Building Community: SheJumps Into the Canyon
Updated: Aug 23, 2022
Into the Canyon provides teens in Salt Lake City with an opportunity to jump into the Wasatch Mountain Range and learn the ABCs of skiing. Learn how it all began here.
SheJumps Into the Canyon, 2019
Video by Iz La Motte, Group photo by John Shafer
The heart and soul of SheJumps begins with the community it creates. Since 2008, Into the Canyon has fostered relationships between teens in Salt Lake City and the mountain community at Alta Ski Area.
For SheJumps co-founder Claire Smallwood, building a bridge between the local youth and ski community is near and dear to her heart. Growing up in rural Sante Fe, New Mexico surrounded by cattle ranches and farmers, Smallwood found her way to the mountains, in part, due to a ski program at her school. “Because skiing is so expensive, this is one of the ways I was able to fall in love with the activity,” she explained. “When we started SheJumps, it was very important for us, but for me personally, to offer similar experiences for girls who otherwise would not have the opportunity.”
Into the Canyon provides just that opportunity. Four weekends a winter, teens of all genders from the Salt Lake City Boys & Girls Club are driven up to Alta Ski Area where they learn both how to ski and the mountain culture that comes with it. The participants are provided lift passes, outerwear, skis, and enthusiastic SheJumps volunteers.
In 2007, SheJumps was founded by three friends: Claire Smallwood, Vanessa Pierce, and Lyndsey Dyer. Together, they became a force to be reckoned with and gathered up volunteers, gear, and endless rides up the canyon for the program to happen.
“Over the years, we collected a group of amazing volunteers from regulars at Alta to pro skiers. We even had people on their vacations join us. It was so amazing to see that kind of giving,” stated Pierce. For 11 years, Pierce volunteered as the head instructor at Into the Canyon, only stepping down in 2017 for the birth of her son. A few of the bigger names who volunteered include the likes of Rachael Burks, Caroline Gleich, Julian Carr, Lindsey Van, and Jen Hudak.
Added Smallwood, “This program really encompasses all of SheJumps' values for both the participants and volunteers. The volunteers for the program, whether professional athletes or passionate skiers, received the opportunity to practice leadership by sharing the experiences of outdoor play with the participants.”
One former participant, Berenice Yanez, from 2011-2013 recalls the volunteers fondly. “To this day, what I remember is the absolute joy and energy all the SheJumps volunteers brought to the mountain,” she shared. “They were genuinely so excited to be on snow and they were 100% stoked about skiing and sharing their experiences with the rest of us.“
For Yanez, the program offered more than just skiing, it was a social equalizer. “I didn't grow up skiing or doing any of the extreme sports well-off people do. I was a poor Mexican and poor Mexicans don't ski. But because I had at least gone skiing with SheJumps various times, I could still be a poor Mexican, but not so poor and deprived of experiences that I had to feel bad about it,” she stated. “Being a first-generation college student is hard enough without also feeling like you don't fit it. I probably would have been fine if I never learned how to ski, but my goodness, the relief I felt every time someone asked, ‘Omg, you're from Utah, you ski?!’ and I could be like, ‘I don't ski ski, but yeah, I can ski.’”
SheJumps Into the Canyon 2019, Photos by John Shafer
The program was created with a passion for sharing skiing to teens that might not otherwise get the chance to. “Claire and I, especially, put blood, sweat, and tears into it. In the beginning, I remember washing 30 sets of ski clothes in my basement and hanging them up to dry in any spot I could find,” recalled Pierce. “We were surrounded by gear.”
“Funny story about gear,” added Smallwood. “The first year we ever did the program, REI offered us 15 pairs of telemark skis and boots, which we eagerly accepted—only to realize that it's pretty hard to teach kids how to telemark ski, especially when we don't know how to telemark ski!”
The ski industry generously stepped up to provide gear for Into the Canyon participants. At the launch of the program, Rossignol, Dyer’s sponsor at the time, donated $10,000 worth of soft goods to SheJumps. “Over the years other local businesses such as Backcountry.com have provided additional gear to supplement the supply, including offering extended sizing which is always the most difficult part of outfitting the teens,” said Smallwood. “Slowly, other donations started to come in from various businesses around Salt Lake City: we received a massive box of defective Marmot gloves with maybe one or two small rips in them, a big box of Giro goggles, lots of Pret helmets.”
Donors throughout the program’s years include Alta Ski Shop, Alta Peruvian Lodge, Deep Powder House, the Billy Poole Ski Foundation, Goldminer's Daughter, and most notoriously Alta Ski Area. “There is no better place to show mountain culture than at Alta,” added Pierce. “Skiing isn't about how good you are or what you wear, it's about personal expression and having fun.”
Since the start of the program, Alta has been an essential piece of the puzzle thanks to the support from Connie Marshall, former Marketing Director for Alta Ski Area. Alta provides the lift tickets for both participants and volunteers.
“Through our growing friendships, I learned about the core mission and values of SheJumps, including Claire and Vanessa’s idea to teach the kids at the B&G Club to ski,” said Marshall. “I presented the idea to our General Manager, got the green light, and the program became a beloved tradition year after year.”
Marshall noted that one of her favorite aspects of the program was the presentation done by various Alta employees to the participants on what the vibes were like to work there. “One of the boys who had attended the program ended up working at Alta for a season on our lift crew,” she happily noted.
SheJumps Into the Canyon 2019, Photos by John Shafer
In 2015, SheJumps partnered with Hartland Community 4 Youth and Families (HC4YF), an after-school and family-services organization on the west side of Salt Lake City. “This organization works with immigrant and refugee families, and many of the girls in the program said they wanted to try other activities besides soccer,” stated Smallwood. “We started organizing more events with HC4YF in summer of 2015, and then eventually the girls (28 plus eight moms) came skiing with us at Alta in March 2016!”
Jennifer (Freddy) Cantwell, current Utah Regional Coordinator, remembers helping one of the participants find the courage to go on her first off-piste run. “Watching her go from very unsure if she could ski it to confidently linking turns by the end of that run was one of the biggest highlights for me,” she said.
As years pass by and the program changes hands of leadership, the heart of the event remains the same: community. “Being part of this program for so many years was a bright spot in my life,” Pierce stated. I'm grateful to have impacted so many teens in a positive way, and they did the same for me.”
For those interested in sponsoring or volunteering the event, reach out to the contacts below:
Sponsorship: Angela Crampton, email@example.com
Event volunteering: Jen "Freddy" Fredsall, firstname.lastname@example.org
** We are always in need of plus-size ski pants and jackets for women!
SheJumps is an inclusive organization. We welcome all women and girls—transgender and cisgender, as well as non-binary people.
SheJumps strives to fight against racism and acknowledges that our events and programs take place on traditional, unceded Indigenous lands.