AIARE Leads the Charge to Diversify Avalanche Industry
Female inclusion in the avalanche industry is a hot topic, for sure. But what would happen if an avalanche organization is predominantly run by women? Well, just ask Liz Riggs Meder, AIARE Recreational Program Director, who’s one of the six women who comprise 75% of the AIARE management staff. Their main message? Well, it’s directed squarely at women, a huge departure for the male-dominated industry.
“We are all here to back you up,” Riggs Meder said. “We are here for you, we are all fighting to take up space and be more inclusive,”
AIARE is leading the charge in diversifying the avalanche industry through various levels of support, education, and outreach. Riggs Meder credits the predominantly female staff for creating an atmosphere of learning and growth that equips them to face a few of today’s current issues.
To that end, for this coming season, AIARE will be partnering with Rab, Mammut, Scarpa, and The First Ascent Foundation to introduce a Women’s Mentorship Program. This will provide the opportunity to learn from some of the top women avalanche educators in the country and have a unique mountain mentorship experience. Virtual sessions will pair a small group with a mentor and come up with a progression of personal and professional goals. The ultimate goal, Riggs Meder said, is “to establish meaningful connections and networks” and to let women know that the things they are experiencing are being experienced by women in other places as well. “Do we all know this is happening to each other?” she asked. The ideas that getting into the industry has to be a struggle or that women need to be pioneers are concepts she wants to shed.
Riggs Meder was also quick to point out that equitable access means meeting people where they are, whether they are snowmobilers, ice climbers, or other often overlooked populations in snowsports. “We have been missing aspects of inclusion from these communities as well because they also have not had a seat at the table before.” Adding an entire motorized program to the AIARE curriculum was one of the ways the nonprofit has been attempting to create more space for a variety of backcountry travelers.
AIARE hopes the Women’s Mentorship Program is just the first step in helping women view avalanche education as a viable career. Their main goal is to support and uplift traditionally marginalized communities and share valuable experience. Riggs Meder credits the mainly female team for creating an environment where these tough issues can be discussed and for creating a more supportive environment for avalanche education.
Tarah O’Connor has worked in the outdoors for 20 years as an EMT, ski patroller, avalanche educator, and ski guide. She lives in Ogden, Utah, and continues to make skiing her first priority.