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One of the biggest challenges facing a woman coaching on the World Cup ski circuit is being accepted by the female skiers.

There are few women who coach at the World Cup level. At a coaches' meeting for this weekend's women's downhill and super-G races, the room was filled with men. About the only female coach on the hill is from Spain and she also serves as a physiotherapist.

While women have been accepted as coaches in women's hockey, soccer and basketball, female skiers still seem hesitant.

"For me, I get a lot of comfort and ease from having a guy there," said Lindsey Vonn, a 23-year-old American who has won three races at Lake Louise. "It's kind of like that father figure type deal. Someone strong and confident - if he gives you a direction, you trust it.

"It's not like I don't think I could trust a girl. It's just a certain mindset that I think women have with male coaches."

Austria's Renate Goetschl has been on the World Cup for more than 13 years. Having a male coach instead of a woman isn't an issue for her.

"It's not a big problem," shrugged the 32-year-old. "I can handle it good with men. Sometimes I do find it a little easier to talk with men."

Emily Brydon of Fernie, B.C., has been coached by both men and women coming up through the Canadian system. The 27-year-old prefers having a male coach.

"I have a hard time with females coaching me," said Brydon. "I don't know what it is.

"I couldn't coach me."

Pascale Thibault spent two seasons as a coach with Canada's women's World Cup speed teams. One of her biggest challenges was winning over the athletes. "I know girl athletes, sometimes when they need a coach and it's a girl, they always have hesitations," said Thibault, who worked her way up through the Quebec ski federation. "Then the connection gets better."

Thibault knew cracking the male-dominated coaching world wasn't going to be easy.

"When you get to the national team level and the World Cup level, the first time they see you, you kind of need to prove yourself," she said in an interview from Beaver Creek, Colo. "The first impression people have is they are not used to seeing women. They get to know you."

In many sports, athletes turn to coaching when their careers end. After spending years travelling, most female skiers want to get on with their lives and leave the snow behind.

"We were talking about this the other night," said U.S. coach Patrick Riml. "It's a lot more difficult for a female coach to still have a family, raise kids and be on the road all the time."

Vonn said there's no way she would coach when her career is finished.

"Not unless I was a junior coach, and did a couple of days here and there," she said. "I don't think I would ever go on the road as a coach.

"When I'm done skiing, all I want to be doing is relaxing and having kids, just having a quiet family life. No more road trips for me."

The job is always physically demanding. There are the long hours standing in the cold. Coaches carry equipment up the hill. They drill holes in the ice to lay courses.

Thibault said that wasn't a problem for her.

"I've been training all my life for triathlons and endurance sports," she said. "I'm very physical. I know it's hard, it's tough.

"I didn't find it hard, I just enjoyed it so much."

You might think a woman would feel more comfortable confiding in a female coach.

Not necessarily, said Britt Janyk of Whistler, B.C.,

"A lot of our coaches have been coaching World Cup for quite a few years," she said. "They've been around girls. They listen to us and understand us."

The team also travels with female trainers and physiotherapists. "She is someone I go talk to quite often when I just need to talk girl stuff," said Janyk.

Brydon said it takes a special woman to crack the men's club of coaching.

"It's such a male-dominated sport that a woman's life in it as a coach is very difficult," she said. "I don't think they are able to coach at their highest capabilities because they are always dealing with the chauvinistic stuff behind the scenes.

"You really have to be strong to succeed in World Cup ski racing as a female coach."

Thibault said she loved coaching at the World Cup level. "I think I had a good bond with the athletes," she said. "It was easy for them to come to talk to me about things they would not talk about with male coaches."

Thibault left the national team after the 2003-04 season. She returned to the Quebec federation to work with young athletes. "My goal was to come back to the provincial team and bring back my experience and be a stronger coach," she said.

Thibault also has been encouraging more women to become coaches.

"I know sometimes when I do regional races, young girl coaches are coming to me and asking questions," she said. "I think I can in some way be a role model to them."