Elissa Slanger is a pioneer in the ski industry, a woman clearly ahead of her time. She created the first women’s ski program at Squaw Valley in the 1970s and changed the course of ski instruction for women throughout the country when she saw the importance and need for women to learn skiing from other women.
“There were very few women ski instructors when I started teaching in the 60s. Back then women only taught children,” says Slanger, who was one of the first women to teach all levels of skiing to both men and women. She molded the culture of women’s ski education.
Slanger received the highest level of ski certification and became the only women at the time to be both a director and examiner in the Far West Ski Instructors Association — when the ski industry was a man’s world.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to this visionary who not only started women’s programs in the U.S. but also mentored many of us who have followed in her extraordinary footsteps.” –Lynn Douglas
“Stan Tomlinson was the ski school director. He was very innovative and one of the great figures in the ski industry at the time,” says Slanger.
While teaching at Squaw, she was inspired to offer a weeklong women’s ski course.
“I thought it would be fun to put a women’s group together,” she said.
Slanger designed the course the way she would have wanted to learn skiing and created a cooperative experience. The clinics at Squaw were so successful she began to offer women’s ski clinics and teach women-specific courses nationwide. She formed her own ski school called, “Women’s Way Ski Seminars,” and trained other instructors. Slanger says it’s hard to believe how far things have come even though she witnessed the evolution of women and education in the world of skiing.
Slanger is also a meditation teacher and started practicing Zen meditation in the early 1960s and then later Tibetan Buddhist meditation.
“I lived in Japan and studied Zen Buddhism in Kyoto in 1962,” says Slanger.
She is not only a former ski instructor and meditation teacher, but also an artist and author. She wrote the book, “Ski Woman’s Way,” with Dinah Witchel.
After teaching skiing, Slanger asked herself what she was going to do next. She decided to go back to school. She received her doctorate in psychology when she was 50 and opened her own practice.
Three years ago, Slanger almost died after a ruptured brain aneurysm. The doctors gave her a 5 percent chance of normal recovery, a 50 percent chance of dying and a 50 percent chance of being handicapped.
“It was during this time I had all kinds of realizations, epiphanies and insights — my whole attitude about life changed,” she says. It made her take stock in her life and her priorities.
Slanger explains that while she was in recovery her perspective on life and the way she had lived changed. It was during this time she realized she was no longer worried about what was ahead of her.
“I stayed in the moment. I didn’t worry about what was going to happen. I was in the moment as the moment unfolded, as if I was in meditation all day long. I practiced being spiritual for so many years and I still had a fear of dying. I could have slipped away very easily.”
Now, at age 83, Slanger’s story is one of innovation, creativity, consciousness and humanitarianism. She hung up her skis a few years ago after a fall when doctors warned that if she hit her head again it could be fatal. She continues to teach meditation, offer workshops and retreats and teaches a series on aging and death and dying. Slanger continues to exercise regularly.
Her legacy lives on in Tahoe and Lynn Douglas, program coordinator for Women of Winter, pays homage to Slanger, a woman who has carved a path for the future of women ski instruction in the United States.
“Women’s clinics today are a product of the very first program started in the mid-70s by Elissa Slanger,” says Douglas. “Recognizing that women were struggling with learning to ski, she paired women ski instructors with a group of women for a unique one-week course. The program was so successful that she travelled the nation helping other resorts start their own programs. We owe a debt of gratitude to this visionary who not only started women’s programs in the U.S. but also mentored many of us who have followed in her extraordinary footsteps.”