SheJumps Adventure is calling and women across the country, and in Routt County, are answering

Story by: Audrey Dwyer, Steamboat Pilot & Today

For a split second — staring down the face of a glacier crevasse, standing before a climbing crag’s final pitch, balancing a bike wheel on the ledge of a single-track trail –there’s a moment of stillness.

Fear and courage are in debate. The choice lies between staying within the comfort zone, or, pushing forward, dropping in, jumping, climbing higher.

Daring to accomplish the seemingly impossible, this mantra has becoming the guiding concept of the intrepid tribe of young women known as SheJumps, the all-women, nonprofit organization stoking the fire of ambition and inspiring new outdoor pursuits.

Wearing bright and bold colors and ripping down a ski hill in tutus, this curious group of SheJumps creatures are known as “Girafficorns.”

The half giraffe, half unicorn mythical creature is the logo and symbol of SheJumps, designed by Lynsey Dyer, SheJumps co-founder and professional skier who also produced the first all-female ski movie “Pretty Faces.” The emblem represents “persevering and keeping your head held high above chaos and drama, having your feet on the ground, head in the sky and your magical friends by your side,” said Shelley Brook, SheJumps’ Rockies regional coordinator.

Though SheJumps has strong roots in the West—it was started in Jackson Hole 10 years ago by Dyer, Claire Smallwood and Vanessa Pierce—its following is spreading across the country, with regional directors in the Pacific Northwest, Northeast, Southeast and Rockies regions.

And in Steamboat Springs, the Girafficorn has made its mark.

“The Girafficorn” arrival

“For grown women wanting to learn new skills and go out and adventure, we shouldn't have to say things like ‘well, I want to learn how to (insert activity here), but first, I need to find a boyfriend who will teach me to do that,’" said long-time Steamboat local and SheJumps ambassador Laraine Martin.

Brook said SheJumps strives to increase the participation of women and girls in outdoor activities, focusing on doing so with free and affordable outdoor education opportunities that will provide women with the skills they need to be self-sufficient in the backcountry.

“I think women have a hard time speaking up to both ask questions and be leaders when guys are around,” Brook said. “This isn't always the case depending on personality types, but it definitely makes it harder for women who still have a lot to offer to the discussion but are not as outgoing. Perhaps there's the ‘someone else will take care of it’ mentality as well.”

AFS backcountry guides Shannon Werner and Jamie Hood discuss route options above the Albert Icefield en route to Cowboy Peak (photo: Laraine Martin).

No matter what skill level, SheJumps opens the door to opportunities for women to jump in, jump up and jump out.

“Jump in,” Brook said, is for the never-evers trying something new. “Jump up” is for women who want to improve their skills and self-sufficiency. And “jump out” is for women who have the outdoor skills and knowledge to be supportive mentors, role models and pass on that knowledge to others in the community.

Steamboat first SheJumps event, an all-women introductory fly fishing clinic (photos by David Reilly).

In October, Steamboat Springs hosted its first SheJumps event, an all-women introductory fly fishing clinic hosted by four avid anglers. The event was full just 72 hours after registration opened a month prior with 30 participants and a waiting list.

“Women can sometimes put themselves last take care of your kiddo first or your husband or your job first and sometimes we don’t necessarily take time for ourselves,” said Sancy Shaw, who recently went back to work full time this year as a teacher, is a mother of four who has lived in Steamboat for 14 years. “But that clinic was a full day to take for ourselves. It made me realize that I could do something on my own and that it’s OK to put me first.”

The clinic was led by four avid anglers: Alice Tesar, Landess Randall, Ginny Rice and April Lassiter (photo: David Reilly).

Whether skiing fishing, hiking, with a group of women who share a passion for the outdoors, Landes Randall, one of the fly-fishing clinic instructors said there’s an unmistakable sense of community, empowerment and encouragement present.

“When I was teaching the group of women to fish, one person caught a fish and everyone was excited and congratulated the lady who caught the fish,” said Randall. “There was this sense of encouragement rather than trying to out-compete each other.”

Nursing mothers, students and athletes, the women in the clinic varied in age and ability, yet each were there for similar reasons.

“Everyone seems to fish around here, and when you don’t but are interested in those activities, it can be intimidating to put yourself out there,” Shaw said. “It can be a deterrent for women trying a new sport or activity. There’s an intimidation factor when you’re walking in to anything new that you’ve never done before.”

Photos by David Reilly.

Topics to be covered throughout the day included knots, bugs, casting, putting a rod together, gear, river reading – plus, plenty of time to get out and fish.

“It never felt like you were asking a dumb question or too much of a rookie to be there,” Shaw said. “Instead of me going because my husband wants to fish, I now can say, ‘I’m going fishing. If you want to come along that’s great.’ Now, I’m not dependent on him, and he can enjoy fishing also where he’s not my babysitter in a way, continually helping me fix my line.”

“Regardless of how much more level the gender playing field has become over the past century, it remains that there is something special about learning technical skills in the outdoors with a group of women, facilitated by women who have excelled in that particular area,” Martin said.

SheJumps offers several main programs, including outdoor education, community initiatives, Get the Girls Out days, the Wild Skills youth initiative program and the Alpine Finishing School, a week-long glacier ski mountaineering course held at the Selkirk Backcountry Lodge outside of Revelstoke, British Columbia, each spring.

Jamie Hood guides the SJ AFS crew in the Selkirk Range (photo: Laraine Martin).

Jumping in

“When you're among your peers, you tend to challenge each other more,” said Brook. “It might be in the form of some friendly jabs or helping to ease irrational fears, or just the supportive ‘if I can do it, you can,’ but there's definitely a level of holding each other accountable and pushing limits together.”

