I had a lot to learn at the S.A.F.E.-A.S. (Skiers Advocating and Fostering Education for Avalanche and Snow Safety) women’s avalanche safety workshop. Really basic, slightly embarrassing things like how to change the batteries in my beacon. Less embarrassing, non-snow related things like how to deal with people who make unnecessary apologies (our instructors recommended punishing with push-ups). The class provided us with some of the most important tools we need to continue our exploration of the backcountry, but most importantly, it gave us the opportunity to connect with like-minded women.
Bear with me; I know I’m not the first to point out that there are fewer female mountain athletes than men. But it’s true that ladies who love to ski find themselves consistently outnumbered by the dudes. Not so at the S.A.F.E.A.S. clinic at Stevens Pass on Sunday, December 15. With around 30 women participating, and a team of female professional skiers, avalanche forecasters, organizers, photographers, and writers making the event happen, any man that entered the room immediately felt out of place.
The women leading the course—Ingrid Backstrom, Elyse Saugstad, Lel Tone, Michelle Parker, and Jackie Paaso—emphasized an atmosphere of honesty and openness. Opening up about their own experiences us to learn from them as well. Backstrom discussed feeling the need to prove herself when she was first coming onto the scene, refusing to speak up about lines that intimidated her or situations that seemed unsafe. Tone shared her mistake of choosing a line that was a little too technical for her ability level. And Saugstad opened up about her own experience being buried in with an avalanche in the nearby backcountry in 2012. It was her first time back at Steven’s Pass since that horrific day.
By sharing their own mistakes, uncertainties, and bad decisions, these women taught us that it’s okay to be unsure, and that we all will make close calls at some point—and that’s alright. They also taught us that those close calls are a chance to learn exactly what not to do, and go out smarter and safer the next time.
It was an experience that I, as a relatively young skier, have never had—an all-girls day on the mountain. And it wasn’t about après drinks and cute gear. It was about learning the skills and gathering the tools that we need to continue getting out there and getting rad. We owned up to girl crushes and picked the brains of some of the most experienced women in the sport about snowpack and terrain choices and how they plan their trips. We laughed and stretched our way through an early-morning yoga session and learned the basics of rescue on the hill, much to the entertainment of lift-riders.
“Yeeeah ladies!” yelled a snowboarder as he raised his Rainier in a salute. My sentiments exactly, I thought, as we raised our shovels and cheered back.