Becoming a backcountry babe in Summit County
summit daily news
Twelve years ago, Leslie Ross wanted to start a program for women that inspired connection through outdoor adventures.
She had been a volunteer at the Summit Huts Association, and through it, realized that not many women were coming to the huts. Those that were didn’t often have a solid education in backcountry safety.
And so Babes in the Backcountry was born.
It’s been holding events from yoga retreats to telemark and steep and deep camps this winter, and have a few more coming up – the Spring Equinox Full Moon yoga retreat from Friday-Sunday, Sisters in the Steeps on April 1-3 in Silverton and a women’s spring hut trip on April 22-23.
Each has its own unique character and list of events, and each is designed for a different purpose. The steeps camp is meant to build confidence on the hill while the spring hut trip is open to skiers of all abilities who want to learn more about the backcountry and bond with like-hearted women. And there are mountain biking adventures when the snow melts for those wanting to head out in summer.
“I wanted to start a program with high level educators conveying information in a user-friendly way,” Ross said. She also wanted it to be an environment that encouraged women to learn and not be overshadowed.
That’s something Heather Hansman valued from her experiences with the organization. She lent a hand in logistics for Babes’ trips about four years ago and now is an online editor for Skiing Magazine in Boulder.
Having participated in several trips, she said her favorite aspect was finding a group of women who also wanted to venture into the wild.
“It was the only place to go on these trips and it would be a non-intimidating learning experience,” Hansman said.
She added that an all-women environment enables participants to be more involved in decision-making, can work toward a consensus and not be overshadowed by men.
Ross’ idea was a hit – an Avalanche One clinic filled up with a long waiting list.
She sought female teachers such as Betsy Armstrong, though few were in the field at the time.
“Now, there are so many young women coming up through the ranks to teach avalanche courses,” Ross said. “It’s really cool.”
Soon, telemark skiing clinics and steeps camps morphed into the business plan. Ross wanted the women learning about avalanches to be able to move through the backcountry environment. Not to mention, she had some ski instruction background.
For the most part, Babes is powered by Ross and independent contracts with instructors, but she’s had staff before. And there’s a team of volunteers known as the Babes Squad who earn free classes through their work.
Ross has story after story of how women who have come through her camps have gone on to instruct, become patrollers, to be field guides, and to lead their own recreational trips.
And that’s what keeps her going.
“When the clinic is all together … they’re so excited and getting it and the clinic is changing their life. They’re inspired,” Ross said, adding that friendships form and last from the events.
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