Lacey Leskovar, longtime Steamboat local who often goes backcountry skiing and enjoys river and bike trips, had never attended an all-female-guided workshop focused on backcountry skills nor had she ski toured in glacier terrain, until the Alpine Finishing School opportunity came up.

Sunset from the deck at the Selkirk Lodge (photo: Laraine Martin).

The heli-accessed Selkirk Lodge and guide company has been owned and operated by the Devine family since it was constructed in the 1980s by Steve Devine, who died in an avalanche shortly after the lodge was built. His partner Grania Devine, her sister Reinet Shaw and his daughter Kate Devine, an ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides) ski guide, carry on the tradition.

The all-female IFMGA (International Federated Mountain Guides Associations) and ACMG ski guides are known for teaching SheJumps courses on terrain management, glacier travel, crevasse rescue, route planning, companion rescue, navigation and more.

AFS participants hiking up towards the primrose ice-field near the summit of Cowboy Peak, Primrose Icefielk and skiing down Cruiser to the base of the Albert Icefall (photos: Laraine Martin).

“Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and is intimidated by different aspects of the mountains,” Leskovar said. “When we were pushed beyond our comfort zones, and with encouragement and a supportive team, it was understood that being afraid is OK and that it’s even OK to talk about our fears. Finding strength through other people’s confidence in you is very revitalizing.”

Leskovar, Martin and Brook each took part in the course last spring. There, Leskovar said the guides challenged them to believe in their abilities, show team support, build competence and maintain positive visualization to safely get through what they needed to in a supportive, non-competitive, educational and enthusiastic environment.

Practicing partner crevasse rescue outside the lodge on a low-visibility day, grouping up to practice rope travel near Kate Lake, triangulating locations with map and compass, participants celebrate reaching The Loophole near 9,000 ft above the Justice Glacier (photos: Laraine Martin).

“For me, the experience of learning things like partner crevasse rescue and glacier travel from a group of female heli-ski guides while surrounded by women was an absolutely life-affirming and empowering thing,” Martin said.

“You're raw and vulnerable and supportive,” Brook added. “You're fully present and pushing your own limits. It's almost hard to put into words.”

Photo courtesy of SheJumps

A space for altruism

“After moving from San Francisco to Portland, I was itching to make some badass lady friends to explore the outdoors with,” said Valerie Brown, who recently moved to Steamboat Springs from Oregon and was involved with the SheJumps chapter there. “Someone recommended I go to a happy hour and meet the SheJumps group and see what events were around the corner. While the women had diverse backgrounds and experience with outdoor sports, the sense of community and love of adventure was evident in everyone.”

With the SheJumps chapter in Portland, Brown said she climbed Mount St. Helen in May, pushing her boundaries while still feeling supported and comfortable on the mountain. Being around such adventurous women also gave Brown the courage to embark on a solo-backpacking trip last summer through the Northern California Coast, the Narrows in Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon National Park.

Valerie Brown standing before the Grand Canyon National Park (courtesy photo).

“Community is essential to our sense of purpose and fulfillment in life,” Brown said. “I have moved a lot over the past few years, and it can be daunting to leave really good friends and strong communities for a new town with new adventures and a lot of new potential friends.”

“SJ helped me quickly integrate with mountain-loving endorphins junkies,” Brown added.

Valerie Brown with the SheJumps crew climbing Mount St. Helens (courtesy photo).

Over the last year, Brook said she received numerous emails from people interested in getting a SheJumps presence started in Steamboat. However, it was difficult with a lack of resources and an official ambassador in the area.

“It’s the individual people who are passionate about the mission who are willing to donate time, knowledge, resources and energy into providing these affordable experiences,” Brook said.

But after meeting Martin at the Alpine Finishing School in BC last spring, Brook knew she’d found the right person to bring SheJumps to Steamboat.

“The key to success is building the community, which Steamboat is doing really well,” Brook said. “It's not a club; there's no membership. It is driven by where local interests lie and the commitment of the community to jump in, jump up and jump out.”

SheJumps is a volunteer-run organization with 10 national directors, seven regional directors, 11 regional coordinators, over 40 ambassadors and countless community partners donating hundreds of hours to help organize these events and build the SheJumps community.

“The growth of SheJumps shows that we are part of a larger community of women finding confidence to achieve our dreams,” Leskovar said.

In Colorado, there's been a diverse range of She Jumps events held so far — from 10-person beacon clinics to 100-person movie nights.

Upcoming events in Steamboat include an International Women's Ski Day on Jan. 20 at the Steamboat Resort, which will offer a list of activities throughout the day for women and girls of all ages. Beyond that, Martin said there are plans for a wax and tune clinic for ski and ride equipment as well as ideas for next summer including an overnight, mountain bike-packing trip.

Largely community driven, SheJumps, according to Martin, gives Steamboat the opportunity to basically shape the Northwest Colorado chapter to the benefits of the community here in terms of marketing, national sponsor involvement, curriculum guidance and expertise.

“When we spend a lot of time adventuring and learning new outdoor skills and honing our practice, it's fun but leaves some of us with a sense that we've been internally focused without much mind to altruism,” Martin said. “As it turns out - anything we do, anything we love deeply, no matter how selfish - if we find ways to share that love and passion with others who could find similar happiness in the experience, well, we all win and are better for having done it together.”

To get involved with SheJumps or for more information, contact Martin at larainemartin88@gmail.com or visit shejumps.org.

AFS participant crossing the Albert Icefield (photo: Laraine Martin).


Story by Audrey Dwyer. Cover photo, created by Natalia_Kollegova - "volcano mountains clouds"

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