19 August 2015

How I #DefineFeminine in the Outdoors

When I was asked to participate on a panel for the Arc'Teryx #DefinineFeminine campaign at an event cosponsored by SheJumps, I was a lot excited and a little nervous. "I can talk for 10 minutes about what being a female adventurer means to me, no problem!" I thought.

Then, I found out my fellow panelists were Claire Smallwood, Dianne Hoff, Kim Kirchner, and Jenny Abegg. Suddenly I was a LOT nervous. These women co-founded SheJumps, served as the first female President of The Mountaineers, established what it means to be a female ski patroller at Crystal Mountain, and lived in a van to represent Arc'Teryx as a professional climber, respectively. What business do I have in their ranks?

But when opportunity knocks you have to answer, and ultimately it's good to put yourself in situations that make you nauseous every now and then (I think?). So it's with humility and a healthy dose of nerves that I stood up in front of about 40 ladies and told my story, which a few friends asked me to recreate in a blog for you here.

If you're a regular blog reader you will know much of this already, but in creating my presentation for the panel I came to realize just how many pieces of my life have come together put me where I am today. A place where I am happy, healthy, and personally and professionally fulfilled. The following is more or less what I said in my  10-minute talk, with each picture representing a slide I put up on the screen while I was talking. I hope you enjoy.

I was recently featured as a Jumper by SheJumps, and some of you may have read that piece and so a few of these points may sound familiar. My talk today will follow the general outline from that article, but today I hope to give you a little more insight into what being a female adventurer means to me. Let's start here with my personal mission statement - how it is that I #DefineFeminine:
I believe our feminine power comes from embracing all things ridiculous. Do what makes you happy - it shows strength of character. Be who you are and opportunities will follow. 
I also believe that, as women, we can use our collective voice to present a fresh take on what it means to be an adventurous female. We can earn new respect for ourselves and from others. In doing so we will gain so much more than recognition through gear with pink bows on it.
That's what it means to me to be an adventurous female. Now the backstory on how I got there:

My story starts at a young age. I was born in Kalispell, Montana to skier-parents, who had actually met in Steamboat, Colorado, where my dad was an instructor. With parents like that, I was destined to be a skier. I like to joke that I practically came out of the womb with ski boots on my feet (sorry mom). My affinity for pink started at an early age:

I love that I'm making the same face in this picture as in my Mission Statement photo. Seriously, do a little side by side. Kind of ridiculous and awesome.

I grew up skiing but wasn't really that good at sports. Ball sports specifically were hard for me - the whole hand-eye coordination thing being outside of my general scope - so I stuck to downhill pursuits. I spent a lot of time skiing, but I also spent a lot of time being a moody teenager and not skiing (for more on that topic read my blog about why I embrace being ridiculous).

As a young girl, I went through an especially long awkward phase....which lasted into college, where I was a member of the "super cool" marching band. One thing remained consistent throughout my life though: I've always had a flare for the dramatic (sleeves). Exhibits A and B:

Awkward Phase, Grade 3

Awkward Phase, Grade 15 (College Junior)

While I like to think I'll always be a bit awkward, I did eventually grow up a little. One thing I don't talk often about often - but I want to highlight now -  is my own personal path to wellness. In college I was on my own for the first time and didn't have the funds (or a car) to maintain my previous level of activity. With college came late night food-binges of french fries and ice cream binges, and there was alcohol. Before I knew it I had gained the "freshman fifteen".... and then some.

It took me a few more years after graduation to reach the point where I was ready to take action and put my personal wellness first. I joined WeightWatchers and lost 20 lbs in 20 weeks. Losing the weight was a lot of hard work, and I want to emphasize that it's not what I'm advocating for anyone, but it was the right choice for me. As females we deal enough with body shaming and negative self-worth due to weight, but for me I prioritized losing weight to be able to do more active things. It worked.

Weight Watchers. Before and After.

Suddenly everything was easier. I could run for longer distances without getting fatigued. I joined a running group. Soon I was a leader in the run group and before I knew it I was running a marathon! I felt better about myself and was just happier in general. I took more social risks and became more confident. I met a ton of really high-quality people who I feel very lucky to call my friends.

I started climbing regularly in 2008, after a trip to Patagonia over Christmas 2007. When I lost the weight in 2010, I made climbing an even bigger part of my life. I jumped up from a solid 5.9 climber to a competent 10b/c leader. Every weekend I was cragging with my friends or planning the next big trip. We were weekend warriors, calling Leavenworth, Mazama, Vantage, and Smith Rock home. I met some of my very best friends climbing. Climbing really cemented my place in the outdoor community, and helped ground my personal core in the outdoor culture.

Then in 2012 I went backcountry skiing for the first time with my friend Imran. And that was it for me - I had met the outdoor love of my life. It really was love at first "skin". 

My first time BC skiing in the Mt. Baker sidecountry. Thigh-deep pow and lots of new friends.

