SheJumps is an organization that motivates women and girls of all backgrounds to step out of their comfort zone in a fun, non-threatening, inclusive environment to learn outdoor skills. I was first introduced to this group at an event in Fernie last January at Fernie Alpine Resort and was blown away. I can relate to being empowered by sport and being in the outdoors so was very keen to get to know Claire Smallwood, the Executive Director who now calls Fernie home.
Claire is originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico where she was ‘born and raised.’
“Nobody in my family skied,” Claire tells me. Fortunately there were subsidies available through the elementary school she attended growing up. “If someone had not come up with that program, I would not be where I am today,” she adds. “It was a huge part of SheJumps - providing access to something that otherwise might be exclusive.”
After graduating high shool, Claire attended University in Portland, Oregon where she studied foreign languages and literature.
“I was trying to find a degree that would allow me to ski year-round!” She became president of the ski and snowboard club, which was a natural fit. “My identity as a skier developed early on because there weren’t a lot of women, or skiers in general even with the amazing skiing in New Mexico. I was empowered by it, and felt like I had an obligation to show what all women and girls are capable of.”
Afterwards, she studied abroad in Senegal, which changed her view on privilege and the access we have which is far too easy take for granted in our culture. “In our pantries we have enough food for a month but go to the grocery store every day. Living there was signing an invisible contract with humanity, to always do something for the greater good, to give back,” Claire says.
While there, Claire began writing articles on biglines.com and other popular sites to share what it was like to be in Africa during an epic ski season. “I was missing out, but cultivating a different appreciation,” she tells me. Soon afterward, Claire met Vanessa Pierce and Lindsey Dyer at her first ever free ski comp. “They invited me to Jackson Hole in May 2007 to talk about the concept of SheJumps. It was serendipitous, connecting at pivotal moment in all of our lives,” Claire adds. “We knew there were women out there doing awesome things not getting any coverage, and our vision was to highlight, celebrate and uplift women in the outdoors.”
They had no concept of programming at the time, and after becoming an official charitable organization in the US they worked on increasing opportunities for women to get outside. From 2008 to 2012, the growth was organic. “It was word of mouth, women contacting us to say they loved what we were doing and that they wanted host events.”
In 2012, Claire suffered an injury that had her slowing down and turning her ‘side project’ into a full-time endeavour. “But great things can come from terrible accidents,” Claire says. “That summer I focused on SheJumps. It was my roots, we re-branded and created a structure that allowed us to expand nationally with ambassador programs and state-level leadership.”
During this time, Claire met her now husband Spencer in Chile. “I was a chef and guide in South America, we travelled together and did long distance for three years between Canada and the US. We settled in Fernie because of the community, and because we knew SheJumps would be welcomed here.”
Since calling Fernie home, Claire and her Fernie crew have been busy inspiring and hosting women in Fernie. From the International Women’s Snow Day to the Junior Ski Patrol, free mountain bike maintenance clinics and alpine development schools, they’ve been working hard to develop programming that positively impacts and empowers women in the outdoors. Locally, Cindy Sleeman is the Fernie Ambassador, and Sam Usher the Regional Coordinator for BC.
Moving forward, the team’s goal is to host one event per month.
“We would love to hear from the community - what activity have you always wanted to do that you are afraid to try?’ They are also always looking for volunteers as recognise everyone has a different experience and perspective to offer. They are also keen to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. “How can we make the outdoors more welcoming for different abilities, people from different backgrounds, people with disabilities… making it as accessible as possible.
This January, SheJumps is offering multiple opportunities to get out during the #FernieStreak, and they invite you to take part! Visit the FernieStreak calendar and save the date, watch out for ongoing events hosted by SheJumps throughout the year here in Fernie and visit shejumps.org for more details on this fantastic organization.
1. When did you first arrive in the Valley and what brought you here? The first time I ever came here, it was -25 and icy and I had a blown knee and it was like an ice skating rink! It was 2013 and I was visiting Spencer and we came down for Mike McPhee’s book launch and opening day. And I still ended up loving this town!
2. Who did you first meet? Mike McPhee, because he lived with my husband in Lake Louise twenty years ago.
3. Do you remember your first general impression of Fernie? It was quiet and peaceful. And cold!
4. What keeps you here? Everything. Literally it’s a magical place with a wonderful community that can’t be replicated.
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie pastime? Skiing deep pow!
6. What time of the year do you love most in Fernie, and why? Deep winter, because I get to go skiing every day! Growing up in New Mexico, you get cold and then warm and then cold… Fernie gets in the mode of winter and it’s cold and cozy and stormy.
7. Where do you see or hope to see Fernie in five years? I hope to see Fernie have a sustainable tourism plan as it’s a direction the town is going in, with an eye towards making it still liveable for locals.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? I go to CrossFit, almost every day.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. I’m a new-found hockey fan and never watched it prior to moving to Canada, I love the Ghostriders.
10. Quote to live by: The She Jumps tag line - What great thing would you dare to accomplish if success was the only possible outcome?