Hard to believe that this year will be the 3rd Annual SheJumps Alpine Finishing School!
I am busy preparing the menu for the course again, making sure I have all of my own stuff packed, and somehow get out the door for the 18 hour drive north.
The past 6 weeks of skiing have been amazing here in Utah, here is a shot from a surprise spring graupel storm that hit Alta yesterday. Although last week was total melt-down, it was fun to do some spring skiing and slushy touring in preparation for the course.
The world lost a great person yesterday. Sam Thompson was 44 years old, according to his trips around the sun. But the truth is, he was young at heart and never afraid to live free. When most would have succumbed to “the grind” years ago, he still lived his ruthlessly positive and inspirational adventuring lifestyle. He lived in a way that brought a smile to everyone around him. He always seemed to take a breath before speaking, think for a moment about what he was about to say–and it was always positive. He really was Mr. Cool.
Sam took time to teach me how to kiteboard. I had so many friends who kited in Hood River, but many didn’t want to take the time with their own agenda of shredding to teach someone. So there we were, out in the Columbia river, and he was so positive about it. So calm, cool, collected. Always.
That summer, Sam and I also climbed Mt. Adams together one day. It was a great adventure. We drove to the trailhead the night before and camped under the stars. We got up at 5 a.m. and started walking. It was much colder than either of us expected and we ended up huddling at the Lunch Counter on the flank of Adams together for about 2 hours waiting for the snow to soften up. We talked about everything under the sun. We shared some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and described some epic skiing day. The snow never softened, and we decided to “survival ski” the frozen suncupped snow back down to the car. Leave the climb for another day. On our way back down, we kept hearing this roaring coming up behind us. We wondered aloud as to what it was. Snowmobiles? There wasn’t enough snow (it was July). All of a sudden a 3 foot lifted Toyota Tacoma comes rolling through the forest climbing over giant fallen trees like a transformer. We looked at each other, shrugged, and jumped into the back of the pick up, amidst a sea of rattling, empty Coors cans. Our redneck-hippie friends, complete with cob tobacco pipe, gave us a lift down the steep winding dirt road (so we didn’t have to walk it in our ski boots). The looks that Sam and I exchanged on that adventure were priceless. Both of us wondering if it was even a good idea to be in the back of this truck, but also just going with the flow of adventure. The Toyota lurched over trees that were almost 4 feet in diameter…Anyways, down at the bottom we shared beers with the guys and invited them to bbq. We both felt like we made friends for life that day, with each other and these strangers. I guess it’s just one of those things that the mountains provide for you: friends for life.
Today marks the 2 year anniversary of the passing of another phenomenal person that an avalanche took the life from. Jim Jack. Jim was a close friend of my brother’s while on the US freeskiing tour. (Jim was the president and head judge of the IFSA). Jim greatly influenced my life and my skiing. If I had never met Jim, I never would have been inspired to continue on my path to ski, and to ski for life. To never let go of it, and to never let competition results or the veil of brief glory be the reason why I skied. I wanted so desperately to score better in competitions, but it was Jim who made me realize that the real reason why we all ski is for the community. It’s all about the hugs, the high fives, the sharing of the beautiful moments in the mountains–those are the things that keep me coming back for more.
I was lucky enough to share many of those days with Sam at Alta and in Hood River over the past 6 years. He was loved by so many. His loss will be felt in this community for a long time to come. It’s likely something that will never feel better, because the deep cup of sorrow is as profound as the happiness it can also be filled with. The size of that cup for both Jim Jack and Sam was immense And as good as it feels to know people like that (and we all do), it is unbelievable how much it can hurt when they are gone.
My heart goes out to Sam’s family and loved ones. The entire LCC community is reeling from this–as Sam was one of the best people any of us have ever known. Just simply the best. Never an unkind word spoken from him mouth, always ready for an adventure, always smiling. These are the things that are important. I want to be more like Sam, and Jim Jack. I want to make people feel better when they are around me; take a breath before I speak.
Rest in Peace Sam. Rest in Peace, Jim Jack.
So excited about the PNW and all the SheJumps events going on there right now!! We just had a really successful weekend at Steven’s Pass. Coming up on February 23rd is the 2nd Annual Get the Girls Out event at Mt. Bachelor in Bend, OR. Special prices for pre-registered lift tickets that benefit SheJumps, email email@example.com for more information!
As seen on BACKCOUNTRY.COM by Stephanie Nitsch
The wake-up call comes at 7 a.m. with whiffs of bacon and coffee that fill the bunkhouse. The smell promises a hearty start to the first day of the SheJumps’ Alpine Finishing School. As eight women organize their backpacks, SheJumps headmaster Claire Smallwood is prepping the day’s syllabus with the support of guides Kate Devine, Anne Keller and Michelle Smallman. Then they administer the first quiz of the session: a beacon drill.
Education has been at the core of the SheJumps organization since its inception in 2007, but the weeklong Alpine Finishing School in B.C.’s Selkirk Mountains is the group’s most technical and advanced course for aspiring big-mountain skiers and splitboarders. It’s not a dainty charm school in the old-fashioned, act-like-a-lady sense: SheJumps co-founders Smallwood, Lynsey Dyer and Vanessa Pierce are hell bent on giving women more rugged and aggressive opportunities in the outdoors. But in doing so, SheJumps is teaching them how to refine their snowcial grace in the backcountry, starting with a few ladylike guidelines.
