GO! Girls Outdoors

A resource for women in Outdoor Education and Recreation

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Gear Resources
Gear manufacturers have realised that lots of women like the outdoors and they're different shapes from men. Here's what's out there, and where you can buy it.

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Travel Resources
A selection of travel resources especially for women who love to travel. Includes a list of online communities if you do it yourself, or companies if you need a little help.

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Surfing Resources
Listed here are some links to resources from all over the world that cater to women who love surfing.

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Hiking Resources
Extended walks are great for the mind and spirit and lots of women love to take part in them. Check out these resources and get inspired to go on a walking adventure.

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Snow Sports

Snow Sports Resources
Skiing, snowboarding, backcountry, polar expeditions - all done in the snow and all done by lots of amazing women.  Check out these resources to find out more...

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Kayaking Resources
White water, surfing, sea kayaking, sprint racing, marathon racing, multisport, fishing...is there anything you can't do from a kayak? Explore these resources!

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Cycling Resources
A list of resources for all sorts of cycling - mountain biking, road biking, touring, racing, recreation and commuting - all specific to women.

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Climbing Resources
Women can (and have) achieved incredible things in climbing. Listed in this section are a collection of climbing and moutaineering resources that are useful and inspiring for all climbers.

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A list of organisations that cater exclusively to women, or run trips exclusively for women. A great way to find a women-specific adventure in your area.

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Outdoor Industry

Outdoor Industry Resources
Looking for resources to help you plan programs, companies and organisations that cater for women or organisations you can join? Look no further...

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The Women's Wilderness Institute

TWWI Ice ClimberThe Women’s Wilderness Institute is a non-profit organisation based out of Boulder, Colorado that runs an impressive range of outdoor adventure programs for women and girls.  If you flick through their list of courses for 2009, which takes the form of a 34-page booklet, you will see what I mean.  The courses for girls range from day trips to wilderness expeditions, focusing on activities such as rock climbing, backpacking, snowshoeing and yoga as well as singing, dancing, artwork and community projects.  There are also daughter-parent adventures, leadership courses and a Latina course.  The women’s programs are just as extensive - you can learn to telemark ski, ice climb, snowshoe, rock climb, fly fish, mountain bike, canoe or hike.  You can do courses in photography, journaling, yoga, art, navigation and even finance!  If you’ve survived trauma or cancer there are retreats for you, and if you have a daughter you can take part in snowshoeing, fly fishing or rock climbing adventures.

The Women’s Wilderness Institute was formed in 1997 by a woman named Laura Tyson and two others, because they noticed that in a co-ed group, the women would tend to step to the side and not immediately go into leadership positions.  They wanted to create curriculum and develop programs that would cater to the way that girls and women like to learn.  Each program and course in The Women’s Wilderness Institute’s extensive and impressive range is based on their model of choice-based, women-specific wilderness education.  Beth Davis, the Executive Director of the organisation, generously made time to explain why their model is unique and how it was developed.

TWWI HikingOne of the important differences between men and women is how they react differently to stress.  Men get an adrenalin response, creating tingling feelings of excitement and anticipation.  Beth says that it goes back to the old ‘fight or flight’ response that is embedded in our psyche from the days when we used to need it.  When men are challenged in a stressful situation, they get the adrenalin response which allows them to move forwards in the ‘fight’ response.  Women, on the other hand, develop a chemical called acetylcholine, which results in a nauseous feeling and a tendency to move away in the ‘flight’ response.  Beth says that she’s identified this response in herself - she says that when she’s hitting her fear base she does indeed feel sick to her stomach.

This key biochemical difference between men and women is something that The Women’s Wilderness Institute has taken into consideration in their course programming.  When you have gender specific programming, you can bite-size the moments when women hit their fear threshold and help them distinguish between frozen fear and excited fear, or between “I really don’t want to do that” and “I need some support”.  Courses are based on a conscious choice model, which gives girls and women the opportunity to decide whether or not or how they want to challenge themselves in an activity.  

TWWI Mountain BikerThis biochemical difference may also be why women have specific learning needs in challenging environments.  Beth says that by developing an incremental style of learning and creating a supportive environment, you can reduce the effects of the female fear response.  For example, Beth recently attended a beginners’ mountain biking course where this learning style was used to assist participants get through a series of obstacles.  First the instructor walked through the obstacles, then talked through the obstacles, then walked her bike through, then rode her bike through.  Then the participants looked at the route, walked it, walked their bikes through it, then rode through.  Even though that sounds like a lot of preparation and a slow progression, Beth says that she probably wouldn’t have attempted the obstacles without it.

Also important for girls and women is a sense of connection and support.  On courses instructors will do their best to create a supportive environment with lots of communication, hoping to bring the full emotional experience of the women into what’s ahead of them.  Beth says that if they have a chance to express their hopes and fears and share them with the group, it becomes a community of women who will support each other through the challenges that lie ahead.

TWWI YogaThe mission of The Women’s Wilderness Institute (from their website) is to strengthen the courage, confidence and leadership qualities of girls and women through the support and challenge of wilderness and community based experiences.  They achieve this through careful programming that enables girls and women to face challenges in their own way in an outdoor setting, then to take that knowledge back to their everyday lives and flourish because of it.  Beth, who came to the organisation from the healthcare profession, says that she didn’t have a career change at all - she just moved from treatment to prevention, and what she does now is the ultimate health care!

So, next time you’re perched with your ski tips quivering over the lip of a double black diamond and you have that sick feeling in your stomach, recognise it for what it is.  Appreciate the fact that your ancestors were protected by that acetylcholine you’re producing, ignore the whooping blokes next to you, make a thorough risk assessment and decide what’s best for you as a woman, proud of her acetylcholine!  Embrace your biochemistry!

For more information about The Women’s Wilderness Institute, visit their website here.  Thanks to Jessica and Beth for their time in Boulder.

To read more about the differences between men and women, visit the gender information pages on GO! Girls Outdoors for a list of articles and resources.

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