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Why Mentorship in the Mountains is Important with the SheJumps Snowpack Scholarship

The first time I heard about SheJumps was in 2019. I don’t remember how, when, or why, but I do remember being so interested in the mission that I cold-emailed the organization to be involved somehow. More women in the outdoors? Count me in. 

Photo by Amber Parucha

Not long after, I received an email from Claire Smallwood, asking if I’d be interested in writing recaps of the SheJumps events. It was perfect - there would be tangible evidence of the impact of these events, and I could be involved in something greater than myself. (If you’re curious, here’s the first blog post I wrote in 2019 - so long ago!)

While I’ve been able to join and volunteer for Wild Skills days, Junior Ski Patrol and Junior Wildland Firefighting, I am happy to finally write about my experience receiving one of the Snowpack Scholarships for an Avalanche Level 2 Course this year. In February, I packed my bags in Moab and trekked back north to the promised land known as the Pacific Northwest to take the course. 

There was no shortage of entertainment with three guides, one mentee, and twelve of us participating in the backcountry of Stevens Pass. We skied, dug pits, and practiced beacon drills…..And I might have spent a good bit of time complaining about the concrete-like snow density. Thanks to the encouragement of the crew, I even wrote a haiku about the snowpack for the morning meeting. 

My god, the snowpack

Can you tell it’s been raining?

You’re getting crusty

Photo by Jess Joyner

Throughout the process, this scholarship opportunity emphasized how education is only one step to creating equity in the mountains. While programs like SheJumps, Edge Outdoors, and Climbers of Color help, we still need to make a space outdoors where everyone can feel like they belong. The mountains are a privilege - and having the time, transportation, and housing to get to the base of a peak is a reflection of that. 

The barrier to being in the mountains is high. The barrier to finding a mentor to continue learning? Even higher.

It wasn’t until I ski patrolled that I had true mentors in the mountains. It was there, while on my skis 5+ days a week, I began to learn the delicate dance between myself and the mountains. My hard skills such as pit profiles, beacon drills, and skiing improved daily  with the help of proper mentorship. I’d watch as the other patrollers breezed through the couloirs, understanding where each rock and root may lay hidden. Their movement in the mountains was strong, and I was eager to follow.

For most recreational users, there is a lack of available mentors in the mountains and even less opportunities for women’s mentorship. The pool gets smaller for those who are queer, non-cis, or a person of color. It’s generally easier to connect with someone who has a similar background or looks like you, but this leaves a void to be filled by someone who does not fit the typical stereotype of a “mountain person.” I’d even argue that a white woman with strands of hair falling from her helmet has become a quintessential, common look in mountain towns.  

This brings me back to the Snowpack Scholarship - it was incredibly special to be with a group of women in the mountains, in a course led by other women. The mentorship gap was brought to the center of attention in our conversations. Never before had I seen a light shed on the systematic gender and race issues that contribute to the imbalance of knowledge and skill in the mountains. 

I feel incredibly fortunate that my old patrol coworkers took me under their wing regardless of gender, but I understand that’s not a common universal experience. I often felt like I was playing in a game of catch-up to keep up with everyone else on patrol, and I wish that working professionally was not the main way to gain that type of mountain experience and mentorship.

While I no longer patrol, it’s left me wondering: How can I continue passing on the knowledge I’ve received? How can I create an impact going forward? How on Earth do I give back!?

I’m still figuring out how to answer all those questions.

As I look at the broader picture, I recognize the Snowpack Scholarship as one of the tiny pieces of the puzzle that creates a more equitable space in the mountains. Education and mentorship are only part of the solution, not the sole answer.

I hope, at least, to extend my hand to others who are eager to learn in the mountains- though I am far from calling myself a mentor. I don’t care how well you ski, I don’t care if you know what the various crystal sizes mean, I just care about if you’re willing to share the love of the mountains with me. And share it with others, too.

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