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Angela Hawse takes helm of American Mountain Guides Association board as group leans on women to foster change in guiding culture

“We are at the forefront and it’s a really exciting time for us to rattle some cages and bring more awareness to issues,” she says.

Veteran mountain guide Angela Hawse's Chicks Climbing and Skiing outfitter in Ridgway turns 20 next year. (Photo courtesy Angela Hawse)
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A business owner, veteran guide, educator and pioneer for women in the outdoor industry, Angela Hawse is an alpine boss. In 2010 she became the sixth American woman to earn the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association certification, the highest level for mountain guide. She is the only woman on the American Mountain Guides Association instructor team, teaching aspiring guides in rock climbing. She has climbed and skied all the big stuff around the world. And this year, she’s board president of the AMGA, which fosters the development of the mountain-guide culture in the U.S.

Hawse, 55, has worn a lot of hats with the Boulder-based association — as an instructor, a guide and, for the past 15 years, a board member helping to guide the 4,000-member group, which is the U.S. representative to the 25-member IFMGA. Her 20-year-old Chicks Climbing and Skiing business in Ridgway has introduced hundreds of women to outdoor adventure and nurtured a growing community of women athletes.

The Colorado Sun caught up with Hawse last week after she returned from a 16-day expedition on a cruise ship in Antarctica, from which she helped guide about 100 ski mountaineers and 25 guides from around the world.

The following interview was edited for clarity and length.

The Colorado Sun: What! Tell me about Antarctica.

Angela Hawse: Yeah, it’s my favorite trip of all time. This was my fifth trip. The penguins were incredible, and the ski mountaineering was amazing. A trip like this has so many very interesting and successful people who are really adventurous. And we just play in the last true wilderness around.

CS: What can AMGA bring to the international guiding community?

AH: I am working right now with the UIAA (International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation), and I’m on an environmental commission of IFMGA urging more awareness in the international guide-training scene on the importance of establishing strong guidelines for being better stewards of public lands and how to be an educator of the leave-no-trace philosophy. We want to culturally instill that ethic in our clients and grow even more cultural awareness of our impact on the mountains. How can we as mountain guides be stewards of the environment? We do a very good job of that here in the U.S., and I’m excited to help bring that to the international guiding community.

CS: It seems like guiding is much more popular in Europe, while it’s struggled a bit over here. Why is that?

AH: In Europe, people have always hired guides to experience the mountains. It’s very well established. If you are going to put in a kitchen, you hire a plumber. If you are going to climb a mountain, you hire a guide.

But in the U.S., we have that pioneering mentality. It’s a courageous outlook where we think we can do it all ourselves. I don’t see the culture changing very fast, and I think there are a lot of cool aspects to that culture, but it does surprise me sometimes that people are not more discerning about hiring a guide in the U.S.

In the U.S. people, in general, are not aware of the difference between a trained guide and a nontrained guide. Certified guides are more expensive, and most folks probably tend to go with the least-expensive option. There will continue to be that market that undercuts our profession. But ultimately, certified guides are going to be more in demand as the public becomes more aware of the value of a competent guide.

I do think we will see a huge demand for more certified guides. Even right now, we don’t have enough to meet demand. AMGA has 4,000 members, and the largest group is single-pitch instructors. Right now, single-pitch climbing guides are probably serving more clients than any other in the country.

CS: Riff a bit on inclusivity and introducing more women into the guiding scene. Guiding has long been male-dominated, but that’s changing, right?

Veteran mountain guide Angela Hawse, owner of Ridgway’s Chicks Climbing and Skiing, has pioneered many female firsts in the male-dominated guiding community. She’s now the board president of Boulder’s American Mountain Guides Association, the U.S. representative of the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association. (Photo courtesy Angela Hawse)

AH: A lot of clients like women guides, and they are in short supply. There is a lot of research out there showing how women create stronger teams and promote better decision-making in groups. Studies show if your team is composed of at least 30 percent women, you are going to be more successful and make better decisions overall. Simply realizing there is lot to be learned from the women’s side of things is an important first step. The more women you have in training and certification, the more you can notice the subtle differences in dealing with female clients. If you are a male and you have a female client, having gone through training with female guides will make you more aware of specific needs.

Women can impact the whole decision-making thing and moderating egos and tone of things. This year was just awful for guided fatalities all over the world, and … we are seeing moratoriums on guide training until everyone can figure out what’s causing all the deaths. How we can (figure out how to) adjust training to help people better realize how some guide risk tolerances might not be acceptable to clients. Well, when you have more women involved, your operational risk tolerance will be lower and your decision-making will reflect a little more conservative approach.”

CS: Next year’s Colorado Classic professional bike race will feature only female athletes. Boulder’s Camber Outdoors, led by Deanne Buck, has enlisted more than 80 outdoor-industry CEOs to commit to advancing gender equity and inclusion in the boardroom. (Buck was named president of the board of the American Alpine Club this year, too.) Your own Chicks Climbing and Skiing turns 20 next year, and there’s not a weekend in the mountains where women can’t find a clinic or a retreat bolstering their outdoor community. Add in the crackdown on bias and harassment across the industry, and the meteoric rise of female outdoor athletes, and can we just go ahead and call 2019 the Year of the Outdoor Woman?

AH: I don’t know if it’s the year of the woman, but certainly we are at the forefront and it’s a really exciting time for us to rattle some cages and bring more awareness to issues we have and want to resolve and we know are surmountable.

We are seeing a big movement in awareness and we are seeing more women participating in sports at all different levels, from beginners to experts. I think women are starting to feel more empowered and in a safer place. The world is waking up to some of our issues. It feels like we are in a safe place to play and not feel like we will be harassed or questioned about our ability to do technical things. My mother’s generation, there were very few women involved in anything technical as a career or even around the house. That has radically changed. My generation is full of women saying, “Yeah, I can do this.” We have all these organizations, like Chicks Climbing and Skiing, where it’s easy to learn new skills in a supportive environment.

Some of these organizations, like Camber Outdoors, are instrumental in industrywide awareness of how valuable women are in the world. AMGA is developing a cultural contract that everybody has to sign at the beginning of our courses and exams, where they are pledging to be respectful of everybody. We are using verbiage that is more inclusive rather than exclusive. One thing that is really helping now is more men stepping up and recognizing bias and inappropriate language. So, women don’t have to be the ones who are always stepping up and saying, “Hey, that’s not right.” For too long, when women stand up for themselves, they are stereotyped as being overly aggressive, and now there are guys calling other guys out. That’s when we start to win the battle.

It’s an exciting time to be president of the AMGA because, as a woman of small stature, even though I’ve been in this game for 35 years, I have not fallen victim to any harassment, but I certainly have experienced my share of bias and a lot of unconscious bias in male-dominated workplaces.