As soon as I walked into the room, I began to sweat. The anticipated blast of air conditioning never arrived as I opened the door on that sweltering day last July, and with the lights and close quarters, the temperature indoors seemed even warmer than the 100-plus-degree afternoon outside. The room was dark compared to the sunny outdoors, and I had to wait a moment for my eyes to adjust. And then it struck me: Why is everyone wearing parkas?
Such was the introduction to my new job. Shortly after being hired as editor of Park City Magazine, I was at a photographer’s studio on Salt Lake City’s west side for a skiwear photo shoot in the dog days of summer. Suzy, Thomas, and Tessa—the magazine’s publisher, art director, and style editor, respectively—had arranged for Abby Hughes, Jessica Jerome, and Alissa Johnson, members of the all–Park City–native Visa Women’s Ski Jumping Team, to serve as models for our largest fashion feature ever. Of course, the models were the only ones dressed so unseasonably; everyone else was trying to do their jobs as coolly and efficiently as possible. As for me, I was striving to appreciate the moment.
If ski jumpers modeling ski clothing doesn’t seem that significant to you, here’s the backstory: Despite the fact that men have ski-jumped at the Olympics since the first Winter Games were held in 1924, women have never been allowed to do so, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) claiming variously that the sport had too few competitors and was too hard on women’s bodies (as if). This discriminatory stance garnered a particularly large black eye for the IOC in 2010, when—after satisfying a laundry list of IOC stipulations—the women were denied inclusion in the Vancouver Games.
In response, a contingent of 15 women ski jumpers from around the world sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC), claiming that by allowing men and not women to jump in the Games, VANOC was violating Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The judge, while acknowledging that the women were indeed being discriminated against, ruled that because the IOC (as VANOC’s parent organization) is not a Canadian body, its decision did not fall under the charter’s jurisdiction. A public relations maelstrom ensued, which is presumably why in April 2011, the IOC announced that for the first time in history, women’s ski jumping would appear as part of the Olympic program at Sochi in 2014.
I spent just over an hour in that sweltering studio with the ski jumpers this past July. Though I was uncomfortable in shorts and a tank top, they had to be absolutely miserable in insulated ski pants, down parkas, and beanies, but you’d never know it. They chatted me up like we were standing on the side of a sunny ski slope in February, jumping and smiling for the camera, while enduring constant wardrobe changes without complaint.
It wasn’t until later that it occurred to me that the chutzpah these women had to withstand that steamy photo shoot is related to the perseverance that’s kept their Olympic dreams alive for the better part of two decades. Both Hughes and Johnson spent their adolescence watching from the sidelines as their brothers competed in World Cups and the Olympics. To say they’ve been preparing their whole lives for one moment is not an understatement. Whatever happens in Russia this February, I know this for sure: when they walk into the Opening Ceremonies as part of the Parade of Nations, many of us here in Park City and around the world will already consider them both heroes and champions.