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The SheJumps Alpine Development School

With roughly three-quarters of backcountry skiers being male, it’s easy for female skiers to feel a bit like the odd woman out. Female ski mentors can be harder to come by, and women often feel uncomfortable asking too many questions or voting against a group decision when they’re the lone female.

Not only is this awful on multiple levels, but it also means women aren’t feeling empowered to bring one of their best strengths to the table: they tend to have a keen nose for safe decision-making. In fact, according to Bruce Tremper’s snow safety bible, Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain, only 7% of avalanche fatalities are female. Ladies: we can trust our instincts. And if we feel confident speaking up and making ourselves heard in decision-making discussions, we can make our entire groups safer.

This is exactly the kind of problem SheJumps, a Salt Lake-based nonprofit, has been working to solve for years. They offer outdoor skills programs empowering women and girls—and offer an entry-point to mountain sports for women and girls who otherwise would have little access. We’re talking multi-day ski lessons (including full rental gear and head-to-toe clothing) for teen girls from immigrant families, Wild Skills seminars teaching little girls about being a ski patroller, an annual weeklong all-women mountaineering course on a remote Canadian glacier, and much more. SheJumps’ vast network of volunteers and staff work hard to bring these clinics and seminars to women and girls all over the U.S. and beyond.

Of course, this winter, the global pandemic is forcing most of us to digitize everything that used to be in-person, and SheJumps is staying on top of it. One program in particular is getting backcountry ski ladies excited: the virtual Alpine Development School.

The Alpine Development School: building confidence inside for leadership outside 

Led by ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides) certified guide Christine Feleki, the Alpine Development School is a three-evening seminar in mid-November (the 17th, 18th, and 19th) that covers topics like Risk Management and Decision Making, Terrain Identification and Management, and Building Your Backcountry Process.

All three of the 90-minute sessions are valuable for women at almost any level of backcountry skiing, from newbies to seasoned pros. Feleki is the perfect teacher to lead the charge: having worked as a professional mountain guide for years in the Canadian Rockies, her shredding resume is incredibly impressive—yet her down-to-earth style has made her a warm and relatable instructor for SheJumps programs such as the famed Alpine Finishing School.

“Ideally, yes, [before you attend Alpine Development School], you’ll already be familiar with the basic backcountry concepts that are taught in a level-one avalanche course, but even if you’re new, this can be a great eye-opener to get you stoked on finding out where your knowledge gap is. It’s definitely information all backcountry users should learn,” explains Feleki. “These courses are relevant for all women who want to get out in the backcountry.”

While many women need to build confidence in their decision making and risk assessment to feel empowered, Feleki has noticed that most women know much more than they think they do.

“It’s always a surprise to hear how many ladies feel like they don’t have the skills, the confidence, or the experience to do these things without the help of their guy friends. Then when they describe the things they’ve actually done in the outdoors, I’m blown away,” she says.

“I think these courses offer more than just a skill set–they offer a mirror for women to actually see that they’re already capable.”

Realizing how much they already know, and identifying the remaining knowledge gaps to fill in, ladies emerge feeling substantially more capable. Many report feeling far more confident planning or leading a tour themselves—or chiming in on avalanche decision-making, route-finding, and the choice of objective for the day. Which allows them to get outside in the backcountry far more often, not relying on someone else to lead the charge. The extra dose of education even makes touring more fun and far less intimidating.

“SheJumps is helping break barriers for women who otherwise might not have the same opportunity to try outdoor pursuits, and that is wonderful,” Feleki says. “At all levels of programming, it’s women helping women.”

Want to be part of the revolution making backcountry skiing more inclusive and safe for all? Get to know SheJumps and, if you’re a lady or know how to hang among ladies, sign up for the Alpine Development School, which costs just $15/session. Details here.

See you on the skintrack!

Beth Lopez is a seasoned writer and creative director who loves to tell tales of adventure and discovery—and finds writing a powerful way to give a voice to people, causes, and places. Beth runs amok in the Wasatch mountains when untethered from her computer. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad ski day and considers animals her favorite people. Don’t tell her mother about her Instagram mountaineering photos.