Rossignol Takes Women through Backcountry Gates & Beyond Their Expectations

Rossignol Takes Women through Backcountry Gates & Beyond Their Expectations

Paula Colman

By Paula Colman \ March 11 2024

Want to ski here?

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Or here?

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Or here?

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On Super Bowl Sunday, Rossignol and The Ski Utah Interconnect Tour invited female skiers and snowboarders to tour this part of the Wasatch backcountry wedged between Solitude and Brighton ski resorts. 

Next year, you’ll want to join them.

Think Cardio, Not Cardiac Arrest

For many, ‘backcountry skiing’ sounds like another extreme sport conjured up by teenagers looking for the next high-flying adrenaline rush or viral video, but it’s quite the opposite. At its core, it's the origins of skiing without lifts, tickets, lines or legwork. Actually, there’s a fair amount of legwork, and it is more correctly referred to as ski ‘touring,’ with about 90% skinning/traversing/hiking (straightforward cardio) and 10% downhill skiing (intermediate-to-advanced skiing). 

So, why isn’t everyone exiting the resorts through the backcountry gates on a holiday weekend?

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The large (usually red) signs (usually in ominous bold caps) flanking the gates that warn of…everything but dragons give prudent skiers and snowboarders pause. The double-black diamonds further signal, “!!Don’t go unless you know!!” However, peeking through the gates and over the ridge lines, we glimpse glistening snow, endless, untracked terrain and few, if any, people.

We’re absolute goners from that point.

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Rossignol Welcomes Women in the Backcountry

Rossignol has been at the forefront of winter sports for over a century, when its founder, Abel Rossignol, fashioned the first wooden skis to traverse near his home in Isére, France. Nothing has changed. As a leader in alpine sports, its commitment to getting everyone on the mountain (entitled ‘We Rise’) has only broadened, especially its commitment to women, who are dominating athletic and economic ski news.

Not satisfied with “shrink it and pink it” or “one and done” strategies, Rossignol launched a Women’s Backcountry Touring Ski Day here in Utah three years ago to get women to exit those gates with skills, confidence, and, equally importantly, other women to cheer them on and continue touring afterward. In partnership with the Ski Utah Interconnect Tour and Utah Avalanche Center, this professionally guided experience removed the most significant barriers keeping women from giving backcountry touring a try.

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The Formerly Scariest Word in the Wasatch

The Wasatch Mountains are some of the most spectacular in the world. Most of Utah’s 15 ski resorts straddle one side or the other, with the backcountry stitching them together. Ski Utah’s Interconnect Tour gives participants a single-day jaunt of six of Utah's resorts. However, because of high snowfall and steep terrain, this mountain range is also susceptible to avalanches, and there are few organizations that better monitor, forecast and educate than the Utah Avalanche Center

As any good outdoor attorney will tell you, there’s no such thing as ‘safe,’ which means free from risk, but we can understand and manage those risks. That is what UAC does best, and for those who wish to venture into the backcountry, it provides courses to help you do exactly that. 

Wahoo Women

With guides from Ski Utah Interconnect Tour and UAC, dozens of women were divided into groups based on backcountry experience (from zero days to years) and sent off to learn a variety of skills from clipping into ski touring bindings, skinning techniques, route planning and, indeed, managing risks.

Oh, and they skied some epic powder runs, as well.

One group eagerly loaded Solitude Mountain Resort’s Apex and Summit lifts, side-stepped through the gate to Highway to Heaven…and gaped — some gasped — at the sun-drenched, barely tracked terrain below. Milly Bowl would be their playground for the day. 

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Bounding down Sol-Bright to the Brighton gate and up Milly Express, the half-dozen women and three guides from the Ski Utah Interconnect Tour and UAC (terrific size and ratio) didn’t stop or gasp at the ropes, signs or diamonds and with whoops and hollers plunged into parts unknown.

If you’ve ever participated in women’s-specific events, you’ve discovered a few common elements: the quiet (especially when encountering something new), the play-by-play (women will tell you EXACTLY what to anticipate), the cheerleading (if they could put pom-poms in their backpacks, they would), the laughter (even if you eat it half-way down), the camaraderie (women from completely divergent backgrounds bonding easily over these shared experiences), and the wonder (gobsmacked by how much they accomplished and how much sleep they unnecessarily lost worrying about it the night before). 

The women in this group experienced all of this and more. Different backgrounds, ages and experiences — from early 20s to late 50s, ski instructors to powder newbies, this cross-section of outdoor enthusiasts found common cause and celebration on the mountain. Traversing, skiing, lunching, skinning, more skiing, repeat. 

The only thing you didn’t hear were apologies. All were there to learn. Some were better skiers, others route planners, but they were all learning quickly from each other. It wasn’t just about having a safe space to make mistakes, but collaborating and trusting that everyone brought eyes, ears and experiences (sometimes quite amusing ones) that could make each person and the entire group better and cohesive.

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We Came, We Saw, We Conquered

As everyone converged in the pre-event prep talk, the Rossignol team asked each person to share what they wanted to gain from the day. Comfort in the backcountry and women to explore with topped the list by far.  However, few probably expected to be texting their new friends in their group and the photos of jaw-dropping backdrops and powder sprays, inside jokes and plans for next year’s event and next week’s gate. Bring on the dragons!

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