Nathalie Drotar-Roulin on Creating Safe Spaces for Women Outdoors
More and more women are choosing to adventure in the backcountry, exploring all that the wilderness has to offer. However, there continues to be a disproportionate number of female hiking guides in the outdoor industry in comparison to their male counterparts.
This is starting to change, thanks to incredible female guides such as Nathalie Drotar-Roulin, a Yervana Local and ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides) hiking guide who’s passionate about ensuring women have the support, skills, and knowledge to explore the backcountry. She has over 10 years of experience leading backcountry trips as a volunteer for the ACC Calgary Section, and loves mentoring women into leadership roles.
We caught up with Nathalie to chat about her experience leading adventures for women, women in the outdoor community, her advice for those who may feel intimidated in the outdoors, and Yervana’s upcoming Women’s Intro to Backpacking Event in Kananaskis.
Read on to learn more.
What drew you to host adventures specifically for women? Was there a moment you experienced on an adventure with other women where you noticed a shift in dynamics?
I hosted my first women only adventure as a volunteer for the Alpine Club of Canada 12 years ago. I was curious to know if there were other women backcountry skiers around as it seemed most of my trips participants here were men. Back then backcountry skiing wasn’t as popular here in Canada compared to in the Alps where a lot of women were backcountry skiers.
Funny that you mention the shift in dynamics as I have a story related to that adventure in particular: I had decided on a maximum of 12 participants and booked the hut accordingly – knowing it fit 15 people, but not comfortable leading that many.
The trip filled up, and it made me realize there were many ladies who liked backcountry skiing like me… I was delighted! We had an amazing day skiing into the hut, getting to know each other along the way, and supporting and encouraging each other. I could picture us arriving at the hut to make it our home for the night, cooking dinner, sharing stories, joyfully laughing lots and finishing the evening by throwing pillows at each other in our PJs like little girls having a night at their best friend’s house.
Unbeknownst to me, three guys had booked the last remaining spots to ski a summit close by.
My jaw dropped in disappointment as I saw them in the hut as we arrived. I had not expected this. I knew one of them so we made some conversation. My group came in but it was very clear that the dynamics shifted from how things were on the way in, within the first hour we were in that hut. It was palpable.
I kicked myself for not booking the full hut but learned a lesson. From that trip on, I made many female friends I could co-lead with to bring more ladies out so we could fill a hut… just us.
Can you speak about your experience of creating safe spaces for women to learn and challenge themselves in what has historically been a male dominated industry?
I went on to lead a women-only ski trip each winter for the ACC Calgary section to ski Rogers Pass (until March 1 2020 when the pandemic hit) and it’s always been a great success. We’d book an entire small lodge – lessons learned remember! – and would discuss together our ski destination, the weather and avalanche forecast, the snow pack, etc your name it.
I’ve always been very open to feedback so have made it clear that I wanted women joining on my trips voicing their concerns, fears etc. as we prepare for our ski day and then on the trail/ up track. I want them to “pitch-in” with what they know and feel in their guts, not just follow with their head down.
How have you noticed the adventure travel industry shift in the last 10 years with regard to women’s participation?
Definitely an increase. Mind you, there has been an increase in adventure travel in general. Just not enough women wanting to take the lead though, or trusting they can.
What advice would you give to a woman who feels intimidated by exploring the outdoors?
Definitely take courses from professionals in their field, don’t just learn from your buddies. Also read books, blogs etc., but remember nothing replaces learning from a real person because of the feedback you get when you practice under their coaching eye! Then apply what you learned and when you’re comfortable, take others along with you to practice! Teaching, sharing to others does something to you that learning and soaking information doesn’t do. Never stop learning or refreshing your knowledge. Don’t ever think you know enough.
Keep fit and healthy – physically and mentally – so you can be an inspiration to those looking up to you and so you can be of help to others on the trail etc. And please be kind and supportive to other women or anyone, don’t ever think of yourself as superior to others as there is always someone stronger, smarter etc. than you.
Tell me about some of the connections you’ve made and inspiring women you’ve met through the outdoor community.
I’ve also organized courses for the ACC with Canmore based ACMG Alpine Guide Sarah Hueniken as instructor and taken a few courses from her. She’s been guiding and teaching women-only trips for many years and is an inspiration to me. Not only because she absolutely kicks butts in the climbing world – she is the kind of “spider-woman” who can climb across a cave upside down with crampons and tools on – but she’s very humble about it and is always here to empower other women to pursue climbing as well.
What would you like people to know about the upcoming Kananaskis Women’s Intro to Backpacking Event?
Come many! Bring your female friends, family, neighbours of all ages and body shapes! I can’t wait to meet you and answer questions and help you get out there safely trusting you can do it!
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