Addressing Rumors

This week, I’m in Telluride, CO for Mountainfilm. I’m incredibly honored that my short film, Follow Through, will be showing at the film festival. I’ve always wanted to tell my story and I’m proud at how my film turned out. Yet even with all the success of the film, I’m shocked that I still have to address rumors and heavy criticism that undermines my competency in the mountains.

This fall, the week before the film was released, I received a text message from another prominent ski mountaineer in the Wasatch. It said, “Hi Caroline! Top of the morning. Bunch of folks hitting me up about you and The Chuting Gallery project. Quick question, did you pay or trade to be guided on some of those lines? Got some guiding buddies that say so and it looked that way from some of the post. Just thought I’d ask and know instead of listening to rumors.”

It was hard for me to even read the message. I could feel the anger and tension rising, my heart rate quickening. I’ve spent over a decade honing my steep skiing skills, and I spent half a decade working on the project, equipping myself with the technical tools to be a confident leader on rock, snow and ice. During the project, I wore a lot of hats, not only deciding when to ski each line and how to do it, but also coordinating with ski partners, videographers, the production team and sponsors. I worked in a team, yes, but I was the leader—because it was my project. This ski mountaineer’s assumption otherwise was deeply insulting.

I took some deep breaths and typed a response. “I skied a handful of the lines with friends who are guides but they were with me as partners, not guides, and were not paid or traded. We did use a paid guide one day to help with some of the rigging for the videographer.”

On the single line where we did have a guide help with the rigging for the film team the guide initially put the rope up, I followed. And then I re-led the pitch. Every pitch of ice and rock, I led. I might add that it’s standard practice for mountain guides to run safety on ski films. This was not a typical ski film and I was in charge of my own safety and risk management.

In one way, I’m grateful that this man texted me to set the record straight. But frankly, I’m frustrated that I even have to address these rumors about “guiding buddies”, rumors that are simply a way to invalidate my accomplishments in the mountains.

The misogyny and sexism in the Wasatch backcountry and ski mountaineering community is real. I’m sick of it.

But I will not be defeated.

Before I met my friend Liz Daley in 2012, I had no idea that mountain guiding was even a profession. I didn’t know about the American Mountain Guides Association and the process to get certified. Liz opened my eyes to this world. Skiing with her, I learned about the amazing skills that mountain guides possess. I loved being with her in the mountains as an equal partner. And I wanted to find more friends who had her same level of technical expertise.

I realize that ski mountaineering is one of the most dangerous sports you can undertake, so I want to do everything to stack the odds in my favor. I also want to keep growing my knowledge base. I’ve taken courses in Avalanche Level 1, 2 and 3; Rock Rescue Level 1 and 2; and Ice Rescue; have a Wilderness First Responder certification; and do regular crevasse rescue refreshers.

I also make a conscientious effort to recruit partners who take their technical training as seriously as I do. Why wouldn’t you do everything you can to stack the odds in your favor?

On another international trip, I hired a local guide to help us with some of the trip logistics. Because of the difficulty of the ski line I was attempting, I had to clarify, in writing, that the guide was joining us as a climber/skier, not as a guide, and we were each individually responsible for our decisions to continue or not. She was compensated a modest fee for her time in pre-trip logistical organization. She did join us on the mountain, and since that trip, has become a good friend and mountain partner. Again, international ski mountaineering expeditions are dangerous. Why not equip yourself with information from a local guide to help set you up for success?

I wish I didn’t have to write this statement, to address these lies that people are spreading. They don’t just frustrate me, or hurt my feelings; they hurt my career. Last winter, when I took my Avalanche 3 course, one of the pieces of feedback I received was: “If you want to make the transition from pro skier to mountain guide, stop hiring guides and traveling with others that make decisions for you, put yourself in situations where you are required to put it all together, apply these skills and observations and form your own opinion everyday, don’t just regurgitate the opinions of others.” I have no idea where the evaluator got the idea that I was skiing as a guided client. These lies had become so pervasive that they were part of the reason I didn’t pass the course, and they are simply untrue.

When I wrote about this encounter with bias, a woman sent me a note sharing a similar story. She had received equally unprofessional and unhelpful feedback from an instructor during an exam. She said, “Your implicit bias post is a big part of the reason I stopped guiding.” My situation is far from unique.

The reason I’m writing this is because I want to get to a place where women’s accomplishments can be accepted and celebrated without bias. I want female mountaineers to get the same recognition and credit as their male counterparts. The way these local guides have fabricated a story about the style in which I climbed and skied the lines in The Chuting Gallery illustrates the kind of toxic masculinity that runs rampant in our culture.

This habitual sexism is part of the reason that only 10% of mountain guides are female, and why fewer than 25% of sponsored snowsports athletes for major outerwear brands (TNF, Helly Hansen, Arcteryx and Patagonia) are female, despite the fact that over 40% of skiers are female.

