The wind had been blowing all morning. By the time we were headed to the cornice, it was whipped into an overhang so prominent that it seemed, even from the distant view on the chairlift, to cast a shadow. I asked my mom, who is closing in on 70 years old, whether she thought the arthritis gnawing at her knees should steer us toward a lower-angle entry. She went for the drop-off.
I tipped my skis off the edge, and three turns down, looked back to watch her clear the plunge. But she was already off, boot-deep in recycled powder. She told me later about first visiting this spot a decade ago. As we'd lined up at the rim, she'd wondered about the choice. Then a man in his 60s zipped past us, and she thought, surely if he could, she could do it, too. And of course, she could. She's been a professionally certified ski instructor for more than 45 years and still sails through the choppiest, most monstrous moguls.
She also embedded in me a sense that women can do anything outdoors they set their minds to. That's a rare gift in a world still marked with traces of the sense that women are not fast enough, strong enough or tough enough. Those misperceptions stamp to misshapen a woman's view of herself.
"I think that's the biggest internal barrier for women: Maybe they're not sure they can do it, or they might be nervous about it," Jan Reynolds said in a recent interview with Backcountry Magazine. Reynolds set records for high-altitude skiing in Tibet and circumnavigated Mount Everest in the 1980s, and has since made a study of women's cultural roles.
"I say, 'Just go!'" she continued. "You find out so much more about who you are, what you can do and what the world has to offer when you try. That's a hard thing for women—to take that first step. But once they do, they're on it. They love it. They stay in shape; they bond with their friends.
"My only hope is that I can be the voice in every female's ear that says, 'You got this. You can do this. This is yours.'"
Specters trailing women start with "she can't ride that," run right into, "she's only here to keep the kids entertained," and end in the assumption that a woman can't possibly have goals or dreams that exceed the expectations society assigns her, which now encompass successful career and successful motherhood and effortless beauty all at the same time. How dare she want to run a marathon or climb a mountain. Who will care for the kids?
While the hope is that women shrug off those stigmas and seize their dreams, their access and opportunities can be eased by those who assume that they belong there, rather than believing they don't. That's the other half of the equation. Men go to the men they know when they recruit partners for big trips—just like they do when they start companies or seek out an expert. Women drop off those lists. An outdoor equality advocate once joked to me that men never stop to think about how few women work in the outdoor industry until the happy hours when they look around and find no one to flirt with.
Camber Outdoors hits these points in a CEO Pledge, signed by more than 80 companies, committing to "accelerating equity, inclusion and diversity in their companies as a strategic business imperative." Camber's research argues these hires boost innovation, marketability and profit.
The same principles that bar us from appreciating one another without prejudice show up later in the worst of ways. The organization #SafeOutside has added the step of looking at the role men play in perpetuating situations that range from unwelcoming to abusive for women outdoors. A survey conducted in 2018 found that 47 percent of women—and 16 percent of men—reported experiences that could be considered sexual harassment while climbing or in climbing-related activities.
So I'll share a suggestion for a new year: Even if you think you've been doing well supporting equal opportunity, resolve to do better. Resolve to be the voice that encourages someone to try, to dream big, to remember she has the skills and the strength. Resolve to contribute to a view of women as pushing the boundaries of what we know is possible for all humans.
The Enthusiast is a twice-monthly column dedicated to the people in and stories from our outdoor sports community. Send feedback and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.