As a woman, I’ll be the first to say, the backcountry is no place for girls – it is for the strong willed, strong minded, in which one must be cognisant of the dangers that surround them. Not to take the fun out of all of it, but the whiny, hand-holding and helpless girly attitude isn’t welcome in this environment.
I’ll admit, like a lot of the women out there, I was dragged into the backcountry by the boys (albeit happily). Already having a bit of camping and outdoor travel experience under my belt, it wasn’t hard to quickly adapt to the outdoor survival mode of ski touring. That is, managing gear, food, clothing, water, fitness, efficient terrain travel, and tracking weather patterns. I wasn’t completely green.. but it still took time to get better at each of those things. I quickly realized, in a worst-case scenario, one must be prepared to survive in the wilderness because your life, and that of your partners depends on it.
The point of this article is not to discourage but to offer a bit of advice to help the ladies out there, who are just starting their backcountry adventures:
Learn the the ropes
Again, not to be a downer when enjoying the outdoors, but ladies, don’t take travelling in the backcountry lightly, and depend on the men to make every decision for you. Even though the men may be more experienced and take charge on route most of the time, they depend on you just as much as you depend on them. You need to be able to manage your gear and your health on the hill. Don’t wait for the guys to tell you when to stop and eat, if you need to stop and eat. But don’t slow down the group by stopping every 10 minutes for a sip of water. Managing your gear, systems, food intake, and efficiency is something that will take time to manage with your partners. It’s a fine balance, but remember it’s your responsibility to manage yourself.
Learn to make your own decisions
I’m a splitboarder, typically the only one with a group of skiers, and that adds another set of complications. On the uptrack, I have to navigate my own way around icy conditions or tough side hills aspects. On the descent, I need to navigate the route best suitable on a snowboard, especially when weaving through tight trees. While skiers can easily backtrack and stop-and-go, snowboarders really can’t. So I depend on my own route finding alongside the group on many occasions. On the ski out, I have to assess when to put the skins back on, which isn’t always when the skiers put skins back on. I have to consider travelling efficiently for myself, and sometimes that means stopping a little early, to catch up with the group a bit later.
Step out of your comfort zone
While the boys think a two hour boot pack up a couliour is a great idea, you may have alternate opinions. That’s perfectly reasonable. But don’t be afraid of taking a step out of your comfort zone, on the ascent or on the descent. I’ve experienced summit anxiety on a few occasions. The further we venture up, the more I think about the risks and technical difficulty of going down. Usually, I find the problem is all in my head, not in my legs or level of ability. And after finishing an amazing run, I’m always stoked for more. Take a steeper line, hike a little longer. But again, remember that communication is an integral part of travelling in the backcountry. If you’re uncomfortable about the situation, speak up and voice your concerns. Good partners should listen and make sure you are comfortable and the group safe. Complaining is not productive communication. Valid concerns about safety are.
Men, have a little more patience
Realize that women operate differently. Their gear management and systems, their food habits, their pace. Have a little leeway with them. Don’t just sprint up the hill at an assaulting pace and leave them behind in your tracks. Understand that ladies may have to stop a little more often for food. And keep in mind.. they can’t stand on the skin track and take a quick pee to the left. Give them a few more minutes, but help them understand how to operate efficiently. Encourage them, and motivate them when you can see the suffering on their face. It’s just as important you’re not complaining either.
In short, ladies:
- Start your backcountry adventures in simple terrain, and learn your systems: quick transitions, efficient skinning/travel, when you need to eat/drink.
- Speak up when you need to. If you don’t feel comfortable about something, let your partners know.
- Keep your head up, and don’t just follow the tracks in front of you.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Why are we making this terrain choice? What aspects are we skiing today? What are today’s signs of avalanche activity? Make an effort to learn the skills of travelling in the backcountry safely, and begin to learn how you can make independent decisions based on conditions.
- Take a moment to stop once in a while and look around, because the outdoors are awesome.