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January 19, 2022 4 min read

Backcountry Skiing: Where Women Thrive by: Jessica Taylor 

It was one of those days in the mountains when the snow falls silently and incessantly through the treetops and the tracks we left behind us disappear within a few hours. I am standing at the bottom of a perfect pitch of deep powder tree skiing, subtly catching my breath as my face aches from smiling. When I gaze up the slope behind me, I can hear giggling, laughing, hooting and hollering as I watch my friends appear from the forest, jumping off every bump in sight and slashing one last turn before they come to a stop above me. We celebrate with a round of high fives and plan our next move. I am surrounded by sisters, mothers and daughters. Their collective powerful female energy lights up the mountains, even through the deep greyness of the snowy day. 

 

 

Historically, backcountry skiing has been a male dominated venture, deemed too risky or intimidating or uncomfortable for frail and delicate women to endure. Well, that is no longer the case. The mountains are a place to lose yourself and find yourself and they are a place where your gender is irrelevant. Trailheads and backcountry cabins are filled with more women than ever and the ski industry is finally catching on. More and more brands are offering well designed and constructed equipment available in more in inclusive sizes, allowing people of all shapes and sizes to break out of their comfort zones and earn their turns. 

Like many women, my introduction to the backcountry involved tagging along with my then boyfriend and his friends while they forayed into the mountains. I was naïve and intimidated and it didn’t take long for me to recognize how little I understood about avalanches, snow and winter travel. I sought out education and new mountain partners and, over a few years, began to take on more of a leadership role on ski touring outings. I learned how to be self-sufficient in navigation, rescue and winter camping. Eventually, I decided to become a certified professional Ski Guide and now I introduce dozens of people to the sport every winter! 

 

 

For any female skiers out there who are considering ducking the ropes and taking the plunge into the wild world of backcountry skiing, now is a great time! Here are some tips for the ladies out there hoping to expand their skiing horizons: 

  • Get educated! Taking an avalanche rescue skills course with a certified provider is the best place to begin your transition to backcountry skiing. Many providers even offer Ladies Only courses with experienced female instructors and guides. In Canada, check out Avalanche Canada (https://www.avalanche.ca/training/courses). In the US, check out the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (https://avtraining.org/aiare-avalanche-course-providers/) 
  • Get gear that works for you! It’s always worth discussing your options with other women, such as ski shop employees, guides, patrollers and other experienced female backcountry skiers. They’ll have tips, tricks and advice that may be specific to the female experience. As a Ski Guide, I find myself reaching for my Strafe Meadow Jacket, Aero Insulator and Scarlett Bibs on a daily basis. Not only is the eVent fabric the most breathable waterproof layer I’ve ever worn, but the fit is fantastic and allows for easy access for bathroom breaks without having to remove all of my layers! 
  • Find like-minded female touring partners and mentors. Finding partners who have the same schedule, risk tolerance, fitness and objectives as you can be a real challenge for anybody. I encourage you to seek other female adventure partners and pay attention to how the communication and decision making processes within the group differ! It’s a completely different (and often refreshing!) experience to tour with a group of women!
  • Don’t sweat the social pressure! Women seem to worry more about holding up the group or not being “good enough”. Everyone out there has awkward moments where they fall or take more time getting through things, it’s not just you! When I first started ski touring, I was constantly worried about not being able to keep up with new partners. It turns out that although every group dynamic is different and the most important thing is to be comfortable and confident with where you are at on any given day. We are all human and some days we are stronger than other days and that’s okay. To ease the anxiety of skiing with new people, ensure ample communication about expectations, objectives and risk tolerances. The backcountry is a great place to spend time with old friends and make new ones! 
  • GET OUT FRONT! As you start exploring, you’ll find yourself following people into the mountains. That is fantastic, but so much more learning happens when you’re at the front of the group. Express your desire to be out front to your partners and act on it. Once you are putting in your own skin track, you begin to develop all facets of your decision making skills! 

 

 

So, if you’re a woman who has been considering exploring beyond the boundaries of your local ski hill, what are you waiting for? Backcountry skiing is more popular than ever and there are so many opportunities to get out there in inclusive, supportive groups with other likeminded women (and men!). As Warren Miller famously said, “if you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.”

 

 

See you in the hills, ladies! 

 

 

Jessica Taylor
Alpinista Guiding Services
adventure. learn. explore.
jessica@alpinista.ca