Two weeks after graduating college in Oregon with a degree in foreign languages (she speaks four), Claire Smallwood hopped on a flight to Jackson, Wyoming, and met fellow skiers Lynsey Dyer and Vanessa Pierce at a coffee shop. The trio wanted to find a way to unite the scattered, underground posse of girl skiers they were part of and bring more women into that fold. The result? SheJumps, a nonprofit co-founded by Smallwood.
Ten years later, Smallwood, 32, is still at the helm of the organization as executive director. She manages a 51-person team, including 45 volunteers around the country, working to introduce women and underserved kids to skiing and other sports. "Claire's heart is big and her commitment to helping the younger version of herself keeps her pushing forward," says Dyer, who's often considered the face of SheJumps while Smallwood runs operations backstage. "Claire loves skiing and couldn't be more committed to making it available to those not as privileged."
Growing up in New Mexico, nobody in my family skied except my older brother. I learned to ski through subsidized school skiing programs. It opened me up to this sense of freedom I'd never experienced.
In college, I got involved in the ski and snowboard club. I figured out how to get a free season pass by organizing a bus and becoming the president of the ski club. I dove into being part of this community of skiers. It became who I was.
The hardest part of learning a new language: People are so afraid of making a fool of themselves. I went to Senegal, in Africa, and decided to learn the Senegalese dialect, called Wolof. People so appreciated that I was even trying and that opened doors for me.
Learning other languages was the single best thing I ever did. Being multilingual is empowering. It enabled me to learn so much about myself by seeing how other people express themselves.
My ultimate vision for SheJumps has always been the same: How are we helping women find community and challenge themselves in the outdoors? We stress that it's not about becoming the best at something; it's about becoming the best person you can be.
Let's get women at the forefront of conservation: climate change, sustainability, and increasing the diversity in the outdoors. Women are—and will continue to be—a force to be reckoned with.
I work full-time hours with part-time pay for SheJumps. There have been times when I've wanted to give up, but when I look at my team of people—these engaged, passionate women—I'm like, 'We need to stick with this no matter how hard it is.'
I'm not skiing bell to bell like I thought life would be as a ski bum in Little Cottonwood Canyon. I put my skis on two days a week, no matter what. But you make sacrifices because there's a part of me intellectually that wouldn't feel balanced if I just skied every day.
You need to have a North Star, a place you go all the time. A place that makes you the happiest, rather than just the things you should be doing. People are constantly looking at what other people are doing. I say, 'Do what you want to be doing.'
Don't be so scared. I wish that I'd gotten more encouragement to say, 'It's OK to do this and fail.'
Running a women's organization, you have to navigate the waters carefully. You don't want to come across as brash or unbending, yet at the same time it's important to not continue those stigmas of women being too wimpy to say what they really mean.
I've been working as a chef at the Wildcat Chalet at Alta for 10 years. I lied about how good I was at making desserts in order to get the job. I was never a crazy foodie. But I showed up every day and I worked.
My friends will say, 'Let's chase this storm,' or 'Do you want to go cat skiing in Canada or go to Alaska?' Of course I want to, but if I did that, it'd be financial ruin. In the summer, I rack up credit card debt buying groceries. In the winter, I pay it off. I guess I'm a bit of a martyr, but I see there's a greater good involved.
There's a lot to be learned from making desserts. Combining sugar, butter, and flour teaches you the tenets of a good life: Stay organized, put some love into it, dream big, have fun, and don't forget to clean up your mess.
This story originally published in POWDER’s October 2017 issue (46.2). To have award-winning ski journalism delivered to your door, subscribe today.