Historically, skiing, snowboarding and sledding have all been male-dominated sports.
Even today, men still make up the majority of the ski industry’s market, with a 2018 study from Snowsports Industries America (SIA) showing that 60 per cent of skiers were men and 40 per cent women, although the gap has been shrinking in recent years.
A similar 2015 study from Ski Canada reveals a similar gap.
For many women, the backcountry presents both an alluring opportunity for adventure, as well as an intimidating industry that can be hard to find a foothold in.
And the jump from the resort to the backcountry can widen that gap, with the SIA revealing in 2013 that women comprise 27 per cent of “non-resort skiing.”
Trying to find ways to get into the backcountry as a woman can be difficult when you don’t have the guidance and the resources, which is where Brittney Dickson and Stay Wild Backcountry come in.
Born out of a deep appreciation for the mountains and a desire to educate others to explore the backcountry safely and confidently, Stay Wild is a Golden-based company that offers exclusive women’s-only classes, in addition to co-ed programs to create a safe space for women looking to get into the backcountry.
In a male-dominated industry, the female-led company says that there’s something magical about like-minded women learning together and having a killer day on the mountain, with Dickson stating that she draws from her own challenges of breaking into the industry to inspire her work.
“Getting into the backcountry and the alpine industry was definitely a challenging time with lots of barriers, it can be not a very inclusive or welcoming environment,” said Dickson.
“So, it’s really important to us, whether it be our women’s courses or our co-ed courses, to have that inclusive, comfortable environment where everyone feels welcome and can ask questions so we can break down some of those barriers to the backcountry.”
The idea for Stay Wild first came about when a couple of local women got together to ask Dickson questions about sledding and splitboarding in the backcountry, which eventually evolved into them asking if she would be willing to run a course and teach.
“It really just opened my eyes, that there was a need for that, and it just built from there,” she said.
Stay Wild offers Avalanche Safety Training Levels 1 and 2, as well as a refreshing course and a ‘Ladies Sled Shred Camp’, with 14 instructors, 10 of which are women. Dickson says that when they bring on new people to the team, they make sure that they have a calm and supportive manner about them when they’re teaching, to ensure that safe space is maintained.
That safe space extends far beyond the students as well, with Dickson saying the whole team can feel the supportive environment that’s been fostered.
“It’s really great to be able to share that within the team and never feel like they’re being judged by anyone else on the team,” said Dickson.
Dickson says that she can see the tide shifting, as the industry opens up and becomes more inclusive. However, not everyone understands what she’s trying to accomplish, she says that some still have a negative reaction to her company.
“I think change is scary for anyone, we get emails sometimes putting us down, making some wild assumptions, they’re not there to have a conversation in any way or work together,” said Dickson.
“But that being said, there are companies that are awesome to work with, and we’ve had lots of great feedback from people who take the course.”
Dickson says that she hopes her company can inspire more women to get out and be active in the backcountry, without feeling like a burden or being worried about their abilities.
“You just need to find that group of people that are supportive of you getting out there,” said Dickson.
“And when you do find your crew and get out there, it’s just magical.”