Despite the many strides women have made to be seen as equals to men, women's representation in outdoor recreation still lags behind men's. Statistics compiled by The Outdoor Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Outdoor Industry Association, show that from 2009-2017, women's outdoor participation 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 outdoor recreation as children, feelings of unsafety in the great outdoors, or just because women can feel uncomfortable participating in male-dominated activities.
More and more, however, women-only outdoor recreation groups are on the rise, from climbing festivals like Flash Foxy to surf camps and beyond. These groups help women 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 because they're tired of harassment, but also because they want 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 ages 8-16 to Bald Mountain to hang out with women ski patrollers and learn skills like running toboggans, first aid and basic snow safety. The popularity of these kinds of activities is evident in the organization's numbers. For the 2017-2018 year, SheJumps had 2,779 participants; that number almost doubled to 5,075 women in the 2018-2019 season.
"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.
In Ketchum, recreation is life and getting into a new, high-adrenaline sport can be intimidating. Sturtevants, a store dedicated to clothing, outerwear and rec gear, created its Women's Shop Rides three summers ago specifically to give women an entry into mountain biking. The rides take place one a week during the summer (roughly the 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, 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 four to eight women per ride, and summer rides in 2019 bringing between six and 25 riders. More user-friendly rides were also added this summer to ensure that beginners 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. The year was 1996, and instead of coaching just 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 four to six women skied with Ritz; by 2000, that number had grown to 80 women, and currently VAMPS has more than 130 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 other top-tier 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 ski skills.
"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."