I'll just dive right in here: over the past several years, there has not only been a massive influx of new backcountry travelers but there has also been a huge demand for women-specific backcountry education opportunities. I won't delve in too much as to why more and more people are looking to the backcountry for their winter recreation (if you're reading this, then you likely already understand the draw)...but rather, this article is to introduce you to the world of women-specific backcountry opportunities.
Not only will I cover backcountry and avalanche education options for folks seeking an all-female crowd, but I will also share with you some other awesome resources for exploring, connecting, and continuous learning with a community of compassionate, like-minded women.
Please note: the terms woman, women, ladies, and female in this article include any cis-gender, trans-gender, and non-binary individuals who feel an affinity with women. Most, if not all, of the below companies and organizations open their offerings to everyone within this group.
^ SheJumps Mount Baker Climb + Ski Fundraiser, May 2019
Here are five incredible organizations from around the country that offer women-specific learning:
Possibly the first company to offer women's-only instruction back in 1997, allow me to introduce you to Backcountry Babes. From day clinics and local AIARE courses to international backcountry adventures, Backcountry Babes has become one of the largest, most well-known companies bringing women everywhere the opportunity to learn and explore surrounded by like-minded ladies. Their courses and offerings are scattered around the globe, giving you a plethora of options when you make your educational and training plans. Private guiding is also an option, whether you're looking to enjoy a day following a pro or acquire some additional expertise in a private setting.
These ladies have been offering women's only courses and learning since 1999 - which doesn't sound like a long time, but in the world of technical sports they were at the forefront of the wave. Not only do The Chicks offer backcountry skiing education, but they also specialize in rock climbing and ice climbing. What's even better, they can help get you connected with female guides and coordinate private or custom services if that's what you're looking for.
SAFE AS is the fun and informative lovechild from a collection of top female backcountry athletes and guides, including Elyse Saugstad, Jackie Paaso, Michelle Parker, Ingrid Backstrom, Lel Tone and Sherry McConkey.
Together, they offer an incredible experience to learn, grow, and connect - all while surrounded by an encouraging group of women. Those lucky enough to be close to one of their event locations will get a half day of live, online classroom time plus a half-day of on-snow education with the pros. All in all, their courses are considered to be an "Introduction Level Course to Avalanche Safety and FUNdraiser Event" and is the perfect way to begin your journey into backcountry education (pre-AIARE Level 1) or to refresh you skills.
This season, they have events in Washington, Maine, California, and Utah. They do also offer co-ed courses for those interested. I had the pleasure of attending one of their events a couple of years ago, and it was so worth it - 10/10 recommend!
If you haven't already heard of SheJumps, then here's the gist: this non-profit focuses on getting more women and girls into the outdoors. And with the three co-founders being exceptional skiers themselves (ever heard of Lyndey Dyer?), it's no surprise that snowsports make up a large portion of their events, courses, and opportunities. It should be noted that SheJumps does offer events in all aspects of the outdoors, ranging from mountaineering, skiing/snowboarding, ice climbing to backpacking, rock climbing, mountain biking, wilderness first aid, and basically every other type adventure you can think of.
SheJumps has a massive reach, and is now a prominent organization throughout most of the US and even reaching up into Canada. Regional teams of volunteers plan, coordinate, and run events based on their local community requests - and as such there are a plethora of backcountry touring and avalanche education events offered in practically every state with snow and mountains. Just check out their website and find your region to see what events are coming up in your area.
Newer to the scene, and more focused on all-around outdoor adventure, this New England organization works to bring women together and remove the intimidation and obstacles in the way of a more equal and inclusive community. In the past, they have offered beginner-friendly touring events, which are great options for women in New England looking for a chance to get acquainted with backcountry skiing or split-boarding.
Plus, a few more to round out this rad list:
^ Women's Intro to Backcountry Safety 1-day course on Mount Hood (2017)
In addition to the above organizations, make sure to check out your local guiding and instructional companies. Many are now offering their own women-only courses, either in cahoots with one of the above orgs or on their own. Here are a few to consider:
- Big Mountain Betty Weekend at Silverton Mountain (CO)
- Women's AIARE Level 1 with Bluebird Backcountry (CO)
- Wasatch Mavens - Women's Backcountry Series with Utah Mountain Adventures (UT)
- Women's Backcountry 101 with Utah Avalanche Center (UT)
- Women's Intro to Backcountry Skiing with Alpenglow Guides (CA)
- Women's Backcountry Ski Course with Yellowstone Ski Tours (WY)
- Women's Backcountry Skills Camp with Teton Backcountry Guides
- Powder Betty, Women's Backcountry Ski Camp with Northwest Mountain School (WA)
- Women's Level 1 Course with Beartooth Powder Guides (MT)
- The Women's Backcountry Series with Mountain Skills Academy (Whistler)
I'm not joking when I say there are A LOT of women's-only opportunties out there these days, so do a bit of digging online and in your friend group and I am sure you'll find a course that suits you.
^ Beacon check with an all-female crew up at Whitecap Lodge, BC (2018)
Scholarships and Tuition Assistance
Now, I would kick myself if I didn't at least touch on the cost factor of these courses. It's no secret that skiing and snowboarding aren't cheap, and heading into the backcountry is no different.
These backcountry courses are pricey, and while they should be looked at as more of an investment than an expense (you know, "your skis will last for x years, but your education will last forever"), not everyone can make it work out financially. Because of this, there is a growing trend of backcountry scholarships being offered to underserved and underrepresented groups, including but not limited to women, people of color, adaptive athletes, and individuals in the LGBTQ+ community.
Here are some of the scholarship opportunties out there right now:
- The Snowpack Scholarship with SheJumps (specific to women)
- Backcountry Babes x Weston Backcountry Avalanche Scholarship (specific to women)
- Backcountry Babes x Backcountry.com Avalanche Scholarship (specific to women)
- SAFE AS Scholarships
- Peter Inglis Avalanche Education Fund Scholarships
- Sierra Avalanche Center Scholarships
- Kizaki-Wolf AIARE Scholarship (catering to those looking to follow a professional path)
- You can learn more about AIARE scholarships here.
Am I missing an organization, scholarship, or anything else? Let me know in the comments below, and I can continue to update this article into the future!