Cold Confidence: Junior Ski Patrol for Girls

SheJumps’ Wild Skills hits the slopes

Interview by Hailey Hirst

We take our outdoor experiences with us wherever we go. The skills we learn, the confidence we gain – those things extend beyond the trail or the ski hill. The women of SheJumps think so too.

The organization aims to increase the participation of women and girls in outdoor activities. They’re all about creating opportunities to Jump In, Jump Up, and Jump Out – from never-ever outdoorswomen who jump in for the first time, already active women who jump up and try something new, and elite athletes who jump out to be positive female role models.

I caught up with the women of SheJumps to learn about their winter Wild Skills program: Junior Ski Patrol, where girls ranging in age from 8-16 spend a day with ski patrol mentors learning mountain safety and first aid.

Interview has been condensed from written Q&A with Christy Pelland, Claire Smallwood, and notes from Tracy Remelius.

What is Wild Skills all about? And how was the Junior Ski Patrol program born?

She Jumps’ Wild Skills youth events teach young girls the survival and technical skills they need for outdoor adventuring. These skills can be applied in any season or region and include first aid, navigation, leave no trace, 10 essentials, shelter building and more. Our events encourage girls to learn new skills, take on challenges and think creatively which develops perseverance and fosters confidence.

Since we launched Wild Skills, I’ve (Christy Pelland) had the rough idea to do winter programing centered around mountain safety. The idea kicked into high gear when my 7 year old daughter, Harper, started to show a big interest in ski patrolling.

What do your 8-16 year-old girls learn during the course of a Junior Ski Patrol day?

The experience is jam packed with everything from how to properly splint a broken bone to sharing local stories only patrollers know. We want these girls to feel they have the right information to make good decisions on the mountain, share that information with others and know when & how to get help if needed. Yet we also want them to feel connected to the mountain by knowing the codes, processes and people who keep it safe.

The itinerary of the day includes:

  • Briefing in the ski patrol headquarters
  • First aid: prevention and care of ski injuries, including role playing situations with splints and first aid kits, and practice loading and maneuvering rescue toboggans
  • Hot cocoa delivery by skiing unicorns
  • Lunch in the lodge
  • Avalanche rescue training: practice with avalanche beacons, probes, and shovels to conduct a treasure hunt practice search for buried donut holes, and a presentation with the avalanche dog program
  • Touring weather station and learning snow science and avalanche prevention
  • Free skiing time and fresh powder!
  • Certificates and sweet bags

Why are youth programs such a large focus for SheJumps?

The outdoors are captivating, dangerous, wondrous and wild – it’s an environment of high consequence where bad mistakes can mean your life. As a parent and outdoor educator, I want my girls taking calculated risks using all the information and skills they’ve gathered to make the best decision for the situation. The goal is that because of the educational experiences they’ve had with Wild Skills, they’ll have the confidence to speak up, make a hard call and choose safety first. If girls develop this skill set in the mountains, I’m willing to bet they’ll be applying it in other areas of their life as well such as school, relationships and the workplace.

Learning to navigate a toboggan

One of the biggest challenges we’ve notice in the outdoor industry is accessibility. While we don’t want the outdoors to be exclusive to certain demographics, it can definitely feel that way. What are your thoughts on that? How do your programs address that problem?

At its core, the demographic of our entire country is currently shifting. As the population of diverse communities grow, we feel an urgency to create opportunities for girls of all backgrounds to feel welcome and comfortable in the outdoors, especially by offering skills that encourage leadership.

If we don’t engage the youth of today (and not just the kids of the already-active let’s-go-skiing-and-biking-parents), the future landscape of outdoor recreational access will lose its motor. The outdoors needs to be made accessible for all, or there will be a bleak outlook for participation. We are highly focused on this element of our programming, and dedicate a minimum of 30% enrollment at all Wild Skills day camps to organizations who specifically work with underrepresented minority groups.

We love that you’re providing positive role models for young girls and teaching such valuable skills that can extend beyond skiing to all outdoor pursuits. What do you hope girls take away from this experience?

Our goal is to see girls learning, having fun and connecting in an encouraging environment with amazing instruction and support from female mentors. We want Wild Skills to be an experience they will remember, one that will spark a lifetime of passion for the outdoors and will remind them that they are capable of anything.

Bigger picture, I want these girls to have time with the incredible souls who commit their lives to being in the mountains. The insight and understanding that comes from spending the majority of your days above tree line – the stories and moments that have meant the most to them – and the passion that drives them.

 

When/where are the next Junior Ski Patrol day camps? How can we find out more?

Upcoming Junior Patrol days will be at Sun Valley (Idaho – March 31), Crystal Mountain (Washington – March 31) Big Sky (Montana – April 14) and Alta (Utah – date pending) – keep an eye on getwildskills.org for upcoming events.

For information on bringing the program to your community, contact your local SheJumps coordinator at shejumps.org/get-involved


 

Photos courtesy of She Jumps and their Crystal Mountain Junior Ski Patrol photographers, Ryan French and Blake Kremer.