The announcement of this year’s Trail to Gold coaches has brought attention to the eight women who will be coaching and wax teching on the World Cup this year. Head Coach Matt Whitcomb proudly talked about the competitive advantages that accrue to the U.S. Ski Team from being a nation that is not “stuck in the past” with regard to gender roles, adding, “It won’t be long before this initiative is replicated elsewhere, and we’re proud to have started it with the Trail to Gold.”
So what does being a gender-forward nation look like at home? Before this year’s World Cup season kicks off, I wanted to survey the gender breakdown of coaches at the highest levels of skiing in this country. I therefore compiled data on everyone who works as a cross-country ski coach or wax tech for the following teams:
- The U.S. Ski Team
- The six “main” pro domestic ski clubs
- The six teams in the Midwest-based Central Collegiate Ski Association, or CCSA
- The 11 nordic teams in the New England–based Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association, or EISA
- The seven nordic teams in the Western U.S.–based Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association, or RMISA
No single tranche of data here has more than 24 coaches, so take these proportions and percentages with a grain of salt; a change in the gender of a single coach would have a non-negligible effect on the overall percentages.
That said, my research suggests that:
- Nearly one-half of coaches are women in both EISA and RMISA (11 out of 24 and 7 out of 16, respectively). This is 46 percent for EISA and 44 percent for RMISA. This number is arguably skewed by counting Wyoming and its two female coaches, but they are officially an affiliate member of RMISA, so it seemed fairer to include them here than to exclude them.
- Across the main six domestic clubs, the proportion is down to just under one-third women (4 out of 13, or 31 percent), and we’re already at a point where you can just list all four women coaching at this level: Pepa Miloucheva at Craftsbury, Nichole Bathe and Erin Moening at Team Birkie, and Maria Stuber at SMS. [Update: a week after this was published I was informed that the post-grad team coach at BSF is currently a woman, Kaelyn Woods. So the above statistics should be 5 out 13, which is 38 percent. I have updated the rest of the article to reflect these new numbers.]
- Two out of 12 coaches or wax techs on the national team are female (Kristen Bourne and Greta Anderson). This is one-sixth, or roughly 17 percent.
- Two out of 12 coaches in the CCSA are female (Kristen Monahan Smith at Michigan Tech and Ruth Oppliger at NMU). This is, again, one-sixth, or roughly 17 percent.
Across all programs surveyed, women made up 27 out of 77 coaches total, or almost precisely one-third. Two schools, Harvard and Wyoming, have an all-female coaching staff. Just four programs (Harvard, Wyoming, Dartmouth, and Team Birkie) contain nine out of the 27 female coaches in this data set, or 33 percent.
Women are proportionately underrepresented in these data as head coaches, though only slightly. I count 31 different head coaches or program directors in my data set. Nine of them, or 29 percent, are women.
If women were proportionately present in the data as head coaches, that figure would be a third of 31, or 10 head coaches. If men and women were equally present in the data as head coaches, that figure would be either 15 or 16 head coaches. If men and women were equally present in the data as coaches, there would be 39 women on this list rather than 27.
Further research could attempt to quantify the differences in salary between head and assistant coach positions, and to discern whether women incur a financial penalty by being employed as assistant coaches more frequently than as head coaches.
Further research could also look at what percentage of people hired as exclusively wax techs per se are women. I haven’t formally surveyed this, but I feel comfortable concluding that that percentage is very, very small. Like “there’s that one female tech for each of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and I’d have to check beyond that, but maybe that’s literally it for the entire World Cup” small. Wax trucks are often named for women and staffed by men.
I constrained myself to the national team, six club teams, and three NCAA ski conferences for the sake of a manageable data set. Additional work in this field could survey some or all of USCSA teams, clubs outside the “main” six, and regional organizations like NENSA or the Loppet Foundation. I mean no disrespect to any team not included here; I put “high-level American coaching” in the headline because that felt like a fair shorthand to describe the substance of my research, but there is no further judgment intended.
This is intended as the first annual such survey; I aspire to do this again next year, and to begin to track trends or changes.
Reactions to this survey
I shared my research with two prominent female coaches in this country, Maria Stuber and Greta Anderson, in advance of publication and asked for comment on my findings. Stuber is currently the program director for the SMS T2 Team; she is also the founder and a longtime member of the Women Ski Coaches Association. Greta Anderson is Development Coach for the U.S. Ski Team. (Disclosure: Anderson is a former coach of mine and a longtime personal friend.)
Their comments are great. You should read them in full. I have given them their own article to make sure that you do. Heck, if you stop reading this article now and go read their thoughts now, that would be fine with me.
Here’s a preview of each woman’s thoughts:
Stuber: “While counting the number of women is a fantastic way to measure progress, it does not actually mean the complex system that discriminates against women has changed, so we need to keep focusing on improving there.”
And Anderson: “If you’re ethical, a badass, hard working, know how to teach, and want to help athletes improve, I hope we will have a place in this sport for you. And I hope you will find role models who look like you or that you connect with — and that from that springboard, you will find a way in which you can make your impact, your way, in the field you choose to pursue. The great ones always do — they find a new path, a new way to the top. We don’t become the best by replicating; we become the best by employing creativity and innovation. It is the American way.”
