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Calling Women In: Avalanche Education

Updated: Jan 15, 2021

Did you know less than 10% of avalanche educators identify as women? We’re invested in seeing that shift to include more women in the professional avalanche industry. We hosted a virtual panel packed with women who’ve made their careers in avalanche education. Listen to their stories about how they started their career and why they’ve stuck with it. Topics include finding the career, the certification process, challenges along the way, support and how they see the career changing in the future. We'll wrap it all up with a Q & A session hosted by Dr. Sara Boilen.

Panelists include:

  • Betsy Manero | AIARE Instructor + Backcountry Magazine Associate Editor

  • Brooke Edwards | Alaska Avalanche School Staffing Manager + Instructor

  • Liz Riggs Meder | AIARE Director of Recreation Programs

  • Melis Coady | Alaska Avalanche School Executive Director

  • Nikki Champion | UAC Avalanche Forecaster

Myth: “There’s not enough room at the top.” As women professionals, we have to deconstruct that myth and proove there is plenty of room.

Key takeaways

You don’t have to have a linear career path. You belong, have something to contribute, and highlight your value. Organizations need diversity of thought and experience to make space.

Be inspired by other people to gain experience from their knowledge. You don’t have to know what your career path is and go where your heart and passions take you.

Avoid the persistent weak layers of imposter syndrome of not belonging. Girls (and women) from a young age are hard on themselves. Being a good student doesn’t always translate into being a successful professional. Don’t let great get in the way of good enough.

Find people you can talk through the decisions. Fear doesn’t have power if you give it a voice.

Speak out when you see an injustice. Have a canned response ready.

Finding mentorship

Male mentors came naturally, but it was harder to find the female mentors. To find good mentors, consider taking a more active part of seeking the right ones.

Finding mentees: As a mentor, looking for individuals that have put in work by taking prerequisite courses or demonstrate initiative to a mentor relationship. Mentorship is walking along the path together and building on the knowledge.

Mentorships come in various forms and lengths of times. They can be support groups or career development. You may not get all you need from only one mentor but from a community of mentors. Find ones that can be your wing-woman that can lift you up.

Frientors = friends that are mentors. You can learn from people that are on the same level or ones that have the same goals.

Create healthy progression at a good tempo. Find people to leverage you out of cycles of comfort for growth and leveling up.

Struggle with a lesson learned

In the first year of guiding avalanche courses, Betsy had an amazing female mentor that left the guide company after her first season. Betsy then was the only woman on the team and shared this with her boss. The following year, he brought on five women. Betsy learned the importance of speaking up for what you need and to stir the pot.

In her mountaineering career, Melis finds guiding groups of men challenging. She’d be the only woman on an expedition of men for up to 30 days. You can have technical skill and competency but building trust in a group develops with communication and leadership styles that tend to be different between genders. Some styles don’t always resonate and have the potential to mentally discredit you as a guide. Melis learned that you have to navigate these dynamics like you have to judge slopes and climbing routes when on edge or uncomfortable.

Liz agrees with Melis on the struggle of code-switching to pick and choose where she had to push against the system. The guide in her is there for the clients. It’s a super-power to control how you show up and ask for what you need. Practice being honest with yourself.

Panelist bios

Betsy Manero | AIARE Instructor + Backcountry Magazine Associate Editor

Betsy started skiing in Maine and New Hampshire at a young age and has been hooked on the mountains ever since. She started climbing in Vermont during college and moved to the Tetons in 2015 to pursue bigger mountains. When not guiding for JHMG Betsy can be found skiing, touring or climbing in Grand Teton National park or exploring sandstone formations of Southern Utah. Certifications: AIARE Instructor, AMGA Single-Pitch Instructor, AMGA Apprentice Rock Guide, AMGA Apprentice Ski Guide, Professional Level 1 Avalanche Certificate

Brooke Edwards | Alaska Avalanche School Staffing Manager + Instructor

A long time Alaskan resident, Brooke Edwards has been involved with the ski industry on multiple levels for over two decades. She first received her Avalanche Level 1 certification from the Alaska Avalanche School in 1997 in Hatcher Pass and it was that course that made her decision to move to Alaska full time. Since then she has been engaged in the avalanche community as a board member for F-CNFAIC, an avalanche observer, a NOLS instructor, a ski instructor at Alyeska Resort and working as an avalanche forecaster/guide in Japan. This is her Sixth Season as an Avalanche Educator for The Alaska Avalanche School, and her first acting as Staffing Manager for the School.

Liz Riggs Meder | AIARE Director of Recreation Programs

Liz Riggs Meder is the Director of Recreation Programs at AIARE and is based in Seattle. Liz is responsible for all aspects related to the development and delivery of AIARE’s recreational education programs, which includes curriculum development, managing the instructor training program, and overall program delivery and evaluation. Liz is an AIARE Instructor, occasionally works as a Cascade mountain guide, and holds an M.Ed from the University of Washington. A learning and cognitive science nerd, Liz loves combining her education interests with her love of traveling through the mountains.

Melis Coady | Alaska Avalanche School Executive Director

Melis is executive director of Alaska Avalanche School. She has lived and worked in Alaska for 20 years enjoying a career on snow and glaciers as a climbing ranger for Denali National Park, senior guide for the Alaska Mountaineering School and a field instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School. She has completed Pro 1 avalanche training, and has skied/climbed on 7 continents including two seasons as a field guide for Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions. A dedicated educator, Melis has spent over a decade certifying students in emergency medicine as a wilderness medicine instructor for the Wilderness Medicine Institute and as a climbing instructor navigating avalanche terrain. She looks forward to sharing ideas about how women can be leaders in avalanche education.

Nikki Champion | UAC Avalanche Forecaster

Nikki grew up skiing on the icy hills of Michigan, but transitioned out west as quickly as possible. She earned a BS in Civil Engineering from Montana State University, during that time she worked as an educator for the Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, as a research assistant in the Subzero Science and Engineering Lab, and an avalanche instructor for various other services throughout Montana. Following her time in Bozeman, Nikki headed north to Alaska to work with the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center and teach avalanche courses for the Alaska Avalanche School. During the summers Nikki works as a mountain guide for RMI Expeditions, primarily guiding in the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska.

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