Lesson #1: Be a gracious leader
Leadership is a cardinal lesson in the SheJumps handbook, which is why every AFS student gets a chance to call the shots on a tour. As Smallwood has observed, women often rely on education and knowledge before making decisions, but gaining that experience can be difficult to come by if you’re struggling to keep up with the rest of your group. “At one point or another, most women have probably felt like the weakest link in the backcountry,” she says. To counter that, AFS is led by women who display the qualities of what it means to be a good leader.
Lesson #2: Master the art of conversation
Communication in the backcountry is a constant group effort, and having the right vernacular lets the students be an active member of the tour’s objectives. “We teach the importance of speaking up and asking questions about setting skintracks or digging pits,” Smallwood says, “so we focus on giving them the vocabulary to talk about their environment and experiences.” Even off-snow conversations dig into the meaty topics that girly sleepovers are made of: stories of bad crashes, powder days and the unspoken alliance among female skiers and snowboarders.
Lesson #3: Embrace your tender emotions
“Evolutionally speaking, women are more communal and supportive [than men],” Smallwood says. “We want to talk about how we feel or how we perceive something.” Yet making decisions in a co-ed outing—often skewed in favor of masculine, dominant personalities—are rarely based on the emotional logic that’s ingrained in a woman’s mind. That perceptual vulnerability, however, is supported among SheJumpers. “If you ask the guides a question,” Smallwood says, “you’ll get both an emotional answer and a scientific, objective answer in return. It makes women more confident in their decision-making process.”
Lesson #4: Cultivate a taste for fine accessories
There’s a certain kind of je ne sais quoi that comes with dangling from a dead-man anchor, rappeling from the lodge rafters or self-arresting after a fall just for fun—and having the gear to do it. The equipment list for novice ski mountaineers is intimidating and expensive, but learning how to use the right tools can inspire a new love for accessorizing. Smallwood points to ACMG guide Kate Devine, who has a way of wrapping up her cordelette. “They’re perfect and look beautiful sitting on her harness,” Smallwood says. “It’s not so much gear envy as it is seeing a woman use technical gear really well.”
Lesson #5: Dress like a lady
Special occasions call for a special wardrobe, which is why, inevitably, someone will don a sparkly tutu before heading into a stormy abyss. “A tutu is everything that’s wrong and right with women’s fashion,” Smallwood says. “It’s the most feminine thing you can wear, but wear it when you’re doing a crevasse rescue and it becomes an extension of the SheJumps philosophy.” That is: have as much fun as you can in your life, and, in the process, make it fun for everyone else.
Bob Allen and I are well into our first month of work at the Alta Chalet’s property, the Wildcat Chalet.
The Wildcat Chalet, if you’re not familiar, is a private single-family lodging facility in Alta, Utah. My friend Bob has been the chef and manager of the Wildcat since it was built, 16 years ago. Alta Chalets is the company that manages this chalet and many other beautiful rental homes around Alta.
I have been working here for 6 years. What started as a seasonal job has morphed into a full-time obsession and career for me. When I’m not running SheJumps, I make my money cooking delicious food here and at other chalets around Alta. The food we make focuses on being fresh, creative, healthy, and satisfying. From the moment you walk in the door from skiing, there are amazing après ski snacks waiting for you to tide you over until dinner: pan-fried mushroom medley with goat cheese, prosciutto-wrapped pears with balsamic reduction, triple cream brie cheese with strawberry-pinot jelly…These are just a few of the treats that Bob has shared with his guests over the years.
My role at the chalet is to be Bob’s number one assistant. I take great pride in this job, even if no one ever really knows it. Bob has a very commanding lead in the house, but since I have been there for so long I like to convince myself that I, too, am an integral part of the program. I cook for Bob when he takes time off from the chalet and am there for every step of the meal in the kitchen. Here are some of the things we have been cooking this season so far:
I also spend my daytimes and any night we don’t have guests at the Wildcat Chalet cooking for Alta Chalets’ other guests around Alta. It’s not as easy to get the groceries there as it is to pull into the garage at the Wildcat. Here I am earning my keep, and getting some fresh tracks with the groceries at the same time!
Follow the #WildcatChalet on my @freelancevida Instagram feed for more high-altitude culinary adventures!
Last Saturday was the first INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S SKI DAY! I can’t believe that it never existed before. Huge thanks to Alyssa Clark for thinking to google search it one day and come up with the idea to create one! Did you know that there is an International Talk Like a Pirate day? I mean, come on! If we have that, we should definitely be celebrating something as awesome as women getting together to slide down snow.
SheJumps was a presenting partner with the event along with the K2 Ski Alliance. We made a great group effort to create events all around the globe. By partnering with local ski areas, we were even able to get discounted tickets at a few locations. I heard that Solitude had over 100 women show up! We had about 30 at Alta, and it could not have been a more spectacular day.
Over the past week, the temps have stayed cold so the snow is still pretty decent! I got to ski with many women who I had never met before, all of which said they follow SheJumps closely which made me feel really good. Sometimes it is so hard to volunteer for something for so long and not get burned out, but having events like these and hearing women say that SheJumps is making a difference in their life is truly touching.
I can’t wait to share a little video edit about the day, above is a group photo from our ladies at Alta and one of the ladies over in the Supreme area at Alta, with a cool afternoon fog rolling in. Below is a goofy one where I made them put their poles on their heads. It is usually something I see in South America all the time when I ask people to pose for photos on the mountain. Goofy! Happy IWSD!
This video just released on the Unlimited TV Banff youtube channel! Really makes me miss Chile, although the northern hemisphere winter is just around the corner!