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SheJumps Is Training the Next Generation of Female Ski Patrollers

It doesn't matter if the probes were three times the size of the participants: They learned essential skills. Photo: Courtesy of SheJumps

On Dec. 16, 32 lucky girls between the ages of 8 and 16 became ski patrollers for a day at Crystal Mountain in Washington as part of an inaugural SheJumps Junior Ski Patrol day camp. Taught by female ski patrollers and energized by a steady flow of hot cocoa, the girls learned about first aid, avalanche control, snow science, weather stations, driving toboggans, avalanche rescue techniques and patrol dogs.

SheJumps–a nonprofit that encourages women in outdoor sports–was founded in 2007 by Lyndsey Dyer, Vanessa Pierce and Claire Smallwood. The organization gained momentum early on thanks to its founders’ star power and commitment to raising the visibility of females in action sports. As SheJumps celebrates its 10th year, however, it’s clear is committed to shaping the landscape for the next generation of females participating in outdoor and action sports.

“Our organization now spans a decade, so it’s only natural that our programs and organization would evolve as not only as our team ‘grows up’ but also as the community changes,” says Smallwood. “It’s only natural that we would have needed to start by building a community (yes, those goofy, fun, tutu-sporting gals on the mountain) in order to have the momentum and passion to start making ‘bigger’ changes in the outdoor industry landscape for women, and now: girls.”

Paving the way for the next generation.

Christy Pelland is the SheJumps director of the Wild Skills program, a youth initiative that teaches survival and technical skills to girls. The Junior Ski Patrol event at Crystal was inspired by Harper, Pelland’s 7-year old daughter, and her interest in patrolling.

The girls were introduced to using avy beacons, with the reward at the end of the search being a buried box of donut holes. Photo: Courtesy of SheJumps

“My good friend and Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol Director, Kim Kircher, regularly takes the time to ski with Harper, showing her the ins and outs of patrolling and answering every question she has,” says Pelland. “Kim and I started talking about how Harper can’t be the only girl interested in all this stuff and that we should host a Wild Skills event centered around ski patrolling.”

“I’ve been thinking for years about how to get younger people involved and how to get them excited about what we do,” adds Kircher. “When Christy brought this idea to me, I said, this is perfect. And I love that it’s all girls.”

Kercher opened the day by welcoming the girls and introducing them to life as a ski patroller. Then, they were divided into groups based on ski ability rather than age and hit the slopes with their own patroller as an instructor.

“My group was great—they were all really excited to be there,” says Michelle Taft, a volunteer ski patroller with the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol and Wild Skills instructor for the day. “There was no complaining, everybody was happy and they were all really curious”

While the name of the game that day was fun–with volunteers dressed as unicorns bringing the girls hot cocoa and conducting beacon searches that yielded donut holes rather than buried skiers–the impact of the program on these girls is nothing to laugh at.

Valerie Long, whose two daughters–15-year-old Katherine and 13-year-old Charlotte–participated in the Junior Ski Patrol day, said the event was a chance to expose her children to strong female role models.

“This program is an amazing opportunity for my daughters to see the importance of a ski patroller,” she says. “It not only gives them the insight beyond the lifts, but it also opens up a professional realization: That being a ski patroller is a real option for them and that they can learn these skills too.”

By targeting the next generation, SheJumps takes its commitment to empowering girls in the outdoors a step further by tackling the issues that might hold them back in the first place.

While the subject matter was serious, the program put a major emphasis on all the participants having fun. Photo: Courtesy of SheJumps

“Girls–when we’re little–are taught that we are more fragile or that we can’t do things the way that boys can,” says Taft. “A program like Wild Skills teaches girls that they can do anything that they want to do. That they can stay in sports, and be successful in that throughout their lives.”

Kircher agrees.

“I’d love to see more of these programs done elsewhere,” she says. “Just in general, I think getting young girls out skiing is beneficial to them, beneficial to the sport, and beneficial to all of us to have more people excited about the outdoors.”

Whether they participate for fun or eventually seek a career in the outdoor industry, girls in the outdoors have to carve out a space for themselves in a traditionally male-dominated field.

“I’ve always been really lucky in that I worked at Crystal where we’ve always had about 30 percent of our staff be women, and that was in large part to my predecessor, Paul Baugher,” says Kircher. “I haven’t felt much sexism or anything like that on the job, but this is a job where there are a lot of barriers to entry for women..”

The power of affinity groups.

As more women like Kircher enter the outdoor workforce, we might see less of a need for an all-female group dynamic. But for now, the girls-only space can offer a lot as young women continue to learn and come into their own without any added pressure from mixed-gender groupings.

The girls learned every aspect of ski patrolling, including how to load the rescue sled. Photo: Courtesy of SheJumps

Alice Gabrielson, age 8 and one of the youngest Junior Ski Patrollers at Crystal, definitely enjoyed the dynamic .

“I like that I really don’t need to worry about having boys judge me and make it not as fun,” says Alice. “It’s a good way to meet friends.”

Her mom, Megan Farr, is just happy that Alice and her younger daughter are exposed to not only female role, but that they also get hands-on experience in the outdoors in a welcoming environment.

“I’m super stoked that my daughters have this opportunity,” she says. “To them, this is normal to go out in the mountains to rock climb, practice first aid, or ski with a bunch of women. I always thought of that as a boy thing and it’s not. It’s their normal.”

The end goal, ultimately, is to facilitate more opportunities for girls like Alice to look up to–and maybe follow in the footsteps of–women like Kircher and Taft.

“If we’re doing our job right, there will be (and already are) more opportunities for a woman or girl to say, ‘If she can do it, so can I,’” Smallwood says. “By entrenching the concepts and skills from an early age—properly using a beacon and probe, navigating with a compass, building a shelter–and ensuring that it’s entirely taught by women, we can encourage and help girls with any dream they have in the outdoors.”

A lasting impact

Unicorns costumes and beacon searches for buried treasure aside, Wild Skills and the Junior Ski Patrol day will impart a lasting confidence in its participants that applies both on and off the slopes.

No day patrolling the slopes would be complete without the help of a rescue pup. Photo: Courtesy of SheJumps

“The goal is that because of the educational experiences they’ve had with Wild Skills, they’ll have the confidence to speak up, make a hard call and choose safety first,” says Pelland. “If girls develop this skillset in the mountains, I’m willing to bet they’ll be applying it in other areas of their life as well such as school, relationships and the workplace.”

“Wild Skills can teach girls from a young age that it doesn’t matter that they are a girl,” adds Smallwood. “With hard work, persistence and dedication they can accomplish anything. The mountains don’t care if you’re a guy or a girl.”

Get involved

“SheJumps is an awesome program in general, and especially Wild Skills,” says Taft. “To all the women out there who have access to SheJumps, who have the opportunity to attend events, absolutely do it, because it’s so much fun.”

If your little girl is just getting into skiing, it's never too early to teach her potentially life-saving skills. Photo: Courtesy of SheJumps

The Junior Ski Patrol day camp will continue throughout the winter season at the following mountains:

Park City: Dates Pending (February)

Sun Valley: March 24

Crystal Mountain: March 31

Big Sky: April 7

Alta: Dates Pending (April)

Sign up for the events here: https://www.getwildskills.org/ or bring the program to your community by contacting your local SheJumps coordinator:http://www.shejumps.org/get-involved/

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