Growing up in Texas did not afford much opportunity for experiencing the snow. It was foreign, unknown, and COLD!! I had extremely limited experience in the mountains. If you would have asked me then to consider exploring the backcountry on a splitboard with the danger of avalanches, I would have probably said I could never do that, you’re crazy! Ha. Well, as we all know… “Never say never!”
Fast-forward some time and here I am in Washington state doing all the things I never could imagine being able to do because of this wonderful organization, SheJumps, and meeting our amazing local Ambassador, Anna Twohig. I have come to realize that I am capable of so much more than I ever thought possible. Anna and SheJumps empower women and girls to become part of a community that encourages and supports women in their outdoor pursuits. Not only did this past weekend’s all-women AIARE Level 1 Course supply these women with knowledge to be leaders in the outdoors, it helped expand and connect women in our local outdoor community and increase comfort in reaching out to each other for friendships and touring partners.
This year was the second annual all-women’s AIARE Level 1 course hosted by S.O.L.E. (Selkirk Outdoor Leadership & Education). We were fortunate enough to have a full course of 14 women, and our very own SheJumps instructor, Lindsey Clark from Bend, OR. If you don’t know Lindsey, Lindsey is rad. She skis, climbs, road bikes and she is an Outdoor Educator with Oregon Ski Guides. She has completed her AIARE Level 1 and 2 Avalanche Courses and has logged many days in the backcountry educating others and recreating. She has some great anecdotes, so look forward to those if you are fortunate enough to take class with her!
Also, I can’t forget mention our HeJumper instructor for the weekend, George. It was his first time teaching an all-women class and I can assure you he had a blast. And he may or may not have worn a tutu in the field on our last day touring. With a crew of rad women from Spokane, Kalispell, Whitefish, Sandpoint, Bozeman, Troy, and Hungry Horse we set out to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to become comfortable planning and touring safely in the backcountry.
Our first day started in the classroom, and in the evening, we went to a local outdoor area to practice beacon search and companion rescue. Day 2 also started inside the classroom, then we took our classroom to the field on Flatiron Mountain for our first observation tour, to dig snow pits, and to practice touring. On day 3 we spent our morning planning our trip for the day and then headed out to Flatiron Mountain for our final tour. We split up into two groups and made our way up the mountain. After a group discussion of where we would like to descend, we picked a safe place and started digging our pits. When we were about to gear up and fill in the pits, one of the ladies asked, “Do you mind if I pee in your pit?” AWESOME!! So polite yet so wild! Once we determined our terrain choice was safe we put our skis and boards into downhill mode and headed back down the fun way and the snow was a lot better than we expected!
Many times throughout the weekend I was reminded of how we as women have the capacity to be so caring and supportive of one another, and at the exact same time be fearless badasses! Breaking into a new sport or activity can be intimidating when you have very little (or no) experience. This unique women-specific course created an environment which allowed people to attend and learn about avalanche safety in the backcountry who probably would have never taken the course otherwise. One of the ladies I spoke with said that she had only ever skied groomed runs at the resort. Another woman had never even skinned up a hill before. Both of these women had to have overcome some huge mental barriers to even sign up for this class. Again, the support of an all-women group was key in their success.
Our instructor George told us at the end of the course that he was impressed with how supportive we all were of one another. He said it is something he doesn’t usually see in a co-ed group and definitely something not witnessed in a group of men.
As I write, this quote from John Muir comes to mind: “Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” Who knows where this doorway could lead? This weekend reinforced the significance of women supporting women and the importance of us to come together and create a space where women can flourish and achieve things they never thought possible. Thank you to the ladies who came to this course, you are all amazing!
Big THANKS to our sponsors!