Sign In:

×

Last Step!

Please enter your public display name and a secure password.

Plan to post in the forums? Change your default forum handle here!

×
×

​Women in the Mountains: Alyssa Gonzalez’s Journey into the Mountains with Women of Winter

Alyssa Gonzalez went from scholarship recipient to being a part of the four person team helping BIPOC women into the mountains. Alyssa Gonzalez photo.

If you’ve ever seen a ski film, flipped through an outdoor company’s catalog, walked into a lodge at the base of a ski hill, or just not been the athletic white male archetype that the outdoor industry historically caters to, you know that it’s not easy to be anything but that. Just the baseline cost of becoming a skier alone provides its own barrier. Gear, lift tickets, avalanche certifications if you want to get in the backcountry, and so on - they all add up quick. But suppose you’ve passed each financial barrier to the sport and you’re still met with the assertion that somehow because you are not that archetype, so you don’t belong here. These are the barriers that organizations like Women of Winter are trying to help break down by offering snowsports scholarships to BIPOC women. When Alyssa Gonzalez received one of these scholarships to complete her PSIA-AASI Level I snowsports instructor course last winter, it catalyzed a change in the way she experienced the mountains altogether. Now, as the Head of Communications and DEI for Women of Winter, Gonzalez is seeking to provide the same feeling of belonging in the outdoors to other women. We sat down to chat with Alyssa about her experience as a scholarship recipient and how the course shifted her path to the mountains.

Did you grow up skiing or was it something you found later on?

Alyssa Gonzalez: I grew up in Connecticut, in New England, so it was a very prevalent thing around me. I didn’t start skiing until four years ago - this is my fourth season. I just grew up in a pretty low economic household with just my mom, and I had a twin sister, and working lots of jobs and stuff, so skiing and snow sports just wasn’t really in the picture, or something I thought I should be spending time doing. Until I moved to Colorado and was able to start affording it on my own and finding education on it, that’s kind of when I got into it.

Did you get into it because of how prevalent ski culture is on Colorado’s Front Range?

AG: That was a huge part of it. I never really liked the snow or being cold, so I think part of it was everyone else was doing it, and I kind of wanted to see what it was like. Another part of it was trying to reframe my mindset around wintertime and not hating it so much. I ran track pretty much my whole entire life - I was a 400 meter hurdler, so I stopped running when I was about 23. Up until that point I didn’t want to do any sports that could potentially break my leg or hurt myself. I was just trying to find something different to do other than running and skiing just seemed like a really good way to do it.

What was your first season like?

AG: I’m grateful to be a decently athletic person so I got the hang of it pretty quickly. It wasn’t pretty, but I could get down the slope without completely ruining myself. I started mostly going to Winter Park, Copper, and Eldora. Just being on the Front Range it was easiest to get there. I did a lot of skiing by myself on green runs. Occasionally hopping on a blue to see what it felt like. Lots of falls, lots of mistakes with the gear - having skis that were too big, having boots that were too big, clothes that definitely weren’t snow appropriate. That whole first year was definitely a very big learning lesson, especially as an adult trying to get into the sport. Everyone on the Front Range has been skiing since they were like two years old. So I definitely felt like I had a lot of catch up to do.

The Women of Winter PSIA Level I instructor course took place in Big Sky, Montana last year. Alyssa Gonzalez photo.

What led you to pursue a PSIA certification last year?

AG: I actually saw a TGR post about the scholarship on Instagram, I’d been following them for a little bit because I have some friends that work with you all. I have always instructed sports, since I was 16, that was one of my first jobs. I’ve mostly worked with children in sports and so getting into skiing, I didn’t think I was good enough in my mind to be an instructor and I kind of just applied on a whim and was like, oh if I get it, that’d be super cool, if I don’t, no harm. I ended up getting the scholarship awarded to me and I got the certification and it was a really cool experience to be able to expand the instruction background that I already have in a lot of sports more into the outdoors.

Did completing the certification give you more of a sense of belonging and feeling like you knew what you were doing out there?

