Michelle Parker on why she founded SAFE AS & why they chose to go co-ed
Michelle Parker has been skiing since she was one year old. Born in Truckee, California, she started skiing at the challenging Squaw Valley Ski Resort. After years of racing, she decided that a move into freeskiing and eventually big mountain skiing inspired her more. She has been in countless ski movies, most prolifically with Matchstick Productions over the last 10 years. She can be found with her ukelele having a big laugh wherever the snow is good.
Michelle and a team of amazing ladies started SAFE AS (Skiers Advocating and Fostering Education for Avalanche and Snow Safety) to help foster a women’s friendly (and more recently co-ed too!) introductory course to promote safe snow travel. Definitely check out one of her clinics in 2018 and enjoy this recap of the 2017 events. HANAH is proud to sponsor such an unique and educational series.
by Michelle Parker
We just wrapped up our last of five avalanche courses and now we get to reflect on time well spent educating both men and women about avalanche awareness.
We’ve been putting on these one-day intro to level one avalanche awareness clinics for the past six years. In that time, we have reached over 900 individuals, primarily women, and have raised over $30,000 for local non-profits related to the outdoors, focusing on our avalanche centers. I like to think that in the past six years of teaching these courses, the knowledge we’ve passed on has helped curate healthy conversations in the backcountry about safety, decision making and working together as a team. Perhaps these skills have even saved lives, as that is the ultimate goal.
I’ve been a professional skier since I was 16. It’s been a long career (14 years and counting!) drawn out by a deep passion to be in the mountains and explore new places. When I was 12, I lost my first two friends in an avalanche. It’s stuck with me and has propelled my desire to share knowledge and cultivate healthy and safe mountain communities. This mission, paired up with a few others with a shared vision, is where SAFE AS (Skiers Advocating & Fostering Avalanche and Snow Safety) came from.
In the first four years of operation, we taught women’s only clinics. The purpose of this was to create a space that empowered women, to encourage personal development and growth, and to allow ladies to come together to learn how to be in the mountains safely. We certainly accomplished that goal, but had an overwhelming response from our amazing male counterparts that they wanted in on the fun too. We’ve expanded by offering specific co-ed clinics and the growth allowed families, couples and guys to enjoy being far outnumbered by women in a male-dominated environment. It’s been really fun to watch people interact and to see how supportive the guys naturally become when surrounded by women who love the outdoors.
While I love our co-ed clinics, the energy that is felt in a room full of women is something special. My amazingly talented and experienced counterparts with SAFE AS include Jackie Paaso, Ingrid Backstrom, Elyse Saugstad, Lel Tone, Sherry McConkey, Kimmy Fasani, Robin Van Gyn, Hana Beaman and Cody Townsend. Can you imagine being in a room filled with all of these accomplished rock star skiers and snowboarders giving you their attention and teaching you about avalanche awareness? It’s pretty powerful, especially when women are teaching women, there’s a certain energy that builds in the room and it generates a supportive classroom. Not to mention, the personal anecdotes that each of us has to offer add a layer of reality to the subject matter we are teaching.
The mountains are where I feel the most confident in myself. They’ve shaped who I am today and will continue to do so. They keep me mentally balanced, in touch with my environment, and help me to feel grounded. While there are endless positives to spending time in the mountains, it is imperative that we are humble and continue to approach them with respect. Through SAFE AS we hope to encourage the process of learning how to exist amongst an environment that can be dangerous. We can be ignorant, but that is not bliss in the mountains.
Let’s continue to converse on the skin track, practicing good communication, and be stand out backcountry partners by taking action and getting educated. Passing this knowledge on to others naturally feels good and you learn so much more by teaching. Huge shout out to all of you who have already practiced companion rescue this season, taken a course on avalanche awareness, and plan to do so throughout the year. Cheers to a white and safe winter!
- Practice regularly with your rescue equipment. I do companion rescue drills at least once a month throughout the season as I want to be tac sharp and prepared if anything were to happen.
- An avalanche awareness course is a great start, but in my opinion that goes hand in hand with taking a wilderness first aid course. Likely, if you are rescuing a friend in an avalanche, there might be injuries and you are on your own to help.
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