It’s no secret that climbing,
as a sport, is homogeneous...
Surveys from the American Alpine Club’s State of Climbing Report and Outdoor Industry Association confirm what can be observed at most gyms and crags around the country: the climbing community is predominantly white men. For folks who fall outside of these demographics—women, queer people, trans people, people of color, or people with any combination of these identities—it can be difficult to access climbing instruction and mentorship.
These difficulties arise from negative experiences in climbing and outdoor recreation that make people feel unwelcome—and unsafe—because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, or other identities. Being scrutinized intensely on a belay test compared to a white male partner, having climbing partners repeatedly use the wrong pronouns, being asked, “did you toprope that pitch?” after leading it, driving past a confederate flag on the way to the crag: These are just a few experiences that women, queer people, and people of color have reported. These experiences result in fear, anger, alienation, and self-doubt that makes it hard to participate in climbing or learn new skills, and even harder to stick around and be a mentor for other people with similar identities.
Across identities, safe and dedicated learning environments are essential for learning and developing the skills associated with mountain guiding. In creating these environments, the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) considers diversity and inclusion to be a risk management issue. Physical and emotional risks are inherent to climbing and skiing. Mountain guides are trained to evaluate and manage the physical risk and safety of terrain, weather, and technical systems. However, the emotional risk is a bit more complex. Some emotional risk is part of the appeal of climbing–we push past fear and discomfort to finish a climb and experience the joy that accompanies a send. But, emotional safety should be prioritized when it relates to participants’ social interactions within a group and to how their personal history and identity shape the way they participate in a learning space. When educational spaces are designed without the emotional needs of underrepresented identity groups in mind, they often alienate and hurt the students they’re trying to serve.
Affinity courses bridge this gap to create an intentional and dedicated learning space for underrepresented groups. Instructors for these courses hold underrepresented identities in outdoor rec, as well as demonstrated commitments to diversity and inclusion. And, the benefits are clear…
Lila Leatherman (they/them)