AG: Definitely, yes. Last year was my third season skiing, so I was one of the newer ones in the bunch of women getting the scholarship. We had a two-day course and a two-day exam. So we had two full days on snow with one of the best PSIA instructors in the country and she was just kind of going over what we’d be going over in the exam, but at the same time critiquing our skiing abilities and giving us tips on how to get better. So that was my first ski lesson, actually. I’d never had a ski lesson before that, I’d kind of just taught myself how to ski. Just within those two days, I got infinitely better at skiing. But also, having the certification, for me, I think made me feel a little bit more official. I know not every instructor has to have that, but as a woman of color in the ski industry, I feel like a lot of us have to prove ourselves a little bit more. Especially as someone who didn’t have like twenty years of skiing under their belt already. It made me feel a little bit more confident in being able to start instructing and start leading in the snow sports industry.

That’s so badass that you got PSIA after only skiing for three years.

AG: I’ll be instructing at Eldora this winter, and whenever I’m like oh, yeah, I’m a ski instructor, I feel like everyone assumes that I’ve been skiing my entire life and also they assume I’m some crazy ripper. I don’t know how to ski moguls, I don’t ski super steep stuff. There are levels of it where I can still teach someone to ski without being the best skier ever. That was a big thing for me, like why I wanted to get this certification. I had that same idea too, like if you’re a good skier, that’s how you become an instructor. It was a lot of reframing of what a skier actually is. I’m hoping that through the certification, I can help other people find that. Even if you identify as a mediocre skier, you can still teach other people how to have fun on snow.

Participating in the course prompted Gonzalez to seek out more diverse groups to recreate with. Shannon Corsi photo.

Can you talk about how the course felt different with all women and BIPOC participants?

AG: Growing up in Connecticut and going to school in Iowa and living in Colorado, I’ve predominantly always been in white spaces and race and being different was never really something that I thought about because no one around me was thinking about that. I didn’t realize it until I got to Big Sky last year [for the course] with the group of women that was there. That was the first time in my life that I’d been surrounded by exclusively people of color, especially people of color in the mountains. For me that was an extremely moving experience, it really highlighted how important that opportunity was for me, especially in the mountains and in the sports that I’m doing. Surrounding yourself with people that understand things, that you don’t have to explain yourself to, that just get it on a baseline. We were all there just loving skiing. A lot of the weight that I, as a woman of color, feel when I’m in predominantly white spaces, kind of went away. I wasn’t worried about any micro-aggressions or people asking me like what am I, or assuming I didn’t know how to do a sport. Any of those things that come up for people of color in the outdoors. It was a really comforting and truly inclusive space. For me, I’m a mixed race person, I’m half Asian and half Hispanic and I have struggled to feel like I belong in any sort of space. That was one of the first times too where I was like “I belong here, there’s no question about that,” everyone here has different experiences but we can all connect on that level. So it was a really really cool opportunity and helped me to try and find more BIPOC spaces like that, especially in the outdoors.

So building off of that, how have your experiences in the mountains changed since the course?

AG: Mentally, I feel a lot more confident and empowered and like I can do a lot more. I guess I'm a lot more confident in general, since the scholarship and since being in that space. It’s really motivated me to do a lot of advocacy work around diversity and inclusivity in the outdoors, because before this scholarship I think I had the mindset that the outdoors is just white, that’s all it is. This showed me that it’s not, there’s other people that look like me and that are diverse and recreate outside and do these sports, and it’s just a matter of creating space for them. So, mentally, it made me feel a lot more confident and empowered to be outside and know that there are other people out there trying to diversify the space. On the other side of that, I’ve just really tried to search for more spaces in the mountain sports that I’m doing that are inclusive and diverse. I find a lot of value in having those diverse people. It’s like a mixture of not only just finding BIPOC groups but having white people mixed in, or different ability levels, or disabled people, or anything like that to diversify the spaces I’m recreating in to gain more perspective on the sports I’m doing too.

What reasons would you give to encourage other women of color to apply for the scholarship?

