Earlier this year we committed €1 million through our Explore Fund to support those companies, organisations, communities and individuals that make exploration possible. One of those organisations is Women’s Mountain Club, a French Alps-based charity that supports and enables women to spend more time in the mountains. To find out more, we sat down with its three founders Fay Mackman, Rachel Kerr and Naoimh O’Hagan.
WOMEN’S MOUNTAIN CLUB
Cast your mind back to the winter season of 2019/20. The Alps had revelled in early season snow. Skiers and snowboarders thought, yes finally a season filled with pow. But within a few months all of Alps’ ski resorts were closed, in some countries not even ski touring or splitboarding was allowed. The mountains were calling, as always, but we had to leave their calls unanswered.
The tourism industry has suffered greatly through the Covid-19 pandemic. Small companies and individual mountain guides and instructors were left without work in any shape or form. One of those small companies was Women’s Mountain Club. As the resorts shuttered down, so did its programme of courses.
‘Coronavirus put an end to our club almost overnight,’ explains Naoimh. ‘With the resort shutting the fundamental aspect of coming together, which is what we do, came to a halt.’
Fay, Rachel and Naoimh founded Women’s Mountain Club to bring together women of all ages and backgrounds to empower them with skills and confidence to spend more time in the mountains. And by bringing people together, they have been able to create a community of like-minded women who keep coming back, year after year, and bringing other women with them.
‘We wanted to create a hub for women to ski buddies at the same level so we could all meet up in Chamonix, get out in the mountains and do some cool stuff together,’ says Rachel.
Operating in the Chamonix Valley – and soon to expand into Morzine – Fay, Rachel and Naoimh feel they can offer a wide range of activities to cater to all kinds of women. They operate year-round, offering both mid-week and weekend activities, run by women, for women. Working with local mountain guides and ski instructors they’ve able to build up participants’ skills giving them the confidence and the will to ‘charge in the outdoors’.
‘It's not that we don't love men. We just know that a lot of our members thrive better in all women environments,’ says Naoimh.
The Women’s Mountain Club is comprised of women aged 17 to 72. Some are cancer survivors, others are former ultra-marathon runners some are just locals wanting to learn more about safely negotiating crevasse.
‘We're really passionate about what we've created for our female community,’ says Rachel. ‘We're trying to push women in the mountains and develop and grow them as a person, so they feel they're making achievements, big or small.’
All three women are passionate about the mountains and their joy for them is infectious. ‘I just want to share my passion for the mountains with everybody,’ says Fay.
The upcoming season is still uncertain. But at least now Women’s Mountain Club can continue to provide an income for the ski instructors and mountain guides they work with, whatever the outcome of Covid-19 this winter.
The story of Women’s Mountain Club is one of many. Through the extra Covid-19 funding of the Explore Fund we’ve been able to help more than 20 different organisations and groups that make exploration possible. Here are six more of those stories: