The following comes via the keyboard of Leonie Wohl, a new arrival to the Le Bent team this year but someone who's been championing women in the backcountry for some time. Here Leonie talks about just how far the female backcountry community has come and how you can get involved!
Words by Leonie Wohl
Photos by Nina Lange
ICYMI: the Aussie women’s backcountry community has exploded in the past 12 months. There’s no shortage of shred sisters out exploring the backcountry.
With a combination of factors enticing more women into the backcountry – from increased social media presence, to women’s gear becoming more widely available, resorts being overcrowded, and the simple allure of the mountains and a self-sufficient adventure – one thing is for sure, there is strong community of women supporting each other and making backcountry missions more accessible.
My first backcountry experience was in 2015. I jumped on an Intro to Backcountry day, hired a splitboard and avi gear, and off I went. How good was this – the open spaces, the challenge, the views! Don’t get me wrong, I struggled, thought I might keel over and could only get one lap in. That day, I had my first experience in what it was to ‘earn your turns’. Speaking to one of the guides, I asked if there were women’s groups to do this with. He told me he didn’t know of any, but it would be great if a group existed, as there were women out there who wanted to connect.
Leonie ripping a turn in some July backcountry blower. Photo: Ryan Pappas
The following winter I did an AST1 course, DIY’d a splitboard and off I went. Yet, it would be another 2 years before I started to have a girl gang to go touring with.
How It Started
Saturday afternoon, late-August 2018 – post shreds at Thredbo and there’s a bunch of us sitting poolside having a few drinks, buzzing off the stoke from being in an all-girls ride day, chatting about when we can next ride together and keep the lady crew strong.
I’d been touring the day before, so am sharing a story of a wrong turn, a hike out and a bit of Marco Polo with my touring buddy. A friend of mine jumps up drags me over to another group of ladies and says, “I have to introduce you to these girls who ‘go backcountry’. You guys should hang out!” At this point I only knew around two or three other girls I could go touring with, so I was pretty excited to meet some new and more experienced riders who I could connect with.
That night the Backcountry Women of Australia Facebook group and online community was born. I had no idea how many women were out there just waiting to connect.
How It Grew
Noticing how male dominated the other backcountry forums were, it was a bit of a no-brainer to share the group in these forums and invite more ladies into a safe space where there was no judgement around sounding silly or inexperienced about any and all things backcountry.
Then 2020 came around and the restrictions in resort further fuelled interest in the backcountry. By mid-2020 there were around 300 women across NSW/VIC all keen to connect – the community was growing and continued to grow across the season. 2021 saw another call out through the online forums for new members – the community is only getting bigger and better every day!
There are so many great women, local and afar, who provide inspiration to get out and explore the Aussie backcountry. Not necessarily pro riders, just everyday women – women who have full-time jobs, are mums, are studying, are experiencing their first season or their 10th, and women who have fallen in love with the mountains and are now the locals.
One thing we all have in common is the spirit of adventure and sometimes that thirst for the hurt locker – the kind you only get from the frustration of things not working out in the backcountry. You cry, you get through it and then you are so stoked on your own capabilities you can’t wait to share it with the like-minded community with a big, “YEA THE GIRLS”.
There are also more women backcountry ambassadors, each with their own way of building the community, whether it be through guiding, gear reviews, tips and tricks, increasing social media presence or – like myself – building connections and sharing opportunities through meet-ups and events.
How To Get Into It
Backcountry experiences are for everyone. There’s something magical about being on the snow. Remove the hustle and crowds from the resorts, cue open spaces, an untouched canvas of white, a bit of risk to keep you on your toes, and every time you’ll have an adventure unlike the last… Some great, some – well, they are an experience.
You don’t have to be an expert skier or snowboarder to enjoy the backcountry magic; snowshoes are a great way to get out and explore. This season the industry seems to be really in tune to the market, there are more opportunities for women-only Intro to Backcountry days and AST1 courses.
Often, I get approached to take friends out for their first time, which I’m more than happy to do. I share the tips and tricks I’ve learnt through trial and lots of errors to make their first time out a good one, but I honestly can’t recommend enough getting on an AST1 course when you are starting out. You’ll learn the foundations to staying safe in the backcountry, which will take you on many future adventures and give you the confidence to make decisions to best enjoy your day out in the mountains.
I recently tagged along on a women’s AST1 prac day, which served as a great refresher. It reminded me of my own capabilities and gave me the confidence to back my decisions in adverse conditions. I was also able to meet 16 women all starting out in the backcountry. These 16 women are now capable and more confident to get out in the Aussie backcountry, provide observations on conditions and have some amazing experiences.
What’s To Come
With the industry supporting us, gear getting better and more diverse, events and opportunities popping up everywhere, and some strong ambassadors and advocates in the community, you’re going to see more and more women out there, going further and chasing new lines.
This is only the beginning.