AG: In the outdoors in general and definitely snow sports, there are a lot of inequities that women face, especially women of color. So scholarships like this and spaces that are catered towards women and BIPOC women are just more of an attempt to help break down some of those barriers and inequities that so many of us face. Being able to take advantage of these experiences and gain education and community, it’s something I think everyone should have an opportunity to take. The more that people can apply for these scholarships, find these educational opportunities, find these spaces, I think it will just help diversify the outdoors, and get people in it in a safe way too.

Finding skiing redefined Gonzalez's relationship with winter altogether. Alyssa Gonzalez photo.

Shifting gears to Women of Winter, how did you go from being a scholarship recipient to having the role in the organization that you do now?

AG: Kind of like I was saying earlier, the whole experience really shifted a lot for me internally. I think I had a huge personal awakening, especially in the last year, and definitely since the scholarship. It played a huge role in my mindset and the way I was doing things and the way I was recreating. I just found a lot of importance in my own personal advocacy work for diversity and inclusivity in the outdoors, specifically for women of color. Having worked with a team and seeing how impactful it was for me and the other women who received the scholarship, I reached out to Chris [Walch] and explained that whatever i could do to support them, cause they are such a small team, I just wanted to be able to support them in any way I could with the skills I had. So, I reached out to her, we started chatting, kinda seeing what that would look like and we found the Head of Communications for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and that’s how it formed.

What are some of the goals Women of Winter has moving forward?

AG: There are only four of us, none of us are full time, we all have other things we’re doing, but Women of Winter is our very passionate project that we want to keep going and building. I think in the future a lot of growing and expanding and maintaining the goal of providing opportunities for women of color and other women too to just empower themselves in the mountains and find leadership and educational opportunities. To create a bunch of cool, badass women who are educated and ready to help lead others in the outdoors. 

RELATED: Read more about how Christeen Walch started Women of Winter

You can find information about the Women of Winter scholarships  here. Application for the 2021 program end October 31. 

Play
READ THE STORY
Nick McNutt -The Aftermath of the Faulty Transceiver Saga - LPP #189
Up Next Ski

Nick McNutt -The Aftermath of the Faulty Transceiver Saga - LPP #189

Nick McNutt -The Aftermath of the Faulty Transceiver Saga - LPP #189

It's been a year and a half since Nick's near fatal accident skiing pillows on a TGR shoot in March 2020. The one where he was buried and his transceiver failed. He talks about the fallout from bringing attention to the faulty device and Black Diamond's luke warm response to take accountability. He describes his experience of the nearly 6 minutes spent under the snow, the training he and his crew used to save his life as well as and the physical and mental effects that were the result of

Play
READ THE STORY
​TGR Tested: Atomic Hawx Ultra 130
Up Next Gear & Tech

​TGR Tested: Atomic Hawx Ultra 130

​TGR Tested: Atomic Hawx Ultra 130

The new Atomic Hawx Ultra 130 sure is a looker - and it skis damn well too. | Atomic photo. I haven’t been one to ski a dedicated resort boot in quite a few years. With the stellar performance that crossover boots have offered recently – including Atomic’s own walk-mode boots – I just haven’t really seen the point, but testing the new Atomic Hawx Ultra 130 made me realize what I’ve been missing out on. A few inbounds days Jackson Hole confirmed my suspicions - I was blown away by how

Play
READ THE STORY
Podcast: Caite Zeliff on When Women Fly
Up Next Ski

Podcast: Caite Zeliff on When Women Fly

Podcast: Caite Zeliff on When Women Fly

The iconic Caite Zeliff. Two-time Queen of Corbet's, Jackson Hole shredder, and as of late, paraglider Caite Zeliff sat down with the When Women Fly podcast to chat. Maybe it was Zeliff's sick lines in that caught your eye, or perhaps her go-getter attitude filming in Alaska for the first time in Either way, the podcast dives into her journey to become a professional skier, her childhood and ending up in Jackson Hole, how she balances obsession and success, being a female in a