I've said before that backcountry skiing is this awesome love-child of snowshoeing and downhill skiing. It offers the quiet, blissful experience of walking through fresh, snowy tracks far from the beaten path with the sheer exhilaration of swift, snowy descents. I love powder. I love going fast. And I love doing these things with people who love doing these things.

As I learned more and more about backcountry safety and met more people who like to get out and ski year round, I really began to feel at home. I had found my "people". They encouraged my love for pink and tutus and rainbows. Take this photo for example:

Keith's Hut, January 1, 2013

Knowing only one other person, I traveled to Canada to spend four-days in the backcountry in Keith's Hut. One morning I noticed everyone had some pretty colorful jackets, and made all of these strangers line up to take a ROY-G-BIV photo. When I got home, this quickly became my favorite photo from the trip, and was my Facebook cover photo for more than a year.

But what's really great is this photo started to circulate on social media. My community united over this "handstand rainbow". Now I know almost everyone in this picture - all of us connected by social media after the trip.

Then, for Mother's Day 2013, I wore a tutu on the annual Mt. St. Helen's Mother's Day Ski/Climb. To the surprise of no one, I loved it and never wanted to take it off. Of course it was pink.

Mother's Day, 2013.

Everyone wears some sort of dress on Mother's Day (yes, even the men), but wearing a tutu isn't exactly a common choice on the mountain. After Mom's Day I was never planning to wear it all the time, but when I climbed Rainer, I grabbed the tutu on a lark and threw it on in the parking lot as a mostly-joke. Being with awesome outdoorsy people, they encouraged me to wear it.

Wear it I did, and I was only further encouraged when, a few miles later, we met a woman who inquired as to the purpose of my tutu. I told her it was for my birthday (a lie to cover up for the fact that I didn't feel like I had a good reason) when she stopped and exclaimed, "I have a birthday banner in my bag! - It's one of my 10 Essentials!"

Wait. WHAT?!?!

I had just started my job at The Mountaineers - the inventors of the 10 Essentials - only a week before. And here was a woman validating my choice in attire AND employer all in one statement. I knew I was onto something. This tutu....this tutu was going to be a thing.

And so I wear it, to this day, because otherwise this experience never would have happened. It made me realize the truth staring me in the face: the tutu is the ultimate backcountry icebreaker.

A birthday banner: one of the 10 Essentials. Who knew?

So then I started wearing the tutu everywhere. Skiing. Skydiving. Running. Climbing. In Norway on Fjords. In Croatia after discovering an underground drug route. On the top of Mt. Hood. And I influenced my friends to wear tutus too. It's no fun to be a solo ballerina.

Mt. Rainier's Russel Glacier with Theresa; Skydiving with Allison.

Fjords of Norway, half-way up Nordmannviktinden.

And this is where the story comes full circle: remember my friend Imran who first took me backcountry skiing? Well I met him in my run group, and not only does he encourage my love for pink flair, he's the one who first introduced me to The Mountaineers. He - and the outdoor community - are the reason I have this job that I love. I find so much inspiration in the rich history of exploration and conservation in our club.

I love this woman's shirt. Go Mountaineers!

It's through The Mountaineers that I came to be involved with other great organizations like SheJumps. I sought a partnership with SheJumps to host Lysney Dyer's all-female ski movie Pretty Faces. I interviewed Lynsey for Mountaineer magazine. My chat with her was so inspiring to me personally that I continue to volunteer and be involved with SheJumps today.

My friend Christy and her daughters with Lynsey. This was the first day we met. Today she's one of my favorite people.

My article on Lynsey and her mission to empower more girls to get outside. Read the full article here.

Talking to Lynsey - someone I have looked up to in my own skiing career - about how she hopes to inspire the next generation of girls to get out really was a dream come true. I feel very grateful to be in the position I'm in, where I get to work on so many incredible projects. In my role as the Marketing and Membership Manager I am tasked with telling our "Mountaineers Story". I'm especially proud of this video I wrote and produced about the history of The Mountaineers, and our lasting impact on the Pacific Northwest:


The best part is I know this is just the tip of the iceberg. So many opportunities are available to me - and to us as ambitious female adventurous - to get out there and do what we love. It all starts with embracing what is unique about you. What makes you "tick". In chasing your own happiness first you will find yourself in the right place at the right time with the right people to take advantage of the types of opportunities you are seeking.

This is one of my new favorite photos, and it was taken on the top of Steamboat Prow in May. Twenty-one of us hauled skis onto the Inter Glacier to celebrate my friend Theresa's 30th birthday. Many of us wore tutus, even the boys. And out of the 21 people who left the parking lot, 11 of us made it to the prow, six of the "summitters" being female. Because that's what it means to #DefineFeminine today - doing what makes you happy, and surrounding yourself with people who find happiness doing what you do, even when it's a little bit ridiculous.

Happy Birthday Theresa.

Because really, life would be better if we wore more tutus. 

“So go ahead, put yourself out there. Try something new. Be scared and vulnerable. Let things get messy. You might discover you can achieve more than you thought you could. Or it might not work out as you hope. But at least you tried. And I’m willing to bet that just the act of trying will make you feel really alive.”
– Avery Stonic

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