NWAC and SheJumps are partnering to provide a mentorship program aimed at aspiring female-identifying avalanche professionals. Mentees will work with active professionals in the avalanche industry to assist in a SheJumps AIARE Level 1 course, shadow professionals in their area of interest, and receive structured feedback and guidance. This program is designed to actively support increased gender diversity in professional avalanche education and snow science by providing a clear path and building peer connection. Learn more about the mentorship program here!
Photo: Tommy Yacoe
Last winter I drove down to Utah to further my backcountry education and take a professional level avalanche course. I was early for the first day of class and as I sat there watching a slow stream of ski patrollers and aspiring heli-guides enter the room, I slowly sank in my chair. Another “she” wasn’t coming. Of the 20 students in five-day the course, and the four instructors, I would be the only woman.
While my overall course experience was educational, inclusive, and positive, it enlightened me to the potential consequences of this not-so-unique gender balance. During the course, I felt pressure to over-perform and excel; I felt that my performance would not just be representative of my own skill, but of the skill and sense of belonging for all potential women students in similar courses or places in their career. I recognized that non-gender-inclusive language isn’t just a nicety, but can have acute impacts on educational experiences. All of this can come together in a way that can leave the underrepresented (not just women, but any underrepresented population) questioning our sense of self in the backcountry community.
Targeted programs specifically for women are one day to address some of these challenges and are, thankfully, becoming increasingly available. While there are an incredible amount of opportunities for outdoor education in a women’s-specific environment, we will just be addressing women’s-specific avalanche education here.
Here in the Northwest, multiple guide services are providing both AIARE Level 1 and AIARE Level 2 specifically for women. These intentional programs help address the potential negative side effects of being in a classroom out-gendered. The winter backcountry is a challenging enough environment to learn in; when social dynamics distract from learning outcomes, we can be exposed to imbalanced education that can have concrete and lasting impacts on women’s experience and sense of self in the backcountry.
No class or instructor, no matter how wonderful, can fully eliminated all off the potential negative human factors that have the potential to weave their way into large group classes but these women-specific programs aim to intentionally provide an atmosphere of inclusion. This environment can help instill confidence in our voices, even as we enter the backcountry in mixed-gender groups. These programs additionally are primarily taught by women instructors and guides. Students in these courses share similar themes of what made them seek and what they got out of this type of program:
“As a minority in technical winter pursuits, I think it’s important to create these kinds of spaces where women can freely support each other, empower each other, and build our networks of fellow like-minded fun-seekers!” - Charlotte Horsey, SheJumps AIARE Level 1 Student
“We, as women, must work together to create a safe and inclusive space for learning and growth. Often times, I believe that all-female environments are the best environment to challenge vulnerability and strength in the industry.” - Hannah Robindeaux, SheJumps AIARE Level 1 Student
You can view the complete list of AIARE and avalanche course opportunities in the Northwest on NWAC’s website here.
It should come as no surprise that there are significantly fewer female avalanche educators than there are men. This number is even smaller if we are to exclusively look at women who are qualified to not just instructor, but lead, specifically AIARE programs. Out of the 496 listed AIARE instructors, 52 are identified as female (this includes both course instructors, and course leaders).
This season, NWAC is partnering with SheJumps to address the gender gap in the professional avalanche industry. The program will provide mentorship and development opportunities to women who are looking to either explore or expand upon a job or career in the avalanche and snow profession (whether that is ski patrolling, forecasting, education, meteorology, or non-profit work). Mentees will work with AIARE course leaders and instructors to assist in a SheJumps AIARE Level 1 class and have the opportunity to job shadow in their personal area of interest.
Full information about the program can be found here. The application deadline is February, 2020.
Photo: Angela Henderson
If you’ve already taken any level of avalanche education, you have likely heard about the value and importance of mentorship in backcountry education (both recreational and professional). This is a great podcast from our friends down in Utah about mentorship. As you start to look for opportunities to either seek or be a mentor, we encourage you to ask yourself four questions:
- What technical skills can I provide mentorship in?
- What technical skills an I seeking mentorship in?
- What personal skills do I look for in a mentor/mentee?
- What personal skills do I bring as a mentor/mentee?
This applies to both men and women as we can all benefit from mixed-gender communication, leadership, and mentorship. Getting out with other women, whether they are your guides, instructors, friends, mentors, or “friendtors,” is a valuable experience in and of itself. When I look back on my days in the backcountry, the ones that stick out to me as season highlights are those that I spend with other women. Let shine theory reign!