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2023 SheJumps Into the Canyon: Bridging Ski Community and Immigrant Youth

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

The 2022-2023 season set snowfall records in Utah. And despite various challenges, we arguably had the most impactful year of our program. Thanks to our partnership with Alta Ski Area, we provided professional ski lessons to girls of color from immigrant families within Hartland Community 4 Youth and Families. As an immigrant woman, I was thrilled to share my passion, connect with my community, provide the necessary tools, and demonstrate our capability to conquer the unknown.

SheJumps Into the Canyon Meet & Greet

To officially kick off the program, we gathered at evo Salt Lake for a meet and greet with the participants a few weeks before the first day of the program. This was a great opportunity to distribute gear and break down the participants' initial walls as we readied ourselves. This was a great start to community building that would become a key element in the coming weeks. 

Week 1: Learning to Ski!

On the morning of the first day, I woke excited for what the next four Saturdays would look like. It was finally happening, and I couldn’t believe it; months of work were about to come to fruition, and I couldn’t have been more excited or nervous. 

On this first day, I met our program volunteers, ski instructors, and the rental shop staff in anticipation of the participants' arrival. Once they arrived, the participants grouped and rotated to the rental shop to get fitted for their gear. Soon after,  we headed outside to get the girls used to the feeling of having skis on while being on the snow and to give them a chance to notice if their gear needed to be changed out. 

For many of these girls, this was their first time on skis! Nevertheless, they quickly picked up whatever their instructors were focusing on, from side stepping, gliding, stopping, and turning; the commitment and passion of this amazing community shone through the first day. 

By the time the day ended, smiles and conversations could be seen and heard left and right as the girls shared the highlights of their lessons with each other. We couldn’t have asked for a better first day, and the blue skies that welcomed us remained throughout the day, making this day even more enjoyable and leaving us all eager for the next weekend.

Week 2: A Storm Cycle

I had never been so obsessed with weather forecasts!  But as the current storm cycle continued with no end leading up to day two of the program, I found myself compelled to make a weighty choice — to postpone. This decision was not taken lightly, but the commitment to safety and ensuring a positive experience for everyone involved led to this decision.

Week 3: Powder Skiing

As multiple feet of snow had fallen and “powder alerts” continued, I wondered if we would have to postpone another week. The canyon had been closed for a couple of days by this point, but as a break in the storm occurred, we could move forward with our second day.

We got in line to wait for the canyon’s opening at 7:30 a.m., hoping it would ensure us a good spot in line, though we weren’t the only ones that got an early start. Our volunteers endured up to 4 hours in the car due to delays in the canyon opening, yet they maintained high spirits. Equally impressive was the patience displayed by the group of girls, who spent nearly 2 hours stuck in traffic but arrived full of energy. The wait seemed to foster a new sense of community as new friendships blossomed. 

The morning was stressful as challenges continued to arise, but once they arrived, the girls eagerly put on their skis. Heading off to their lessons with wide smiles and excitement, suddenly, all the previous worries seemed to melt away. 

Week 4: Snow Day

The next week, the National Weather Service called for a major 3-day winter storm warning with snow totals up to 60 inches. The canyon quickly closed due to rapid snow accumulation, and days passed with no estimated reopening. Regardless, I kept watching the forecasts, hoping for another window, but as the canyon's slopes kept releasing avalanches, both natural and controlled, we had no choice but to postpone once more.

Having to postpone again felt like a letdown. I was now afraid we would not be able to deliver what we had promised to the community. Still, thanks to the flexibility and generosity of the staff at Alta, we were going to make it happen as they provided us with an additional backup date.

Week 5: Learning from Industry Professionals

Following 66 inches of fresh snow and a nerve-wracking waiting game for the canyon to open on time, it finally did. This allowed us to host the third day of the program. We anticipated a potentially smaller turnout, given that these working families had scheduled four consecutive weekends of programming, but we remained committed to those who could join us.

As we traveled up the canyon, we saw the carnage the multiple avalanches left behind, yet a stunning, clear blue sky welcomed us, a stark contrast. When the participants arrived, they enjoyed their lunch from the Albion Grill (a favorite part of their day) and excitedly prepared for gliding and skiing.

