Women’s Mentoring in the Outdoors: Backcountry Skiing and Splitboarding

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Women supporting other women in their careers, especially when it comes from within the mountain guiding industry, is just something magical to watch unfold. Our women’s mentoring weekend at Cameron Pass was exactly that.

“I feel so fortunate to be a part of a company that is so big on promoting women as guides and mentors,” says Sarah Janin, Colorado Mountain School Guide. “We are encouraged to pursue a guiding path that is unique to us. And to go it at our own pace.”

More of an impromptu mentoring session than a planned clinic, this gathering focused on elevating ladies who are taking the AMGA ski guide course or the advanced ski guide course this year. In addition, guide trainings like this give women a chance to develop on a more personal level. And sometimes, the magic just happens.

IFMGA Guide Mia Tucholke, originally from Sweden, now calls Colorado home and completed her final exams in August 2021 to become a fully certified mountain guide.

Mentoring in the Outdoors

Our new yurt near Seven Utes Mountain and Cameron Pass (more details to come soon!) was the perfect home base for our female guides to connect. And as you might have guessed, mentorship is an important part of the journey to becoming a better guide.

Our freshly-pinned IFMGA Guide Mia Tucholke is no stranger to how mentorship can help you progress in this often challenging industry.  

“I have had many amazing mentors on my path to becoming a fully certified IFMGA mountain guide. I can honestly say that it is thanks to these amazing people that I successfully made it through the program,” says Mia. “But mentorship goes two ways! You have to give and receive. So, while many have helped me, I also strive to help others.”

Colorado Mountain School Guides Sarah Janin and Mia Tucholke, along with Sarah MacGregor, (in the middle), AIARE Member Services Manager. Photo credit: Mia Tucholke.

Female Mountain Guides in the U.S.

“Currently, there are only 15 certified women mountain guides in the United States. I hope we can increase this significantly in the next 10 years,” says Mia. “While the AMGA courses and exams are important and part of the process, getting together for women-specific training is priceless.”

During this 2-day training, Sarah Janin and Sarah MacGregor each mock-guided 1 day in the backcountry surrounding Cameron Pass, which borders the northeast side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Both women are gunning to be among the first ladies in the country to become AMGA-certified splitboard guides!

What is Splitboarding?

Splitboarders and splitboarding, if you were unfamiliar with the term, are simply backcountry snowboarders. They travel uphill by way of a split board and skins, which perform the same as backcountry skis. For the downhill turn, the skins are removed, the board is pieced back together, bindings change direction, and it’s ridden just like a snowboard.

Besides the equipment differences between backcountry skiers and splitboarders, there are also other challenges. For one, the transition time from uphill travel to downhill skiing/riding can take longer for a splitboarder.

Why? Well, skiers can often adjust their bindings and take off their skins without having to remove their skis. Spltiboarders do not have this option. Therefore, both Sarahs have worked on ways to mitigate this to ‘keep time’ with backcountry skiers.

Sarah Janin leads the group and breaks trail at Cameron Pass.

Connecting with other Female Splitboarders

As of now, there are no AMGA-certified splitboard guides. But there are at least 4 other ladies in addition to Sarah Janin and Sarah MacGregor who are well on their way!

They’ve created an amazing community of lady splitboarders: Women Who Splitboard Colorado! So if you are a female splitboarder in Colorado, connect with their Facebook group or find them on Instagram.

If you’d like to hone in those splitboarding skills, take our Intro to Backcountry Skiing and Splitboarding Course! Already proficient on a splitboard and ready for the next step? Book a custom guided course or check out our Backcountry Development Series.

Sarah MacGregor prepping the group for the day’s ski/splitboard tour.

Creating Positive Peer Pressure

“It is amazing to be surrounded by women in the backcountry. Especially with its historically exclusive culture,” says Sarah MacGregor. “I feel like I’m able to use my voice and harness confidence in this space of strong and emotionally intelligent women. The positive peer pressure is also incredible! We see each other’s skills and strengths. And we push one another to reach further with training, practice, and development.”

We feel fortunate to work with such incredible women in the guiding community. In addition to Mia, Sarah Janin, and Sarah MacGregor, Eryka Thorley was also amongst the women at the yurt. Eryka is pursuing her AMGA Ski Guide certification. She is currently an AMGA Apprentice Alpine Guide, AIARE Course Leader, has a Professional Level 2 Avalanche certification from the American Avalanche Institute, and was a certified blaster during her time ski patrolling in Montana.

Learn more about Eryka in our blog, Guides Day Off: Discovering LIttle Alaska in State Forest State Park!

eryka thorley womens mentoring

CMS Guide Eryka Thorley enjoying a morning out in State Forest State Park at the Nokhu Crags.

How to Get Involved at Colorado Mountain School

Do you want to pursue a career in mountain guiding? The first step is to take your AIARE 1 avalanche training course.

Have you already begun your training and are seeking a qualified mentor? Reach out to a CMS professional mountain guide or one of the women mentioned in this story.

“These all-women gatherings give me, and all the ladies, more confidence,” says Sarah Janin. “We joke, laugh, and tell each other all the time ‘you can do it!’ We don’t let someone give up, or give that leadership role to another person. It’s true growth!” We couldn’t agree more.

Want to read more about women’s mentoring in the outdoors? Check out our Guides Day Off at Long’s Peak!

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