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Kelly Benson Takes on the Backcounty

As a mid-20 something female, the words ‘empowerment,’ ‘leadership’ and ‘teamwork’ are heard quite often. Whether it’s in our professional lives, within education, or our personal experiences, these words have cemented themselves in the vocabulary of women just like me.

But what I have found is that having opportunities to truly experience the meanings of these words is much less common. That is until I took an AIARE 1 course this past weekend through Sierra Nevada College. As an experienced in-bounds snowboarder, I have had a strong desire to travel into the backcountry for years. Inhibited by my lack of appropriate gear, partners and knowledge, I just kept riding chairlifts over and over again. Yet when the opportunity to take the AIARE 1 course arose with a generous scholarship from SheJumps, I knew I had to take it.

Kelly Benson Pacific Coast, Tahoe CA

Kelly Benson Pacific Coast, Tahoe CA

Over MLK weekend, myself and one other female rockstar joined a class of ten guys, where we stepped out of our comfort zones and realized what those three big words really mean. We spent four days learning about backcountry travel, human factors, the anatomy of avalanches, trip planning, choosing terrain, and responding to emergencies. The long weekend was a compilation of in-class and fieldwork, and it was truly interdisciplinary with aspects of biology, physical geography, and behavioral psychology topped off with athleticism and good old-fashioned fun.

What we learned in the classroom, we were able to apply in the field. Each day we worked our way up to more robust peaks as our skills strengthened and our group became more comfortable and trusting of one another. We performed transceiver drills, dug snow pits, learned how to navigate while reading the landscape and even completed timed rescue missions. Although at the time it seemed like this was all exclusively pertinent to avalanche awareness, what I realized afterwards is that we were learning how to think independently about situations, while improving our leadership, strengthening our teamwork, and feeling empowered to make decisions about traveling backcountry.

The AIARE 1 course gave us the tools to really take what non-tangible skills we learned and continue applying, practicing and strengthening them both in the backcountry and in our lives as outdoors women and men. I now feel empowered going with friends into the backcountry, knowing how to collaboratively plan a trip, foster a trusting environment where opinions are welcomed, and choose the best terrain to always have the most fun while making it back to the car on time for après.

Many thanks to Sierra Nevada College and our two instructors for making the weekend wonderfully informative and most importantly to SheJumps for helping me seize the opportunity. Cheers to a great season of backcountry travel and all the snow that will hopefully fall soon!

Click here to find an AIARE class near you!

Marina McCoy, Kelly Benson & friend Pacific Coast, Tahoe CA

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