Methodology and self-examination
And finally, some notes on methodology. My goal was to list everyone at a given school whose main job is coaching nordic skiing. For a school that offers both alpine and nordic skiing, I did not include people listed as alpine skiing coaches. Anyone listed in this article as just a “head coach” or “assistant coach” is a head or assistant coach for nordic skiing specifically.
I otherwise worked to standardize job titles when possible. No offense to, say, Sam Benzing, but I listed her here as simply “head coach” rather than as her official job title, “The Paul J. Finnegan Family Head Coach for Harvard Nordic Skiing.” This not only helps to streamline the data, it is also in keeping with the house style of this website, which is to drop corporate sponsors when writing about teams or events.
And speaking of this website: After considering the coaches I also trained a spotlight on the main three sources for online cross-country ski news in this country, FasterSkier, Nordic Insights, and SkinnySki. I came up with a combined zero women on the mastheads there, against 11 men, which is… not great.
On the one hand, I can’t say strongly enough that I would welcome contributions to this website from anyone who wants to submit them, and I would be thrilled to have more (viz., any at all) women on staff. On the other hand, this site is still very much a barely solvent labor of love, so everyone at Nordic Insights is currently working essentially for free. And I’m pretty sure that the moral of Lean In was *not* that women should volunteer their work for free so that a man can publish it on his website. I’d hope it’s clear from the article you’re currently reading (or this one, or this one, or this one, etc.) where my gendered sympathies lie, but I’m also not asking anyone out there other than my friends to work for free.
Finally, this entire article proceeds under a binary view of gender, as my sense is that no one discussed here identifies as non-binary. If I have misgendered anyone, I sincerely apologize; please let me know so that I can identify you in the manner that you wish.
Please see below for the data. All cites are to team websites as of earlier this week. There is one exception for an un-updated website, which is noted below the relevant school.
— Gavin Kentch
* * *
National team [total: 2 women coaches out of 12]
2023/2024 U.S. Cross Country Ski Team: 2 women coaches out of 12
Men: Chris Grover (program director), Matt Whitcomb (head coach), Jason Cork (World Cup coach), Bryan Fish (development director), Oleg Ragilo (head of service), Bjørn Heimdal (World Cup service), Eli Brown (World Cup service), Chris Hecker (World Cup service), Karel Kruuser (World Cup service), Paul Choudoir (World Cup service)
“Service” here means, basically, “wax tech,” FYI.
Women: Kristen Bourne (D Team World Cup Coach), Greta Anderson (Development Coach)
[I did not include Leann Bentley (press officer) and Adam St. Pierre (sport coordinator) in this roundup, even though both of them are listed, quite appropriately, on USST rosters and press releases as being part of the team. I am trying to compare coaches (and wax techs) across programs here, and neither of these two individuals works for the U.S. Ski Team as a ski coach. My bias is clear that media is important, too, but I can get the most apples-to-apples comparison by excising them here. Bump this category up to “3 women out of 14 people” if you do want to include them, but note that St. Pierre is also listed below as the head nordic coach at Montana State so you probably don’t want to count him twice regardless of how you slice these data.]
Six prominent domestic clubs [total: 5 women coaches out of 13]
APU: 0 out of 2
Men: Erik Flora (program director and head coach), Forrest Mahlen (elite team coach)
[I did not include Penny Smythe, who works in marketing and development for APU Nordic Ski Center more broadly, nor the ski coaches for any of the other teams within the APU aegis (juniors, masters, etc.). I should also disclose that I train and race with APU Masters, and have done so for a decade now.)
Bridger Ski Foundation: 0 out of 2
Men: Andy Newell (pro team coach), Kaelyn Woods (PG team coach)
Craftsbury: 1 out of 2
Women: Pepa Miloucheva (head coach)
Men: Nick Brown (assistant coach and wax tech)
SMS: 1 out of 2
Women: Maria Stuber (program director)
Men: Perry Thomas (coach)
[Although Jason Cork has a longtime coaching partnership with Stratton athlete Jessie Diggins (here he is, for example, in recent non-USST promotional material, being described as “Jessie Diggin’s [sic] personal coach”), he is employed by the U.S. Ski Team, not by SMS. I have included him under the USST coaching staff, supra, and not here.]