I joined the girls for some runs and witnessed their remarkable skill improvement since day one. They confidently navigated green groomer runs, with participants and volunteers always ready to help those who needed it, nurturing patience and strengthening the sense of community. This became my favorite day! Not only did everyone conquer groomer runs, but the girls truly shone as they emerged from their shells.

Our guest speaker, Shannon Corey, Alta's Lift Operations Supervisor, discussed her role and industry journey, highlighting the importance of women in such positions. In line with other SheJumps events, Shannon showcased the diverse opportunities available within the outdoor industry, guiding our participants on their journey of exploration and learning in the great outdoors.

Week 6: The Power Pose

I couldn’t believe we had reached the last day of SheJumps into The Canyon 2023, and neither did the girls. I rode the shuttle with them, and as we approached Alta, we noticed the snow falling. Eager to ski one last time, the girls went inside to eat lunch, and they laughed and put glitter on their faces to celebrate this last day. 

As they were enjoying each other's company, one of our volunteers recognized Amy Cuddy seated just a couple of tables from us. Some of us didn’t know who she was, and we soon learned about her Ted Talk, where she mentioned the importance of the “power pose.” At that moment, our photographer, Re Wikstrom, came up with the idea of doing some portraits of the girls doing power poses.

We split into groups and headed up the Sunnyside chairlift together, often called "the big lift." Fresh snow had fallen overnight, giving the girls their first taste of a "powder day." Laughter and cheers filled the air as they helped each other navigate the powdery slopes. Seeing them flow effortlessly and fearlessly brought peace, accomplishment, and happiness. Regardless of the constant weather challenges, they could learn and enjoy something they would have never tried or had access to.

After a few runs, they met their instructors for their last lessons. One group even made it up to Sugarloaf, where they found blue runs. As the day ended, they expressed their desire to keep skiing, not wanting the program to end. Eventually, as the last few girls returned, it was time to say goodbye to their instructors and return home.

The Importance of SheJumps Into the Canyon Program

Since its early days in 2008, SheJumps into the Canyon has fostered a space for underrepresented local communities. Having benefited from SheJumps' outdoor programs myself, I was deeply honored to play a pivotal role as the program returned from a 2-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Moreover, facilitating access to a sport that isn't structurally not meant for these communities was incredibly gratifying. 

Connecting with the parents of these girls evoked nostalgia for my upbringing, where we bonded over the little things and cherished our roots, even though I once rejected them to "fit in." Witnessing these girls conquer their fears and thrive inspired me to confront my own insecurities and doubts. This program wasn't just a learning experience for the participants; it was also transformative for me.

I will never forget the joyful smiles and the enthusiastic screams after someone accomplished something they didn’t think possible, and at the end of the day, seeing the survey answers that described their favorite part of their day as

  • feeling the wind on my face

  • “getting out of the house” 

  • getting to ski with my friends” 

  • and even “when people fell and everyone was giggling”

SheJumps into The Canyon is the embodiment of everything SheJumps stands for and strives to accomplish through their work by giving equitable access to the outdoors to women and girls from all backgrounds, and this is all possible thanks to our partners and community that continuously supports us.

Thank you to our 2023 SheJumps into the Canyon Partners

To our partners, a special thanks to Alta Ski Area for the generous ongoing support year after year since the conception of the program as well as for the in-kind contributions such as ski lessons and lift passes 

Thank you to the Albion Grill for accommodating the group and providing lunch, and thank you to the Alta Ski Rental Shop for your help and flexibility in ensuring our participants were well-fitted, safe, and comfortable. 

Thank you to evo Salt Lake for the support for transportation, food, and hosting our kick-off and wrap-up parties, as well as the in-kind contributions of base layers, ski socks, and neck gaiters, all which the participants get to keep and supported participants stay comfortable and warm during their sessions. Thank you to Columbia for the in-kind donations of inclusive-sizing outerwear that will last for years. 

Thank you to Hartland Community 4 Youth and Families for your trust and continued partnership. Lastly, thank you to every volunteer who participated and endured through long, hard days while maintaining high spirits and providing these girls with the best experience possible. To everyone involved, you have impacted the lives of this group of girls; this program wouldn’t be possible without your support. We cannot thank you enough and are looking forward to next year!

Thank you, Re Wikstrom, for capturing multiple days' moments.

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