The long, cold, beautiful winter of 2016/17 was coming to a close. It was early April and I was in the process of putting my skis away for the season, when I got the invitation to join a group of ladies at the all women’s SheJumps Alpine Finishing School sponsored by Arc’teryx. This would entail one full week at the fly-in Selkirk Lodge, fully catered meals and the privilege of learning advanced alpine skills from some of the best female mountain/ski guides in Canada. Obviously I said yes to this amazing opportunity and took my skis out of the closet for one last trip.
This is my experience.
It’s a short 10 minute helicopter flight from the Albert Canyon Heliport just outside of Revelstoke, BC, to the Selkirk Lodge. Nestled amongst scattered alpine trees the 3 storey building sits overlooking seemingly endless ski terrain; everything from steep couloirs and ridges, long undulating glacier descents to perfectly spaced pine tree skiing.
This perfectly situated 30 year old lodge is family run and very fittingly run by two sisters – Grania Devine and Reinet Shaw. They are the lifeblood of this lodge and I swear that their smiles and conversation are what keep the lodge so warm and toasty. You will feel right at home as soon as your ski boots hit the wooden floor. Bent over double from laughter as they sat us all down to go over the hut rules, it felt more like visiting a good friend’s cabin, instantly setting a good vibe for the week ahead.
Lead guide, Diny Harrison, is the first Canadian woman to obtain IFMGA accreditation, becoming an internationally certified mountain guide. Full of boundless energy, a deep wealth of backcountry knowledge and a sense of humour that will keep even the sharpest of wits on their toes.
Kate Devine, certified ACMG ski guide and daughter to the owner Grania, grew up skiing at the Selkirk lodge and knows the terrain better than anyone. Her love for skiing, her love for this slice of paradise in the Selkirk mountains and her passion to share her knowledge with people is inspiring.
Since she could take her first steps, Shannon Werner, ACMG certified ski guide, has had skis on her feet riding the slopes of Lake Louise Resort. Her love of the mountains is infectious and spending time following her skin track is time well spent as she confidently moves through any mountain terrain.
The first thing you will notice about Claire Smallwood, executive director of SheJumps, is her smile. The very next thing you notice is her passion for what she does. Her desire to create opportunities in the outdoors for women through her organization is what inspires her. An extremely accomplished skier herself and a personal chef, not only will you get the chance to ski with her but you will be able to taste her delicious food throughout the week.
To be honest I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the food as this was my first time at a catered backcountry lodge. I was thinking the food would be fairly simple, I mean we were in the backcountry after all.
Blown away doesn’t even describe my impression of the food, it was beyond anything I could have expected. Everyday we were treated to an array of fresh foods, family style breakfasts, pick and mix lunches and gourmet dinners. One thing is for sure, between the stellar skiing and the incredible food you’ll never want the week to end.
The most important aspect of the trip for me was the opportunity to learn from the wealth of experience the guides brought. The topics covered ranged from terrain management, glacier travel, crevasse rescue, route planning, companion rescue, navigation, plus plenty of group chats and in the field discussions based on questions asked by the group.
There is no requirement to have the above skills before the trip, however they will provide you with a list of gear required as well as a workbook with a few knots, skills etc to go over before arriving, ensuring that everyone arrives with at least a bit of knowledge to begin the week.
The majority of the teaching is spent in the field, with a few mornings spent in classroom discussions in the lodge. With so much field time there is plenty of skiing and a lot of time to experience real scenarios, have one on one chats with the guides and watch while they move effortlessly through the terrain. It’s an incredible opportunity to learn from the best.
The Group Dynamic – If she can do it, why can’t I?
An all female learning environment provides an opportunity to be among women who share the same goals creating a supportive, relatable atmosphere. Within this space everyone can feel free to ask the questions they need and want to, without any assumptions or expectations. SheJumps is extremely successful in providing an opportunity for women to progress in ability and knowledge, allowing them to become confident and competent in the backcountry.
My personal experience with the SheJumps Alpine Finishing school was extremely positive. There was a non-competitive, extremely supportive atmosphere, creating a calm, open environment. This enabled each person in the group to feel confident in pushing outside of their comfort zones, learning and asking questions without judgement.
At the end of the day the mountains require great skill and dedication to move through them safely. The SheJumps Alpine Finishing school is an excellent avenue for women to utilize the opportunity to learn from highly skilled professional female guides and learn a lot about themselves in the process.