No Boys Allowed: Women's Only Rec in Sun Valley, Idaho
Despite the many strides women have made to be seen as equals to men, women’s representation in outdoor recreation is still lacking. Statistics compiled by The Outdoor Foundation, the non-profit arm of the Outdoor Industry Association, show that from 2009-2017, women’s outdoor participation has remained steadily in the mid 40% range while men’s is always at the mid 50% range. A number of reasons contribute to these numbers: women not being introduced to the outdoors as a child like boys often are by their fathers or groups like the Boy Scouts, not feeling safe in terms of sexual harassment, or simply just because it feels too uncomfortable to participate in many of the often male-dominated activities associated with the outdoors.
But more and more, female-only outdoor recreation is popping up, from climbing festivals like Flash Foxy to surf camps and more. These kinds of groups allow women to feel less vulnerable during the learning process and provide a sense of comradery.
“A lot of the women who participate in our events are sick of the harassment they’ve experienced participating in activities that are historically male-dominated. They just want to be around a more supportive environment,” said Nicole Jorgenson, Intermountain Ambassador for SheJumps, an organization founded in 2007 to get girls and women of all ages to participate in the outdoors. Activities with SheJumps might include a rock climbing clinic, mountain bike repair class, fly fishing and more.
Jorgenson, a full-time ski patroller in the winter who has been with the organization for three years, has seen participants come to SheJumps both because they’re tired of harassment in outdoor recreation from men but also to learn a new activity in a supportive environment. This winter, Jorgenson will help put on the third year of SheJumps’ Junior Ski Patrol event which brings girls between the ages of 8-16 to Bald Mountain to hang out with female ski patrollers and learn skills like running toboggans, first aid and basic snow safety. “The idea is to show them a career that’s historically male-dominated and give them an idea of what’s possible for them,” Jorgenson said.
The popularity of these kind of female-only activities is evident in the organization’s numbers. For the 2017-2018 year, SheJumps had 2,779 participants; that number jumped to almost double at 5,075 women in the 2018-2019 year.
In the mountain town of Ketchum, Idaho, recreation is life and getting into a new, high-adrenaline sport can be intimidating. Sturtevants, a store dedicated to clothing, outerwear and gear for all outdoor sports, created their Women’s Shop Rides three summers ago specifically to give women an opportunity to learn entry-level mountain biking. The rides take place one a week during the summer (roughly end of May to end of September) on trails of varying difficulty. There are some sponsored rides, like the one this last summer sponsored by Wild Rye, a local women’s-only technical cycling apparel brand. Other events this year included a skills clinic and bike maintenance and repair clinic put on by sponsor Liv Cycling (the women’s-specific line of Giant bikes). The rides are led by mountain bike guides including Mary Geddes, the Sturtevants main store manager who runs the Women’s Shop Rides.
“Our goal is to get women more involved in biking,” Geddes said. “Getting groups of women together helps motivate them and get them out of their comfort zone. Having women’s-only rides builds their confidence.”
Geddes has seen participation grow immensely with 2018’s summer rides attracting about 4-8 women per ride and 2019’s summer rides more like 6-25. More user-friendly rides were also added this summer to ensure that beginners and those brand-new to the sport felt welcome.
“I’ve had a lot of women who were nervous come to me before the ride to ask if I think they can do the ride, if they’ll get left behind and whatnot,” Geddes said. “We ride as a group and keep everyone with us. In a co-ed group, women might feel rushed or intimidated.”
Winter recreation can be just as intimidating as summer recreation. Muffy Ritz, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team and Rossignol Nordic Team, never intended to start a female ski group, but rather was just going to start coaching a friend or two who had asked for some help. The year was 1996 and rather than just coach one friend, Ritz suggested getting a group together. The ski group known as VAMPS—Vomen and Muffy’s ProgramS—was born.
That first year, only about 4-6 women skied with Ritz; by 2000, that number had grown to 80 women and now VAMPS has roughly 135 members. “I think it was just a niche that needed to be filled,” Ritz said. “Women were always following their husbands or their friends around and didn’t know what they were doing. VAMPS was a chance to get some instruction on how to Nordic ski as well as be part of a fun group.”
VAMPS has gotten so large that Ritz now has 14 coaches chosen from Olympians, national team skiers, skiers supported by ski companies, winners of past American Birkebeiner, Boulder Mountain Tour or Yellowstone Rendezvous races and just generally great all-around athletes with an interest in seeing more women learn to ski. The VAMPS program is now officially run through the Galena Ski School and operates at Galena Lodge, the North Valley Trails and Lake Creek in Ketchum.
The increase in interest in the group over the years turned Ritz’s dedication from coaching junior racers at the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation to teaching middle-aged women how to ski or ski better. Ritz attributes this rise to several things:
“It’s just more fun to play with your female friends rather than having males who get competitive,” Ritz said. “Females aren’t as competitive, they’re there to learn. Having males in the group would change the whole dynamic. The women can be more themselves and feel more relaxed and supported.”
This article originally appeared in The Boise Weekly.