Alpine Ascents International’s Maryanna Brown walks us through the partnership with SheJumps and her own equity and inclusion work within the guiding industry.
The word is out–SheJumps has a major crush on Alpine Ascents International (AAI).
The official partnership with the mountain guiding company began in 2020 through Fundraising Climbs and has only expanded since then. With an impressive ratio of female-identifying guides and staff, the outfitter shares many of the same values as SheJumps, including active DEI efforts.
The program line-up now includes various mountaineering, rock climbing, and backcountry skiing courses, as well as providing instructors for the Snowpack Scholarship AIARE courses.
Shuksan Fundraising Climb in 2016. Guides L to R are Erin Pollock, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, Kristie Kayl, and Lyra Pierotti. Photo credit: Jake Mills
The first time SheJumps got in touch with AAI was back in 2016 for their annual Shuksan Charity Climb. Each year, the administrative staff at AAI chooses a nonprofit to donate all proceeds to. That time the funds went to SheJumps after a member of the admin staff, Maryanna Brown, attended a Get the Girls Out! in Stevens Pass.
Mary touring through the trees with her hot pink ski poles, won at the Get the Girls Out Event. Photo Credit: Rebecca Ross
Mary herself started mountaineering thirteen years ago, with an introduction to the climbing world through a then partner. After summits on Colchuck Peak, Sahale, Rainier, and more, she quickly found she liked and thrived in the mountains.
“After we broke up a couple of years later, I questioned if I even knew anything about the outdoors,” she said. To combat imposter syndrome and build confidence, she traveled to Colorado to take a rock climbing course with Colorado Mountain School. It worked. “I came back to Washington super jazzed to climb all the time. Looking for climbing partners was hilarious–I found many of them on the internet. But I’m still alive!”
Mary on a ski trip to Kulshan in 2022. “I was pretty stoked to ski off the summit. I ran into the SheJumps Kulshan fundraising climb on the way down!”
In May 2014, Mary got hired onto the administrative staff at AAI. “I came for the pro-deals,” she joked. “But I stayed for the positive work environment, friendly guides, and healthy culture.”
It proved to be a great fit, and Mary was able to expand her skills in the mountains. Already established as a skilled mountaineer and climber, she naturally began backcountry skiing in the winter of 2015/16.
Chest-deep in snow and the outdoors industry, Mary saw room for improvement and set out to be the change she wanted to see. At AAI, she began creating recreation and guide-mentorship opportunities for women and other underrepresented communities in the outdoors.
Brooke Warren and Kristie Kayl on the SheJumps 6-Day Course on Baker circa 2021.
A year later in 2017, the company ran their first all-women’s affinity trip–a 6-Day Mt. Baker Mountaineering Course. “People were skeptical that enough women would sign up,” recalled Mary. “I hustled to get the word out–putting up flyers in climbing gyms around Seattle, posting on facebook, reaching out to local women’s climbing club.”
Five of the 10 spots were filled for the 6-day course, including one full-scholarship to an individual from She Rocks. Mary noted that a particular individual began guiding in the PNW last summer. Over the years, this initial pilot program resulted in a massive expansion for women’s specific courses and learning opportunities.
One such initiative is for AAI to frequently bring shadows for AIARE courses, a necessary career step for individuals who want to become instructors. One participant, Devin Gaan, hopes to instruct for AAI in the future. “As a trans and non-binary person, my experience as both a shadowing instructor as well as participant has been met with open arms,” stated Gaan. “I’ve found the programs run by SheJumps and AAI are uniquely supportive. These intentionally inclusive programs make for a safe space to learn, share, and practice avalanche safety skills.”
Jessica Trimble noted her experience shadowing as a splitboarder has been wonderful as well. “I reached out to a few different guiding companies explaining my interest in becoming an avalanche instructor with the specific intent in hoping to increase the representation of female splitboarders in the field,” she said. “AAI was the only company to get back to me and enthusiastically offered to support any shadowing I needed to qualify for taking the AIARE ITC course.”
Trimble also added that shadowing Lead AAI Guide Lyra Pierotti was a full-circle moment, since in 2015 Lyra had shadowed the Level 1 Course Trimble took with SheJumps back in 2015.
This year, Mary will be working her ninth summer at AAI. Her impact has resulted in tangible shifts and impact within the company. “When I started here we had some female guide staff, but not nearly as many as we do now. And not nearly as many female guides in leadership positions for expeditions,” she said. The list of expeditions led by female guides now includes Denali, Aconcagua, Mexico Volcanoes, Kilimanjaro, and more.
