Empowered in the Wild

Women-only programming helps boost confidence in outdoor sports

Nature and the wilderness provide the ultimate platform for instilling empowerment and provoking knowledge—from the courage it takes to climb a rock face for the first time, to the connection and stewardship that emerges from overnights in the backcountry. Several organizations in Colorado are teaching girls and women how to cultivate courage and connection to themselves, to their own outdoor community, and to uninhibited adventure. Here are some of the best.

Women’s Wilderness, a non-profit organization in Boulder, helps girls and women gain ability, strength and education from solid instruction in wilderness travel and outdoor skills. “Our programs are designed to be heart-centered, relational, collaborative adventures, while providing solid instruction in wilderness living, outdoor skills and backcountry safety,” says the organization’s Stephanie Vidergar. The courses are taught by skilled outdoor instructors who also serve as role models that participants can identify with directly. 

“Though courses vary in terms of focus on technical skills or personal growth, we emphasize technical outdoor skills and time in the wilderness as a route towards greater self-confidence, self-efficacy and empowerment for our participants,” says Vidergar. “We want our participants to leave the course feeling that they have forged connections with new outdoor partners, and found a home in our organization.”

In collaboration with Aspen Alpine Guides, Leave the Boys Behind is a woman-led guide service out of Aspen that has set out to create a space where women can experiment freely outdoors without pressure or intimidation. As its mission states: “The drive to create Leave the Boys Behind stems from our desire to host outrageously fun experiences in the wilderness where the pressure from the boys is left at home.” Women can explore backcountry adventure trips year-round through skiing, backpacking, road biking and more.

Since 1999, Chicks Climbing & Skiing out of Ridgway has offered climbing instruction for women. “Our goal is to provide a positive learning environment that makes our participants feel welcome and open to ask questions that will help them gain a greater understanding of technical climbing systems on rock, ice and snow,” says co-owner Elaina Arenz. Chicks Climbing & Skiing holds instructional programs at world-class climbing destinations across the country and a few graduate-level programs abroad in places like Japan, France and Iceland.

“Most of our programs run three to five days and are all inclusive packaging,” says Arenz. “We divide the participants into small groups and pair them up according to their experience, ability and goals to teach them technical systems they would like to learn to become more independent, self reliant and confident climbers.”

In December, Chicks Climbing & Skiing will start up winter programming and hold backcountry skiing clinics in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, followed by ice climbing programs in Ouray the month of January.

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