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These Women (& men) Had Their Own Women’s March Deep in the Sawtooth Backcountry

The Bench Hut. Sophie Danison photo.

Like most of our adventures, this trip of thirteen snow lovers is a mix of old friends, new friends, and boyfriends. At daybreak, the nine women on the trip left the door of the hut with hastily applied red lipstick, with the women’s marches occurring across the country at the front of our minds. There’s also, however, skiing to be had. We break off into groups of three and four, ready to hunt powder and ski laps through whitebark pine under the shadow of the crags of the Sawtooths. Our lipstick weathers the day of skinning uphill, digging pits and hitting face-fulls of coldsmoke snow. When the group reassembles at dusk, only remnants of lipstick remains, faded and smeared by sweat and powder. A few of the boyfriends even have a lucky kiss mark planted square on their cheek.

Andy, Emerald and Casey on the way up a no-name peak in the Sawtooths. (We named it "Gulo Gulo Mountain.") Sophie Danison photo. 

After spaghetti and a round of whiskey to revive our legs, I begin slipping my snow pants back on. The open, low-angle slope behind the hut is begging a night ski. The air is still and Orion hangs bright over Redfish Lake on the horizon.

The author slaying some Idaho pow. Sophie Danison photo.

“WOMEN’S MARCH,” Sally hollers and the hut becomes a chaos of laughter, finding jackets and convincing our tired legs that one more lap is a good idea. Outside, all thirteen of us (plus two nearby snow campers) pull our climbing skins across our skis. With Laurel’s declaration of, “BABES UP FRONT!” we soon are moving through the forest. Beth breaks trail through an old skin track, a small speaker fixed to her backpack blowing curated pop music into the night sky. As I pause to maneuver a kick turn, my heart catches in my throat. Maybe it’s the whiskey and my tired quads too, but suddenly I’m dropping tears onto my skis. Around me, eight of the most strong, intelligent, and awake women I know are pushing their bodies and hearts uphill. Behind us, six men have grins as big as our own and shout out their support. The metaphor feels as sharp as the constellations in that big, black Idaho sky.

Preparing for the Women's March. Sophie Danison photo.

We’ve been maneuvering through the mountains all weekend as teammates, equals, and partners. While the trip’s women lead the way on our impromptu mountain march, they have also been sharing that leadership with the men in our group all weekend. As men and women, I think our time in the mountains and in river canyons has taught us how to communicate, share responsibilities, and lean on each other. These eight women around me aren’t afraid to speak their minds, drop in first, and call the shots. Our men know this assertiveness doesn’t threaten their own skill, it only makes the team stronger and more reliable as we move through a chaotic, snowy landscape.

There’s been question of why women march when we are so privileged to live in this great country where we can vote, speak our minds, and live free. Others have unpacked that more gracefully than I can. I reply that my gratitude for what I have is as deep as the Sawtooth snowpack. But my empathy is as deep as these old, granitic mountains. I will not rest, stay quiet, or stop fighting forward until every other woman in this country feels the privilege that allows me to be here, exploring with my friends on this inauguration weekend. At the top of a backcountry ski run, if someone expresses hesitation about a decision, everyone stops and listens. In my country, most of the time I feel powerful, heard, and represented. I feel safe despite the fluctuations in our political landscape. But when my sisters, brothers, and community express that they don’t feel that way, I stop and listen. Just as I would at the top of a north facing chute, I do my best to understand their fear.

Ladies lead the charge up Crapper Ridge. Sophie Danison photo.

At the top of the run, one of the women peels off her sweaty top layers leaving nothing on but her flashing beacon. With laughter and screams, we all do the same, the men in the group joining along too. It’s not sex but freedom we’re announcing with our bare chests up here at the top of Idaho. As I turn through the gladed trees, powder sprays up off my skis onto my bare skin. My mind is blank in gravity-fueled euphoria. And as I catch my breath at the bottom of the slope, I realize that perhaps these marches, in addition to protest, are also a celebration of the joy of being women, poised on the edge of the next revolution.

From The Column: Women in the Mountains

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