Also, while I’m speaking about statistics, it’s worth noting that 85% of snowsports fatalities are male in their late teens to late 30s (70%). This is the demographic that on a broader level, engages in high-risk behavior and suffers the majority of unintentional death from injury.

We need more female representation, especially in dangerous sports like mountaineering. It’s not enough to get women outside. We need women to get to the highest levels. At every turn in my career, I’ve battled sexism and harassment. I will not back down and disappear, giving in to the belief that I don’t belong. I will not distance myself from the world of ski mountaineering that I love so much. I will continue to show up and speak up.

In order to change the tides, I believe we need to do two things to start. First of all, the local mountain guiding company needs to consider putting their guides through implicit bias training to understand how to create an inclusive culture that doesn’t automatically de-value women’s skill. It will be a huge benefit to their company.

And my call to action to you, the reader, is to examine your own implicit bias and preferences. This isn’t a battle of the sexes. As a society, we are so habituated to sexism that women are often biased against other women.

Do the stories you tell discredit the efforts and achievements of women in the wordplace and/or in the mountains? Are you part of the problem?

When you hear someone saying sometimes to diminish another person, do you call them out on it?

Use your words carefully, and remember the adage, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

 

20 Responses to “Addressing Rumors”

  1. Shannon

    I can only imagine how excruciating it was to hear and read these things that have been said to you, but I can not thank you enough for sharing them and doing so in the articulate way that you have. What you wrote is true, and, like you said, sharing it sets us in the right direction and, more importantly, refuses to let these things hold us back. You should be recognized for the immense achievements and grit you have put into your hard-earned accomplishments instead of attacked by those who are jealous and insecure. Thank you for writing this!

  2. William

    I’m rooting for, and cheering for, and totally praying for your success(and happiness). You are such an inspiration to people! Thank you. I became a fan of outdoor adventure late in life, and am partially disabled. Besides your personal joy… if you can enhance one person to follow your lead, it will be so worthwhile. Godspeed!

  3. Caroline

    Thank you so much William. I’m glad to hear you’re connecting with the outdoors. There’s something so innate about being in nature. Thanks for your support and cheers!

  4. Caroline

    Thank you for your support. It’s an issue that’s frustrated me for over a year and I felt I had to finally speak up. It’s my way of working out the niggles. When we see something wrong, more and more, I believe we have a duty to speak up. Thanks again for your kind words.

  5. Lea Davison

    Full support for you over here. Keep fighting. There is sexism everywhere (even in the bike industry where I’m from) and it sounds like it’s realky bad in mountaineering. Keep working hard and making progress. You are making strides and inspiring more people than you even know.

  6. Harry

    When you received that feedback on your Avalance 3 course, was there any follow up to that? If what was written in your feedback was implicitly false, I would fight tooth and nail to correct the record about being guided. I know personally I can handle it when I come up short or fail at something, but deny me something for reasons that are false and you’ll never hear the end of it.

    I don’t know the whole story obviously so I’m probably missing plenty, but when you presented that feedback and then just state that they were getting the wrong information, I am genuinely curious if you followed up with the people in charge of decision making, and what became of it. Never let that shit slide.

    I’ve been a casual fan of yours since seeing you in Like There’s No Tomorrow many years ago and it’s great to watch you shred.

  7. Paxi

    I deal with the same bias. No matter what I do or how I preform, I’m always seen as being out of place, whether it be skiing, mtn biking or anything outdoorsy because I’m a girly girl tomboy. So awesome you are taking a stand against haters. One love for the mountains should translate to people as well.

  8. Jason Martin

    Caroline,

    Thank-you for your excellent post. You should be aware that diversity training will be part of the AMGA accreditation review process for guide companies in the coming years. The organization has done a lot of introspection on this topic over the last couple years and — I believe — is moving in the right direction.

    Not all guide services can afford diversity training. It’s a tough sell to the managers of small businesses. But it can be done. I work at the American Alpine Institute and we have a part-time employee who focuses on diversity and inclusion issues both with guides and climbers/skiers within our programs. Many outdoor recreation companies have people on board who have similar positions…

    As these issues continue to grow it’s likely that the AMGA won’t be the only organization requiring some kind of training, but also land managers. Several companies have made a commitment to doing this on Denali in the coming years. It’s likely we’ll see more of this in the future. Things are going to get better.

    Keep skiing, keep having fun and keep up your positive attitude! Thanks again for the post.

    Jason Martin

  9. Eric

    Good on you for speaking out, defending yourself, and your accomplishments. I really enjoyed the film and was shocked by the negativity you encounter from some people.

    For every negative person trying to undermine your outstanding accomplishments, there are thousands of people who have great respect for you.

    I wish you all the best!

