Reaching New Heights at SheJumps Alpine School
For the past nine years, Alpine Finishing School has become a predominant course for advanced skiers and splitboarders to further their mountaineering skills. With the new Alpine Development School, there's an access point for anyone to further their knowledge.
Photo by Christy Pelland
Sugar and spice and everything nice - that's not what Alpine School is made out of. Since 2012, this course has elevated women in the backcountry through world-class instruction that encourages grit, decision making, and leadership. The program is presented by SheJumps through partnership with Arc'teryx.
Alpine School has two components - the renowned Alpine Finishing School (AFS) and the newly developed Alpine Development School (ADS), a series of online videos that introduce backcountry travel or build on skills towards AFS. While both programs can be completed standalone, they aim to support a skier or splitboarder as they progress their alpine abilities.
Christine Feleki, guide and instructor for both AFS and ADS, is undoubtedly passionate about the mountains. Originally from Canmore, Alberta, she is the first fully certified female ACMG splitboard guide in Canada and ambassador for Arc'teryx. "The company often tries to find ways that they can partner with organizations, like SheJumps, to give back to the communities," she noted. "They're completely supportive of ideas that make the outdoors more accessible to people."
Photo by Stella Lietchy
Traditionally, Alpine Finishing School takes place at Selkirk Lodge in British Columbia for a week. A range of technical rope skills are covered, from glacier travel to crevasse rescue to skiing with a rope. The course is designed to be a stepping stone into mountaineering larger objectives and not the final building block.
Beth Lopez, a member of the 2018 trip, emphasized that this learning environment helped her overcome imposter syndrome. "I picked up lots of little everyday tips that I collectively consider a wise, intuitive, empathetic, feminine style of mountain travel," she explained. "In AFS, we covered a ton of ground each day and navigated challenging, complex terrain, yet we did so without ever leaving anyone behind or leaving anyone coming up short."
This year, the course is getting a good shakeup. SheJumps is splitting the traditional week-long school into three different trip options - Spearhead Traverse, Currie to Wedge Traverse, and Backcountry Basecamp. While the skills stay the same, the dynamic is even more encompassing than before due to the necessary self-sufficiency and winter camping. Christine pointed out that without access to the internet, there will be ample opportunity for in-the-field forecasting and group decision-making.
Photo by AFS Guide, Holly Walker
AFS alumni Abby Cooper stated that this particular type of group decision-making was also a unique course component. "There are incredibly talented and knowledgeable guides, but their role at the AFS is to educate and facilitate, not just to guide us - rather guide us in gaining confidence in our developing skill set."
With a lower price point for the trips and a shorter length of time, the goal is to bring more women to the mountains for the upcoming courses.
Mali Noyes, a previous attendee, noted that the course was quite empowering for women. "There's a cultural phenomenon in which women react and move through the mountains differently than men. The men will be loud and confident even if they're total idiots. Women are way smarter, way more in touch with the entire group, with weather, with everything, but often they're more quiet and a little less sure," she said. "AFS is a process to gain confidence and comfort in those situations. Giving women power to bring up their voices will only help everyone."
The progression of knowledge in the mountains doesn't stop after the course is over. "A year or two later, I'll see on social media that they're crushing their goals and doing all these cool objectives that they felt like they couldn't have confidently done before," said Christine. "That's awesome for me, as a guide, to witness."
Photo by Abby Cooper
Still, every mountain objective begins with that first step. This is where Alpine Development School comes into play. This three-part instructional series was developed by Christine, Kate Devine ACMG Ski Guide, and Claire Smallwood Executive Director of SheJumps.
The videos dive into three critical subjects: 1) Risk Management & Decision Making, 2) Terrain Identification & 3) Management and Building Your Process.
"It's impossible to condense a 7-day ski mountaineering course into just a few hours, but we did our best to take the main topics and help them be more relevant to a wide range of abilities and experiences," explained Claire. The videos are an accessible way to build a new skill set or refresh knowledge for the upcoming season as an online series.
Photo by Christy Pelland
There is a nugget of information in Alpine School for everyone - from seasoned backcountry users to newcomers in the mountains. To purchase the recordings from Alpine Development School, click here.
To sign up for one of the three Alpine Finishing Courses offered in 2022, check out the links below:
Spearhead Traverse (SOLD OUT): March 21-24, 2022
Currie to Wedge Traverse (SOLD OUT): April 4-7, 2022
Backcountry Basecamp: April 9-13, 2022
SheJumps is an inclusive organization. We welcome all women and girls (transgender and cisgender) as well as non-binary people who identify with the women's community. SheJumps strives to be an ally in the fight against racism and acknowledges that our events and programs take place on traditional, unceded Indigenous lands.