“There are more female lead guides than ever,” agreed Arielle Todd, the first female lead guide that AAI has sent to Mount Vinson, Antarctica’s tallest summit. “I've been working for AAI for seven years and have definitely seen an increase in the number of female guide staff as well as specific trips and programs. It's been an exciting development to be a part of.”
Mary noted that senior guide, Lyra Pierotti, has left a large mark on AAI as well. Originally, Lyra guided SheJumps programs through another outfitter, but noticed the company didn’t retain enough female guides to staff these programs internally. She suggested AAI as an option to SheJumps and it's bloomed into the relationship that exists today.
“Ensuring that SheJumps works with a guide service that retains women guides is an extension of their organization’s important work. It’s beneficial to professional women in the industry as well, making the whole situation more sustainable and holistic,” stated Lyra. “It has been so exciting to see more and more SheJumps programs running every year. It seems the demand is endless!”
Lyra also serves on the American Mountain Guides Association [AMGA] board as an elected member and co-chair of the DEI and governance committees and leads a large portion of the SheJumps collaboration climbs and courses.
“Lyra is an amazing guide, mentor, and is a source of positive change,” said Mary. “Whenever I’m unsure about the right way to go, I consult Lyra for her thoughtful, nuanced views that are always grounded in increasing inclusivity for all.”
Mary on a ski trip on Mt. Hood with Lyra in 2022. “When I was heading down, looking down the steep slope at the top of the old chute I thought....’Man, I really need to get better at skiing.’ Survived! Lyra and I skied Adams the next day for a double volcano weekend.”
To further their guides’ development, AAI started running an annual paid Women’s Guide Training with IFMGA Guide, Emilie Drinkwater, for female-identifying guide staff. After a couple of years of forced-hiatus due to Covid, the training program began again in 2022.
Brooke Warren, a full-time mountain guide at AAI and San Juan Mountain Guides for the past four years, felt the training built camaraderie and practiced necessary skills. “All the women who work at Alpine Ascents are inspiring, from the office staff to the guide staff,” she said. “We have professional sponsored athletes, fully certified guides, and experienced educators among our ranks. Being among such a qualified team raises the bar for all of us!”
Many of the AAI administrative staff also identify as female, with Mary estimating the gender ratio to be at about 50%. With equity in mind, the company offers a transparent guide wage scale to ensure equitable salaries and opportunities.
Still, the work doesn’t end there and Mary always seeks ways to make Alpine Ascents more inclusive and progressive. The company’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is impressive, with a recognition of the transformative powers of the mountains and the importance of access for all.
“We’re putting a lot of effort into affinity programs and getting the groundwork set to attract climbers of color. Before we can do that, we need to have enough guides of color on staff to guide these affinity programs we want to run,” said Mary.
The result is a new program unlike any other in the industry.
“The BIPOC Guide Development Program we’re starting this year is everything I wish I had as a young climber. I do think it will be helpful for people who are thinking about getting into the industry,” stated Mary. “If you want to become a doctor, you go to medical school and do a residency. If you want to become a mountain guide, there’s not a clear path. Especially if it’s not something you’ve been exposed to before.”
The program was made possible through a partnership with Edgeworks Climbing with the goal to increase the representation of BIPOC individuals in the mountain guiding industry. This year, six aspiring guides will receive a series of fully-funded field training, financial support for certifications, and mentorship and career coaching. In 2024, AAI hopes each participant will join their guide team, but will offer support in any direction they choose to go next.
Mary stated that AAI is doubling down on inclusivity training for our guides and staff in order to become as welcoming a place as possible.
SheJumps Into to Multi Pitch Climbing Course in Leavenworth, 2022. Guides pictured are Kristie Kayl and Lyra Pierotti. Photo credit: Alicia Mau, SheJumps Volunteer
While she wouldn’t say it outright, Mary is a huge driving force behind the affinity courses at AAI. On top of being the equity and inclusion manager, she’s also a Community Leader for Trail Mixed, Mountaineers Advisory Council Member, and Group Adventure Leader for WHOA Adventures.
“Encouraging and working with women of color is very fulfilling for me,” she said. “At AAI, I’m able to work on many equity and inclusion programs, and through these other organizations, I’m able to build my community and make more friends who are women of color.”