Beginning in the Backcountry

Maggie is a recipient of the Backcountry Squatters Scholarship for Outdoor Education and received her AIARE 1 through Bondi Outdoor Leadership.

I grew up skiing the east; I am a Maryland-born gal who would sometimes make the drive to ski the glamorous Pennsylvania hills. Now don’t worry, I’m not going to give you some hardo speech that East-coasters are raised on ice and are built to endure (although I respect those statements). What I WILL tell you is a quick story on how with the support of Backcountry Squatters, I was able to start a sport that has since changed my perception of my own strength and capabilities as a woman in the outdoors.

Growing up where I did, backcountry skiing was never really an activity that I considered feasible to participate in. It was something I watched in sick ski clips, ooh-ing and awh-ing over the beauty of glistening fresh turns and rugged terrain. As I moved out to Boulder, Colorado for school, I knew that it was something I wanted to learn. I love endurance sports, love my time spent in the mountains, and especially love the pursuit of some deep pow. It was simply an activity I was craving to get a taste of. Yet everytime I started researching equipment, beta, or general information around navigating the backcountry, I would hit a wall of discouragement. Why? Because a) equipment and gear costs a freaking buttload, b) there was SO much I didn’t know both safety and education wise, and c) I had genuinely had no idea where to even start.

But as I networked through fellow Squatters, I found a friend who sold me a pair of used skis with tech bindings. Next, eBay became my best friend. I became a bidding queen, and scored myself a pair of touring boots. I applied for the 2021 Backcountry Squatters Scholarship for Outdoor Education late that fall, and received an email from Darby that I was a recipient of the scholarship around mid-winter. I was ecstatic, and I registered myself for an AIARE 1 course through a local organization (shouts-out Bondi Outdoor Leadership!) in early spring.

The course was great, and I was able to gain the basics of backcountry knowledge that I have built upon since. In a sport with such a high risk of avalanche danger, skills that include reading the snowpack, analyzing terrain, and practicing how to most effectively use your equipment (your trusty beacon, shovel and probe) are of the utmost importance. I learned the value of group communication and quick thinking in intense environments. I most importantly learned how to mitigate the chances of putting myself and my group in danger. Out of the 12 of us taking the course, I was one of the 3 self-identifying females. It was a reminder that this sport was no exception to other outdoor activities, that we need more representation of both women and peoples that have been historically excluded from these outdoor recreational spaces.

Being on the board of Backcountry Squatters here at CU Boulder, I wanted to do an AIARE course not just to kick-start my own backcountry skiing journey, but to eventually bring more women and non-binary folks into the alpine backcountry as well. Coming into the sport as a complete beginner, I understand how daunting and impossible it feels to start an endeavor such as touring and backcountry skiing. Not only is it financially hard to approach, but it can feel extremely gatekept and exclusionary to those who are doing their best to navigate the complexities of the sport and the culture around it. While I still consider myself new to the sport, I have grown as an individual and athlete more than I could have imagined. I hope to continue developing my skills and knowledge in the backcountry, and to extend direct support to those around me that are interested in getting into it!

When I begin a tour now, I find myself feeling clear-headed and capable. It is empowering to spend time in the raw elements that both humble and inspire me. I believe that everyone deserves the opportunity and access to enjoy these experiences, and I’m immensely grateful for Backcountry Squatters for allowing me to expand my horizon of who I am as a person, leader, and adventurer.

Maggie Silver

2021 Scholarship Recipient

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