Sun Valley: 0 out of 1
Men: Chris Mallory (coach)
Team Birkie: 2 out of 4
Men: Chad Salmela (head coach), Matthew Clarke (assistant head coach)
Women: Nichole Bathe (coach), Erin Moening (coach)
CCSA [total: 2 women coaches out of 12]
College of Saint Scholastica: 0 out of 4
Men: Jason Kask (head nordic coach), Josh Tesch (assistant coach), Zachary Via (skiing team development coach), Jake Morgan (volunteer assistant coach)
[I have elided Bryan Cook, still listed on the team roster page as an assistant coach, as he does not currently work for CSS]
Michigan Tech University: 1 out of 3
Men: Tom Monahan Smith (head coach), Félix Cottet-Puinel (graduate assistant)
Women: Kristen Monahan Smith (assistant coach)
[I did not include a male ski team student manager for the sake of consistent data across programs]
Northern Michigan University: 1 out of 2
Men: Andy Keller (head coach)
Women: Ruth Oppliger (assistant coach)
Saint Cloud State University: 0 out of 1
Men: Mike Schroden (head coach)
Saint Olaf College: 0 out of 1
Men: Kevin Brochman (head coach)
[I did not include an assistant athletic trainer listed on the nordic team’s coaching roster page because he works with multiple teams at Saint Olaf, not just the ski team specifically]
University of Wisconsin – Green Bay: 0 out of 1
Men: Sam Myers (head coach)
EISA [total: 11 women coaches out of 24]
Bates College: 1 out of 2
Men: James Upham (head coach)
Women: Olivia Skillings (assistant coach)
[I did not include a “faculty liaison” listed on the roster page as part of the nordic skiing support staff; add a second male coach here if you do]
Bowdoin College: 1 out of 2
Men: Nathan Alsobrook (head coach)
Women: Leslie Krichko (assistant coach)
Colby College: 1 out of 2
Women: Tracey Cote (head coach)
Justin Fereshetian (assistant coach)
Dartmouth College: 2 out of 3
Women: Cami Thompson (director of skiing and women’s nordic head coach), Callie Young (assistant nordic coach)
Men: Brayton Osgood (men’s nordic head coach)
Harvard University: 3 out of 3
Women: Sam Benzing (head coach), Hannah Halvorsen (assistant coach), Annika Landis (assistant coach)
University of New Hampshire: 0 out of 2
Men: Cory Schwartz (head coach and ski coordinator), Shane MacDowell (assistant coach)
Middlebury College: 1 out of 2
Men: Andrew Johnson (head coach)
Women: Kate Johnson (assistant coach)
St. Lawrence University: 0 out of 2
Men: Ethan Townsend (head coach), George Gowdy (assistant coach)
Saint Michael’s College: 1 out of 2
Women: Molly Peters (head coach)
Men: Sam Noel (assistant coach)
University of Vermont: 0 out of 2
Men: Patrick Weaver (head coach), Brandon Herhusky (assistant coach)
Williams College: 1 out of 2
Men: Steve Monsulick (head coach)
Women: Annika Martell (assistant coach)
RMISA [total: 7 women coaches out of 16]
University of Alaska Anchorage: 1 out of 4
Men: Trond Flagstad (nordic head coach), Toomas Kollo (assistant nordic coach), Adam Verrier (volunteer assistant nordic coach)
Women: Tuva Granoien (assistant nordic coach)
University of Alaska Fairbanks: 1 out of 2
Women: Eliska Albrigtsen (head coach)
Men: Ben Buck (assistant coach)
University of Colorado: 1 out of 2
Women: Jana Weinberger (head nordic coach and director of skiing)
Men: Austin Caldwell (assistant nordic coach)
University of Denver: 1 out of 2
Men: Rogan Brown (nordic head coach)
Women: Cate Brams (nordic assistant coach)
Montana State University: 1 out of 2
Men: Adam St. Pierre (head nordic coach)
Women: Lizzie Larkins (assistant nordic coach)
University of Utah: 0 out of 2
Men: Fredrik Landstedt (director of skiing), Miles Havlick (head nordic coach)
University of Wyoming: 2 out of 2
Women: Rachel Watson and Christi Boggs (volunteer co-coaches)
[Wyoming is an affiliate member of RMISA, per my emails with their coaching staff. Their top athletes participate in RMISA races against the rest of the conference, but are not eligible for NCAA Championships. The entire team otherwise competes in USCSA races. If you excise Wyoming from RMISA for this reason then the conference’s gender makeup goes down to 5 women coaches out of 14, or slightly over one-third.]
Online nordic ski media [total: 0 women out of 11]
FasterSkier: 0 out of 7
Men: Matthew Voisin (president), John Teaford (managing editor), Devon Kershaw (World Cup analyst), Nat Herz (podcast host and reporter), Ken Roth (staff reporter), Ben Theyerl (staff reporter), Gerry Furseth (staff reporter)
[I have elided Rachel Bachman Perkins and Peter Minde, both of whom are included on the staff page linked above, from this list. Bachman Perkins — disclosure, Rachel is a dear personal friend — last wrote an article for FasterSkier in June 2022 and has hosted two podcast episodes this year, the last in March 2023. Minde’s last two articles for the site were in September 2022 and October 2021. If you include these two, which you certainly could, then the proportion of women at FasterSkier goes up to 1 out of 9. Still more than at my website ouch.]
Nordic Insights: 0 out of 3
Men: Gavin Kentch (editor), Jon Schafer (podcast), Morgan Hartley (ads and web design)
SkinnySki: 0 out of 1
Men: Bruce Adelsman (editor)