describes herself as The Salt Lake Sisterhood’s biggest cheerleader, found that the page reached a wide audience amid the pandemic, making more people aware of Lady Shred and the multitude of female skiers in the community.

“We were able to stand on the Sisterhood last year and make a little more noise because we had to use that as our Lady Shred platform,” she said.

Chapman’s path to Alta and Lady Shred was a bit different.

A gymnast for many years, she was used to being competitive around other women. When it came to skiing, she was the only woman in her group. It took a monumental life change to begin to look at things differently.

“I went through this breakup and we had like, almost all mutual friends and they’re almost all guys. And I felt so intimidated by women and I wanted to change that,” she said.

Not limited to skiing alone, Chapman shares posts and stories from women in the community about many different things: other sports, art, self-expression. With friends offering to help, Chapman has organized events of all kinds. Fitness classes. A writing group. An earring-making workshop.

Seeing everyone’s unique talent inspires her. She said her aim is to inspire others as well, even if they never get the chance to meet in person.

“What I’ve focused on is just creating an empowering space within social media because it can be so negative and stressful but so addicting at the same time,” she said. “So if you’re on it I want there to be something good.”

The three women agree that they have seen things improve for women in the skiing community. Just a few years ago, all-female groups were a rare sighting on the mountain. Change is coming — and groups like Womb Tang, Lady Shred, and The Salt Lake Sisterhood are the catalysts.

“I think this kind of support between women has really grown,” Chapman said. “Women are acknowledging that they rip and they can also shred with women. They don’t have to ski with the guys.”