  10. William

    Caroline,

    Keep on keeping on 🙂 You serve as an inspiration to all people, and your honesty in approaching masculine toxicity is commendable and it is a tragedy that in a field that so needs greater representation of women, still there are those who would rather lash out against your hard work and efforts. I don’t understand the headspace of men (and women, sadly) who attack others on the basis of gender, sexuality, etc, and it frustrates me that aside from being a voice of support and in defense of true equality and representation, I don’t always know how to change people’s mindsets or how to create awareness inside them. I think we should keep talking about it, and not shy away from what it is, a dated toxic masculinity/sexist worldview, so that future generations and present can have awareness of what is still happening, and that it is not okay. With that in mind, I hope you don’t let the burden of experiencing prejudices like that weigh you down – it is some people, but not all – and I hope you keep crushing it.

    Thank you for having the courage to talk openly about your experiences, and good luck in the future

  11. Caroline George

    Good on you for speaking up! C

  12. Jared

    Caroline,

    Screw the detractors and doubters of your achievement! If they don’t like it, “bugger off!” as the Brits say. Their small mindedness has no place today for you as you have achieved this. Stay focused on this great achievement, enjoy it to the max extent possible, and find the next great line to ski. The real people will stand by you and acknowledge it with warm support, not cold dissension.

    I say “Congrats and Well Done!” Maybe one day I will see you on the slopes and enjoy a run or two with you.

  13. stuart

    Caroline – you’re more of a role model, than any of those who doubt your achievements can or will ever be. Continue the brilliant work you do, the amazing challenges you set yourself, the learning and skills you are gaining and the leadership you demonstrate so strongly…this is the testament by which others will need to demonstrate to be close to measuring their achievements against yours, before their opinions have any merit. Keep up the inspirational work.

  14. Jamie

    Thank you for your article!!

    My interest is seeking out academic research tieing risk management, safety and how the lack of inclusive behaviors such as sexism impacts individuls safety and group safety. We spend a lot of time talking about such things as operational decision making, physical fitness and competence yet very the impacts of diversity and inclusion is lacking. Perhaps its the next chapter in risk management?

  15. Meghan

    Hi Caroline! Long time follower and fan of you and your kick-arse accomplishments! I work in the environment sector in Seattle, I play outside and I see a lot of similar themes when I ski hard lines, tow my ski boat into a crowded boat launch by myself or climb hard things. I left the comment below on the Outside facebook post, but wanted to also leave here directly.

    “This line. THIIIIIS. “She talks when she should listen and is strongly defensive from the start. Remember respect is earned and never given.” #eyeroll

    There are literally too many times to count when men have taken a personal affront to a strong, confident female leader making big decisions in the outdoors and given this feedback. That respect line deserves a serious side-eye as it’s a classic form of control. It’s literally saying your voice doesn’t matter as much as someone else or until you prove it.

    And too many times, that same feedback for a man looks like “he is a born leader, and able to communicate his expertise in a bold way.” A woman is called bossy, a man is called confident.

    It’s an old and outdated approach which all the more confirms that sexism and implicit bias is alive and well. Sadly, I feel it more in the outdoors and recreation communities than other communities, which is unbelievably disheartening that it’s 2018 and we are still dealing with this.

    Caroline, you do you, girl. Ignore the white noise and stay focused on your own goals. You’re amazing!”

    Your entire post struck me – for both your restraint, insight and respectful approach. You are, in a million ways, a stronger woman than me. Keep on keepin’ on.

  16. Kevin Meyers

    I’m sad that, because of how some idiotic people behave, you feel the need to defend your actions to this level. I’ve never met you, probably never will, but everything I read about you says that you are a hell of an skier. Not a female skier, simply an skier. So, keep on doing what you love, and know that most people are not jackasses. Hopefully we can move soon to a culture where any doubts regarding someone’s accomplishments is not based on their gender.

  17. Dan G

    For what it’s worth, pretty sure I have a bias in the other direction. The chances of surviving the day skyrocket when there’s a female in your group, and I trust a woman’s decision-making more than an aggro guy. Would fully prefer a woman guide for that reason. Go C.

  18. Wynnski

    If it’s any consolation, I have received comments similar to those your Avy II examiner used, in another similar context, and can only surmise that accrediting agencies such as these are very loosely organized, tend to promote machismo over intelligence, and overly prone to bias because their structure does not allow for meaningful review of the actions of examiners.

  19. Cameron Bennett

    Caroline, as I am somebody who is new to the sports of ski touring and mountaineering, your dedication to technical skill and risk management is extremely inspiring. Those aspects of these extremely dangerous sports are not something that gets talked about often enough in the media surrounding them, and it’s refreshing to see you bring these concerns to the light of the greater public. I appreciated you including Brody’s piece in Follow Through about these skills being a requirement. You are a role model to me, and I hope that you continue to spread the good in this community.

  20. Micha

    Bravo to you Caroline, for continuing to be a badass and call people out on their BS. I’m sure it can’t be easy for you (and I’m sure it brings more jerks out of the woodwork), so I just wanted to let you know that everything you’re doing for women in the outdoor industries is noticed and appreciated!
    Keep fighting the good fight!

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