Positioned outside Revelstoke City Hall, a life-size bronze statue of Isabel Coursier stands confidently — skis in hand and a moody backdrop of Mount Revelstoke looming behind her. Passerbys were met with the unfamiliar sight strolling the streets of downtown Revelstoke this Thursday morning, September 15.
One hundred years after her historic jump, the female ski jump world champion’s statue stands stationary in downtown Revelstoke as a symbol of empowerment and the community’s rich culture and heritage. Canadian sculptor Ruth Abernethy brought Isabel Coursier’s statue to life.
The installation of Coursier’s statue intends to empower strong female skiers in the community by combining an important part of Revelstoke’s history, ski jumping, with a deeper conversation of equality in sports, says Miriam Manley, former Executive Director of Arts Revelstoke. Arts Revelstoke is responsible for the project that began a year and a half ago and has since unearthed an epic story around a young girl paving the way for women’s ski jumping in Revelstoke.
Arts Revelstoke will celebrate the unveiling of the new statue during this year’s LUNA Fest on Saturday, September 24, at 6 p.m. outside city hall. Attendees will hear an Indigenous acknowledgement from Mayor Gary Sulz and an Indigenous welcome from Kenthen Thomas. Cathy English will deliver words on behalf of Isabel Coursier’s family, and Sarah Erikson, chair of Arts Revelstoke, will speak on behalf of the organization.
“We are humbled by the local and provincial support we have received to honour this incredible Revelstoke athlete on the 100th anniversary of her world record in Ski Jumping,” says Arts Revelstoke’s General Manager Maggie Davis in an email. “Isabel is an inspiration who brought this year’s LUNA theme of Flight to fruition. We are so proud to present this statue downtown as part of Revelstoke’s rich culture and heritage.”
More information: Isabel Coursier, a legacy project
This story is part of a feature that first appeared in print in Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine’s September 2022 issue. Read the entire e-edition here:
A life-size statue of the first female ski jump world champion, Isabel Coursier, will be unveiled this fall, 100 years after her historic jump. Arts Revelstoke is responsible for the project that began a year and a half ago and has since unearthed an epic story around a young girl paving the way for women’s ski jumping in Revelstoke.
The installation of Coursier’s statue intends to empower strong female skiers in the community by combining an important part of Revelstoke’s history, ski jumping, with a deeper conversation of equality in sports, says Miriam Manley, Executive Director of Arts Revelstoke.
“We began thinking how cool it would be to have this female skier icon who also represents ski jumping, which is so important to Revelstoke, in the heart of Revelstoke, with a permanent monument,” Manley says.
The bronze statue’s unveiling will take place at this year’s 2022 Luna Festival in September as part of the Luna Legacy Project — the festival’s theme is aptly flight. The Legacy Project has received funding from Canadian Heritage and local support, including funds from the Coursier Family.
Revelstoke’s Isabel Coursier, the first female world champion ski jumper, was active in the 1920s, a time when ski jumping was one of the more popular forms of skiing.
Revelstoke boasted a world-class ski jump that attracted competitors from around the world for international competitions. Coursier set the women’s world record at age 16 in 1922, jumping 84 feet. She retired from ski jumping in 1929 with her world record uncontested. Revelstoke’s big jump, now the historic Nels Nelsen Ski Jump attraction in Mount Revelstoke National Park, was notorious for several world record jumps.
Manley says the statue project has unearthed a narrative beyond commemorating Coursier’s legacy. “It really tells a story around women’s history, a fight for equality, and women in sport,” she says. “There’s a whole story there. So, it’s really a sculpture about Revelstoke’s history, but also about gender equality and women in sport.”
The story Manley speaks of began with Zoya Lynch, a former Canadian National Team ski jumper who took the International Olympic Committee to court for the right for women to jump in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Lynch lives in Revelstoke. Her exhausting battle for equality in the sport of ski jumping drove her to explore the impact of Isabel Coursier’s legacy alongside her own experience — how little change has occurred over such a long period of time.
“After leaving the gender discriminatory world of ski jumping, Revelstoke felt like a breath of fresh air. Wherever I went, I would meet powerful, talented, and highly skilled mountain women,” Lynch said in an Arts Revelstoke brief. “It seemed like Isabel unknowingly created a culture of respect and equal opportunity for women in Revelstoke. Maybe she didn’t just ‘blaze a trail’ for female ski jumpers, but she actually inspired a movement of gender equality throughout the whole town.”
Manley says Cathy English, Curator at the Revelstoke Museum and Archives, found that world champion ski jumper Nels Nelsen refused to train Coursier because she was a woman.
Manley tells the mountaineer that the idea for the statue was born out of Lynch’s narrative — that a community of strong female athletes deserves more recognition and progress than what has been achieved today. The statue will be the first of its kind in Revelstoke and B.C., commemorating a female skier.
Arts Revelstoke says the project celebrates Coursier’s achievement but also shines a light on the inequality in the sport of ski jumping.
“Astonishingly, it took 92 years from Isabel’s trailblazing jump before women’s ski jumping was included in the Olympics,” Arts Revelstoke writes in a news brief. “Even today, in the 21st Century, female ski jumpers are not allowed to compete on the Olympic 80m ‘big jump’, despite generations of female athletes fighting for this right.”
Coursier is known as an icon and a trailblazer in the sport and receives far less attention representing the sport than her male counterparts such as Nels Nelsen, Arts Revelstoke says. They hope the statue will be a part of changing that.
Arts Revelstoke commissioned Canadian artist Ruth Abernathy to create the statue. Manley says the artist has never done a full-size bronze female sculpture, only male. However, Abernathy intends to portray Coursier’s true likeness and make the statue accessible to everyone.