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Outdoor Women's Alliance has goal of expanding Colorado Springs network

March 20, 2017 Updated: March 21, 2017 at 10:26 pm
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OWA members engage in more than just mountain sports. Many members participate in sports like standup paddleboarding. (Courtesy photo)

Having just moved back to Utah from Florida, Gina Bégin sought out locals to teach her the skills she needed to thrive in the outdoors.

As she trad climbed harder routes and ran bigger rapids, the confidence she gained from learning these skills became addictive. She knew she needed a way to help other women to enter the largely male-dominated community so that they could experience the same rush she and those who taught her could.

"A woman's approach in the outdoors is different than a man's approach, inherently," Bégin said. "When in a group of all women, women are generally more willing to fail, get up and try again because your peers generally understand why you approached that (climbing) route or ski run in the way that you did. There is value in going with a co-ed group, but it's much less intimidating for many women to learn from people who experience the same troubles and limitations."

Recognizing the need for an organization that could better connect women interested in the outdoors to build their confidence in the backcountry, Bégin founded Outdoor Women's Alliance in December 2007. Since 2014, Bégin has established a cohort of seven OWA Grassroots Teams in regions throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The Front Range chapter, the first of OWA's Grassroots Teams, boasts almost 2,000 members on its Facebook page. There, the team co-leaders - Annie Lawson, Kayleen Glasier and Jenny Verrochi - and other members frequently organize informal meet-ups to rock climb, backcountry ski and trail run, among other outdoor pursuits.

"Our team was very disjointed at first, and, during our first event at a bouldering gym in Denver, no one showed up but my roommate," said Lawson, who founded the Front Range team and manages all of the Grassroots Teams in North America. "Now, I have two team co-leaders, and oftentimes, we have almost 30 people at our events. Usually they're people who don't know each other, which is awesome. Of course, that comes with establishing a reputation with members in the Front Range community."

Despite their success in the Denver Metro and Boulder area, Lawson and her co-leaders, who live in Denver and Boulder, have had difficulty in establishing robust networks in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs.

Ideally, the Front Range team wants to recruit leaders from Fort Collins and Colorado Springs to encourage events to better connect women in those cities.

Until then, Lawson explained, OWA is using its $25,000 crowdfunding campaign to create an online platform that women can use to connect, grow sills and build in-person communities in areas without or underserved by OWA's Grassroots Teams.

The crowdfunding efforts will help reach OWA's 230,000-member network and provide leaders of established and future teams with banners, stickers, promotional materials and member perks. Currently the Grassroots Teams serve just over 8,000 members.

Bégin also hopes the crowdfunding effort will help members engaged on Instagram, where there are 185,000 followers, understand that OWA is more than a social media account; as a nonprofit, it offers women internship programs, editorial mentorship, and professional skill development. These roles range from grant writing and social media internships to opportunities to publish adventure writing, photography and videography stories.

"People scroll through Instagram so quickly that it's hard to get them to really know what we're all about," Bégin said.

"With the membership platform, I'm hoping our mission will spread even faster because, so far, it's been pretty fantastic to see how the community has shaped OWA."

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