With so many sports traditionally male-dominated, all-female adventures are on the rise, seeking to even the score. A local program geared toward getting women outdoors is gaining attention in the Magic Valley.
Christa Gessaman, outdoor recreation coordinator at College of Southern Idaho, recently launched WOMEN:WHO, an outdoor adventure program, after hearing feedback from students about their perceived barriers to entering the outdoor field. She notes that times are changing and women are taking the outdoor industry by storm, forging new paths and encouraging men to respect them as outdoor enthusiasts.
Gessaman’s female-only offerings in the outdoor world allow women to empower one another, which she feels is significantly impacting the industry.
For Gessaman, the bonding that occurs on the trail is inspiring.
“I know from my personal experience that being the only female in an all-male friend group going out to recreate can be intimidating at times,” she said. “If I feel like I might hold them back because I am not as fit or strong as them, it does affect my desire to go outside with them some days.”
On the snow
I joined Gessaman and another guide, CSI Director of Recreation John Twiss, on a recent Saturday to treat a crew of students to an early morning cross-country skiing journey to educate, share stories and play in the snow at Magic Mountain in the South Hills.
Snow fell lightly as we entered the hills, but picked up rapidly as we gained elevation. The group was energized yet nervous as they learned to put on their skis, but as the snow piled up on the Nordic track, their apprehension dwindled and smiles were abundant.
The day’s demographic was an all-female cast of cross-country skiers — led by Gessaman — that hooted and hollered while I waded through boot-deep powder trying to keep up.
As the snow banks deepened, so did the camaraderie among the women.
“It’s cool to see kids do something fun and unique,” Twiss said as the students lined up on the trail. “We’ll do a little practice loop behind Magic Mountain to start and go from there. We’ll be on the skis about an hour and a half.”
Passion was the modus operandi for the day as the students glided around the loop, completing a fourth lap before regrouping at the trailhead. Twiss ventured onto another trail with a smaller group, while Gessaman demonstrated more advanced techniques to her students.
As the snow subsided, the consensus was, “show us more!”
The outdoor program needed a facelift
Gessaman has worked at CSI for almost seven years. She was hired as the Challenge Course coordinator in 2012 and ran the course for three years before switching to outdoor recreation.
Gessaman’s and Twiss’ shared enthusiasm for the outdoors revitalized the college’s Outdoor Program in 2015, after its near-extinction. The program had been disbanded in 2009.
“The Outdoor Program was non-existent when I arrived at CSI,” Gessaman said.
“John and I started at CSI around the same time. We both have a passion for the outdoors,” she said. “We wanted to bring students and the community outside and help them find lifelong activity they can be passionate about.”
Empowering the bold
Crossing the highway to Road 500, Gessaman’s students pursued a new challenge. With the snow deeper, the skiers fewer and the views more prominent, they stepped back into their bindings. The pack shuffled vigorously uphill as the sun peeked through the clouds.
The pack climbed a bit more up to a clearing. Twiss’ group emerged on the trail. The day’s turning point was final at this pinnacle.
High fives and friendly banter quickly turned to nervous talk of the downhill, but the newly joined packs faced the return head-on, elegantly skiing down the road stride for stride.
“Everyone had a really great time and were champs despite the blowing wind and onslaught of snow,” Gessaman rehashed later. “There is something to be said about bringing a group together for an outdoor activity — it’s a beautiful process to watch the individual and group growth throughout the day.”
Hot cocoa anybody?
Oranges, chocolate, cocoa and trail mix spilled from the trunk of Gessaman’s SUV. Skis and poles were stored and laughter filled the air. Skiers told stories, snapped photos, and smiled as the snow returned. Their down coats were soaked and their beanies were frosted, but their spirits were warm despite the cold of the day.
The trip was a success. And students relished in the satisfaction of having achieved our challenge.
“New friendships were formed,” Gessaman said. “Memories were made, we all made it back alive…it was a great day.”
The area is an outdoor mecca with recreation opportunities year-round, Gessaman said.
The CSI Outdoor Program trip leaders are skilled in many areas and the event calendar is stocked with upcoming events ranging from easy to advanced. Gessaman encourages all students and non-students to join a meet-up, gym or find friends interested in the same adventures and step outside their comfort zone to get inspired.
“My job is just to foster an environment that is inclusive for all our participants regardless of age, ability, race, gender, experience levels…” Gessaman said.
“We just want to change lives, even for a moment, and find a common love though recreating in the outdoors.”
Christa Gessaman can be reached at (208) 732-6697 or email@example.com.