Barriers, Broken

Two-thousand-seventeen has a been a breakthrough year for Colorado women in the outdoor industry. Margo Hayes—the 19-year-old climbing phenom from Boulder—set the climbing world on fire when she became the first woman to send a 5.15a route in February. At the London Müller Anniversary Games in July, decorated Colorado-based Olympian Jenny Simpson ran a 4:19:98 mile—the second fastest time ever recorded by an American woman. Then, nearly eight months after conquering La Rambla in Siurana, Spain, Hayes generated another round of worldwide media buzz when she successfully sent the Realization/Biographie (5.15a) route in Céüse, France.

Colorado’s female outdoor-world success goes beyond pure athletic achievement, however. Earlier in the year, Boulder-based journalists Kassondra Cloos and Abigail Wise gained national attention when they launched an all out attack on the longtime gender inequalities found on the digital pages of Wikipedia. Noticing an underrepresentation of trailblazing women in the outdoor community listed on the crowdsourced site, the duo took things into their own hands—adding stories of influential women and female-run businesses and organizations, giving women the opportunity to learn more about, and get inspired by, some of the badass women who’ve have paved the way for the gender as a whole.

A rise in women landing major roles in Colorado’s outdoor industry businesses—think Amy Roberts, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA)—has also generated headlines around the world. So, too, has the number of women participating in outdoor activities. But it’s not just high-profile Colorado women who are inspiring more ladies to get outside. The number of female-run outdoor companies is growing, and women’s dedication to breaking down the barriers of entry is changing the way that they play outside.

Beyond the Unknown

In a survey conducted by Snowsports Industries America (SIA) and RRC Associates, women new to snowsports consistently listed four major hurdles when entering a new sport: intimidation and lack of confidence, inadequate knowledge of gear, uncertainty in how to plan outdoor outings and cost. The survey results echoed a major theme in the conversation about the barrier women looking to get outside face: fear of the unknown.

In 2014, Bold Betties—originally a popular meet-up group for outdoorsy women in Colorado— became a successful start-up business when it answered the call from women looking to gain confidence outside and curb intimidation through educational opportunities and group outings for their activity of choice. In Ouray, Colorado, Kim Reynolds has been heading up Chicks Climbing and Skiing since 1999—offering women interested in climbing access to some of the most accomplished female guides in the country in hopes of empowering women to break down those barriers of entry and get outside.

The state of Colorado is also a hub for women-run educational organizations working to make the outdoors a more inclusive place—and most are placing a strong emphasis on fostering a connection to nature at a young age. For one, the ladies behind Boulder-based Women’s Wilderness organization create various adventure camps for girls and young women of all age groups—blending skills courses and outdoor adventures with the excitement of summer camp.

Colorado women have built brands, too. In previous decades, women spoke up about the limited options of gear and apparel available to them, but their requests went largely unanswered—leaving female athletes and outdoor enthusiasts powering through their sport of choice using products designed for men. But when manufacturers finally began making outdoor products for women, many of them were not well received by the end consumer. Tired of the itty-bitty, skin-tight apparel and underfunctioning pink versions of men’s gear that dribbled into the market, several Colorado women decided to take change into their own hands.

After winning the 2004 Ironman Wisconsin while wearing a prototype of a running skirt she designed, former pro-triathlete and Boulder resident Nicole DeBoom officially launched Skirt Sports, an online-based women’s fitness apparel company. The pro athlete was simply fed up with the drab, oversized running apparel available for women.

“We created a brand new category in running,” says DeBoom, who continues to offer women a variety of her original revolutionary running skirts along with a growing line of other activewear. “We became a gateway for beginners to get started in the sport.”

Feeling emboldened and confident by the fun women’s-specific running apparel that performed on the level of men’s apparel on the market, the Skirt Sports consumer base has continued to grow. In the summer of 2017, DeBoom opened the doors to the first Skirt Sports brick and mortar location in downtown Boulder.

Like DeBoom, April Archer, founder and CEO of SaraBella Fishing, felt let down by the lack of women’s-specific gear on the market. A longtime avid angler, Archer was not satisfied by just getting by using men’s gear that didn’t fit her properly, and decided to create a fly rod that not only custom-fit her needs, but also had a look that she was proud to sport on the water.

“Women deserve excellent products that last and perform well when they’re out on their outdoor adventure,” Archer explains.

Like many Colorado female entrepreneurs in the outdoor industry, Archer not only works to make gear women want to use, she also spends a good chunk of her time educating young women on how to do so confidently and safely. According to the Outdoor Foundation’s 2016 Outdoor Participation study, only 41 percent of girls ages 13 to 17 participate in an outdoor activity—the lowest participation rate of women in all ages groups. Archer fights against that statistic. “I teach girls how to tie knots, and why they should not be afraid of bugs, so they can go solve problems and enjoy the wilderness,” she says.

The New Generation

Women across the board are making progress in the outdoor community. Those who understand the barriers of entry are working to break them, and more role models are emerging each year to give young women positive, strong role models. But for the movement to keep its momentum rolling, a new generation of female business leaders will need to rise up—and several young Colorado entrepreneurs are heeding the call.

At 27, Alex Hanifin is the CEO of Alpine Start, an exciting new instant coffee company gaining steam in the climbing and camping communities. In 2016, Colorado native Tyler Haney, founder and owner of Outdoor Voices—a fast-growing athletic apparel company designed with women in mind—landed herself on Forbes 30 Under 30 list. The then 28-year-old already boasted an impressive resume with an arsenal of retail stores in several major cities across the country. In July, Haney opened her first shop in Colorado, a pop-up store in downtown Aspen, where along with fun and functional women’s apparel, she also offers men’s activewear alongside educational resources and meet-up events for adventure-seeking women.

An ambitious team of young women behind the Carbondale-based No Man’s Land Film Festival are tackling the problem of the shortage of spotlights on female role models in the outdoor and adventure community. Led by founder and executive director, Aisha Weinhold, the female-run film fest is working to redefine feminine in the adventure and sport communities. Founded in 2015, the year-round, worldwide festival is accomplishing something long overdue in the outdoor community: putting a face and a story to the women relentlessly chipping away at that pesky glass ceiling, and having a blast doing it.

At its annual Flagship Festival, held in its hometown of Carbondale, Colorado, last September, No Man’s Land featured films such as “The End of Snow,” an exploration of the realities of climate change in the Rocky Mountains made by ecologist Dr. Jane Zelikova, augmented by a panel discussion led by OIA social media manager and outdoor activist Katie Boué. All weekend long, the event put an emphasis on getting women behind the camera and speaking out.

Ultimately, these programs all stresss one mantra: Women must encourage other women to lead in the outdoors. To that end, check out Camber Outdoors—the ultimate resource for women looking to snag a job in the outdoor industry—because women empowering women to get outside is one movement in the outdoor industry that doesn’t need a redesign.

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