Fostering a new wave of women’s avalanche clinics

This story originally appeared on POWDER. Words by Matt Hansen.

Five years ago, Crystal Wright, a two-time Freeride World Tour champion, was waiting tables with a couple of girlfriends, Sarah Felton and Jess Pierce, at a Jackson Hole restaurant. It was the offseason, and Wright admits they may have been a little bored. One night, they came up with an idea to establish the female counterpart to the Jackson Hole Air Force, the famed band of rebels known mostly for poaching lines out of bounds when it was illegal to do so.

The JHAF was also mostly male, and Wright felt women needed a movement to call their own, though more inclusive. And so began the Jackson Hole Babe Force, a cause intended to show the boys that the girls can ski, too.

women's avalanche clinics

Photo: Nicolas Cool/Unsplash

“I used to tell the Air Forcers, ‘I’m creating the Babe Force, you better watch it!'” laughs Wright, 35, who now owns a personal training gym in Jackson.

The Babe Force is an example of a growing effort to get more women in skiing, and to help those who have been skiing all along to take the sport to new heights. And while the JHAF never undertook any philanthropic causes (shake-a-day doesn’t count), the Babe Force raises money to help mentor, inspire, and bring more women into the realm of big mountain skiing (it's in the process of becoming a 501c3 nonprofit).

Related: Meet the Woman Leading Jackson Hole's Ski Patrol

This year, the group is offering more than a dozen scholarships, including 12 spots for an all-women’s Level 1 avalanche class with the American Avalanche Institute, and two spots in a Level 2 class. (The per person cost for a Level 1 class is $400, a Level 2 is $450. Scholarship recipients get those fees covered by the JHBF.) There is also a Junior Babe scholarship for one person to attend Keely Kelleher’s Camp for Girls next summer on Mount Hood, a scholarship for a women's ski camp in Jackson, as well as a scholarship for women who face financial obstacles while on the competition circuit.

women's avalanche clinics

Photo: David Marcu/Unsplash

Though the Babe Force is western Wyoming based (and thus, its scholarships are not available to women outside the region), other organizations are providing opportunities across the West, like SheJumps and SAFEAS, which are both sponsoring avalanche clinics and events specifically aimed at women. SAFEAS (Skiers Advocating and Fostering Education and Snow Safety, a group founded six years ago by professional skiers Michelle Parker, Elyse Saugstad, Jackie Paaso, Ingrid Backstrom and Lel Tone) is offering co-ed classes as well, and focuses on bridging the gap between zero avalanche education and multi-day courses. The single-day clinics will be held in Copper, Colorado, on Dec. 2 and 3 (one women's, one co-ed), and Squaw Valley Dec. 9 and 10 (one women's, one co-ed).

SheJumps, a nonprofit that has spent the last 10 years getting more girls and women into the outdoors, has more than 10 avalanche clinics this fall, in Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, and Utah. Two scholarships are available for the clinics in Jackson, and two are being offered up for the SAFEAS events.

“We developed this to help women be more confident ski partners, be more comfortable in mountain travel, and have a knowledge of snow safety,” says Wright, who notes that some women are intimidated by going into the backcountry and often yield decision-making to a more experienced partner, often a boyfriend or husband.

Related: Angel Collinson Is the Big-Hearted Heiress to Women's Big Mountain Skiing

As a youngster, Wright says she was often the only female in a group of skiers. She admits that when she went into the backcountry, she didn’t always know what she was doing. Her primary motivation was to beat the boys. Now, she sees groups of women skiing together all the time, and hopes the scholarship program can help even more women get after it.

“It gives me goose bumps,” says Wright. “I love seeing groups of ladies out in the backcountry knowing what they’re doing, making their own decisions, and pushing each other. It definitely gives me a lot of satisfaction, and if we can help contribute to that, it’s so rewarding.”

women's avalanche clinics

Photo: Pietro De Grandi/Unsplash

Last year, Amy James, a 46-year-old housewife from Casper, Wyoming, won a Babe Force scholarship to attend a women’s ski camp in Jackson Hole. James grew up in Kansas and didn’t learn to ski until about seven years ago. Her children ski competitively, and there were times when her skiing ability prevented her from watching the events. “I was unable to get to some of the races because it was on a black, and the only way to get to it was down a mogul field,” says James. “I’ve been trapped on mogul fields and not being able to get to the bottom. So I wanted to learn how to tackle steeper terrain without ending up in the hospital.”

In the camp, she found confidence from being surrounded by other women, and came away knowing that she'd be able to see her kids' races, no matter where they were held. “It was awesome and very inspiring,” says James. “It was amazing to see such larger group of women just killing it.”

For more information, and to apply for scholarships, go to Jackson Hole Babe Force, SheJumps, and SAFEAS.

More from POWDER

How to buy a backcountry ski setup

The best skiing road trips for M.A.X. Season Pass holders

How to buy new skis