Growing up, Claire Smallwood didn’t imagine she’d have a career in sports. “I was on a soccer team all through high school—I think I was the only person on the whole team who never scored a goal,” she laughs.
Still, there was something about her experience she felt compelled to share. “Sports can provide a powerful sense of self that translates into standing up for yourself and finding courage to tackle challenges,” Smallwood says — traits she feels are especially powerful for girls and women in our society.
In 2007, the concept for the nonprofit SheJumps, built off of this feeling, was born. Smallwood and two friends, Vanessa Pierce and Lynsey Dyer set out to create an organization dedicated to getting more women and girls involved in outdoor sports. Fast forward 15 years, and the nonprofit has expanded to help thousands of female athletes unlock their potential with Smallwood at the helm.
SheJumps runs programs for athletes of all ages and levels—like the Alpine School, focused on ski and splitboard mountaineering, and Wild Skills, which teaches girls outdoor survival skills like shelter building and navigation. The organization also works with partners like BRANWYN to grow their impact. For every single piece of Innerwear you buy, 2 percent goes to SheJumps and our other amazing Empowerment Partners.
To learn more about how SheJumps is aiming to reshape outdoor sports, we chatted with Smallwood about her experience as a freeskier, adventurer, and Executive Director.
What inspired you to co-found SheJumps?
As women who enjoyed outdoor sports, we found that we were often the token woman in a group of guys. More importantly, we felt that the fear and fun that comes from being outdoors is a really strong source of empowerment and confidence building. You don’t have to be the best at something—nature is always there to meet you where you’re at.
How would you describe your mission?
We are dedicated to increasing the participation of women and girls in outdoor activities. We believe in creating nurturing, transformative experiences that help people find their fullest potential. We do that by free and low-cost and more premium level events that allow us to offer a wide range of programs from beginners all the way up to advanced and even those trying to take the more professional guide track.
What makes outdoor sports such a game-changer for women and girls?
I know that for me, it’s a way of finding out who I’m meant to be without societal messages or pressures. Getting involved with sports and the outdoors elevates that sense of self. I can do this really hard thing on the mountain, so I know I can do this other really hard thing in my day-to-day life.
When did you first fall in love with outdoor sports?
I participated in a school-subsidized skiing program which really opened my eyes. I felt such a strong sense of freedom when I was skiing. That experience for me was really powerful. My family probably wouldn’t have been able to afford for me to go skiing every weekend, and that’s motivated me to implement a lot of the programs we do for SheJumps. For example, in our longest-running program in Salt Lake City, we take girls who come from immigrant and refugee communities to go skiing. It’s really important that we are always lowering the barriers for these powerful sports.
How would you describe the barriers facing women in outdoor sports?
Participation is not at 50-50 and there are a lot of reasons for that. There is the historical exclusion for women and specifically women of color, as well as the barriers of cost and community. Accessing natural places can come with a lot of costs, such as gear, gas, time off from work, and the hidden costs of domestic labor—and then you need someone to show you the ropes. We really want to make everything as free or low-cost as possible.
Plus, a lot of outdoor marketing enforces a narrative that you have to look a certain way in order to be outdoorsy—which is not true. If we have better representation and storytelling, than we can make it seem like it’s not as exclusive of a community
How does SheJumps think about inclusivity and diversity for all women?
There's been a lot of focus on racial and gender diversity in the outdoors, which is incredibly important. I think there also needs to be a bigger lens with an intersectional approach, specifically for disabled athletes. We’ve been thinking about how as a whole we can be a more adaptive organization. My best friend was in a biking accident a couple years ago. She’s paraplegic now. I’ve seen from her experience what it’s like to navigate a new world and knowing that the resources are pretty limited. Going to a ski area is pretty inaccessible to her. Even if she has the equipment it can be really difficult just to navigate through space.
Do you have any favorite memories from your work with SheJumps?
Our SheJumps Into the Canyon program is our longest-running program working up at Alta. One of our grads from the program, a DACA recipient and Boys and Girls Club member, ended up not only getting her own season pass to Alta but becoming a ski buddy of ours. Seeing that she loved it so much that she wanted to make it a big priority in her life was so special. It was such a grateful circle of experience.
What makes BRANWYN a good partner for SheJumps?
BRANWYN has been supporting us for years, so it’s great to see that the commitment is really real for the women’s community. Plus, ask any woman—when you have amazing underwear on, you feel like you can do anything. When you have something that’s made well, ethically and sustainable, and also part of a bigger movement, that’s really powerful.
What’s next for SheJumps?
SheJumps is in a really fun phase of development. One of things we’re really excited about is expanding our scholarship programs. We currently have one of the largest avalanche scholarship programs in the country. Last year we gave away 83 avalanche education certifications with 60 percent of them going to women of color. We’re trying to address upstream solutions to the lack of diversity in the outdoor industry.
What are your personal athletic goals?
I had a pretty bad knee injury 10 years ago so my relationship with the outdoors has gone from being very aspiring and trying to climb all the biggest peaks to really just appreciating every moment. I’m really trying to get better at mountain biking and trying to get out on the trails. I get so much motivation from our SheJumps community.