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Mentorship in the Mountains Mentorship in the Mountains
2022-08-12 08:34:00

In partnership with Rab, The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education has launched their Women’s Mentorship Program for the second season. The program aims to welcome women across all levels of experience in the industry, build networks, and provide a mentorship framework for participants to replicate future peer and mentor relationships.

This three-pronged community-focused program aims to support women in avalanche education with opportunities and resources to grow and sustain careers by:

• Hosting and providing scholarship funds for women taking AIARE PRO and Instructor Training Courses as well as offering women's affinity PRO and Instructor Training Courses.
• Connecting women with mentors and community via application-based mentorship programs.
• Organizing public facing events that include panel discussions and structured networking opportunities.

We chat with Lani Bruntz, a mountain guide, athlete and educator who excels at mountain biking and backcountry skiing. Lani lived on the road for four years, enabling her to ride in every state and continent. Lani works as an AIARE Mentor and Avalanche Instructure and Nordic Ski Coach. She also volunteers as a ranger with the Denali Patrol.

Lani gives us an honest and frank account of her positive experience of becoming a mentor with AIARE.

“The piece of advice that’s stuck with me since I took my first avalanche course is the importance of mentorship. But mentorship has been hard to come by.

After that course, I took more formal avalanche education, ski guide course work, and dedicated time backcountry skiing throughout the world.

On a training course on unconscious bias years later, I learned that mentors are more likely to take on mentees who remind them of themselves. The room was filled with more than 30 guides and avalanche instructors, yet only two were women. One of those women was me. Could this have had something to do with my struggle to find mentors in the industry?

When AIARE selected me to be a mentor, I at first regretted not having applied to be a mentee. I felt overwhelmed and unprepared for the responsibility of being a mentor when I still had (and have!) so much to learn. 

Yet I could have never expected the immediate relief I’d experience by simply seeing the faces of five other women on our zoom call, each of whom was working to become an AIARE instructor. Each of these women had fiercely impressive backgrounds as ski guides, avalanche forecasters, or backcountry skiers.

I was surprised by the support and vulnerability the group emitted in even the first few moments of conversation. Over the course of the season, I found myself surprised by the impact of connecting and conversing with women pursuing similar paths, where we shared goals and challenges that helped validate our journeys as avalanche educators and guides.

Part of the pressure to find mentors in this field is that the career demands experience and education and, often, the most valuable education comes from experience. For me, time in the field with mentors has been challenging to come by. It makes sense that mentors take on mentees who remind them of themselves. It’s who they want to spend their free time skiing with, sharing conversations with, and empowering with their years of knowledge and experience. After all, time is finite, and it can be challenging for mentors to find a natural fit to invite on adventures for days and afterwork hangs.

At the close of this winter season, I learned that a mentor of mine (the only other woman in that room full of guides) never felt like she was in a position to mentor. It wasn’t until she read a letter I wrote, thanking her for her mentorship and friendship, that she realized the younger staff on our team all look to her as a mentor. I was shocked to learn this, considering I had envied her spirit, art of guiding, and leadership since the day we met.  How could she have not seen herself as someone others would want to be mentored by?

Participating in the AIARE Women’s Mentorship Program revealed the power in mentoring—and being mentored by—others who remind us of ourselves. Ultimately, it helps to both build and share the space in an industry that has room for many more women and people of different backgrounds, beliefs, culture and experiences. 

By cultivating a diverse space as educators, we can reach more students, backcountry skiers, aspiring guides, forecasters, and educators. A greater representation of avalanche instructors and guides will help future generations of educators believe in themselves. 

Mentor applications are open now through August 15; mentee applications will be open from 1st August through 1st September. For more information about Women’s Mentorship Program or opportunities that AIARE offers to support women’s advancement, visit:

Find out more about the AIARE Women’s Mentorship Program

The Women’s Mentorship Program supports aspiring, new, and experienced women avalanche educators. If you identify as female and live in the USA then you could be part of the program.

Hosting and providing scholarship funds for women’s-specific PRO1 and Instructor Training Courses

Women’s-specific programs provide space for women to learn from women leaders and in community with one another. Women’s programs can be incredibly special, and AIARE is proud to be able to offer them, including providing financial support to make them even more accessible. Women who meet the relevant prerequisites are encouraged to apply. Some spaces are still available

Connecting women with mentors and community via application-based mentorship cohorts

Small group mentorship cohorts support women in building the skills and connections they need to thrive as avalanche professionals. Starting in December and running through early March, the mentorship cohorts consist of four to five  mentees and one mentor. Over the course of five sessions, mentees and mentors will explore their goals and challenges. Groups will also work to establish relationships of mutual support for both during the program and after. 2021-22 mentorship cohorts have already kicked off and are currently accepting applications for mentors. Applications for mentor roles close November 1st. Applications for mentees will open October 14th and close November 15th. Mentorship cohorts will meet five times starting in December with final sessions planned for early March. Although AIARE instructors will be given preference in the application process, any and all women who meet the basic prerequisites are encouraged to apply. Women who hold intersecting identities such as BIWOC (Black, Indigenous, + Women of Color), disabled, trans, working class, or other historically excluded identities are strongly encouraged to apply.

Organizing events that include panel discussions and structured networking opportunities

Starting in January, AIARE will be organizing a series of panel discussions that will feature women with a variety of experiences spanning all different aspects of avalanche education. Events will also include structured networking opportunities to help women build meaningful communities. Events will be open to anyone who is interested; tickets may be limited depending on the venue. Keep an eye on AIARE channels for more information coming soon.

AIARE is looking forward to a breakout year for the Women’s Mentorship Program and hopeful that this season’s experience will serve as a template for years to come. Keep an eye out on AIARE’s channels for more information on the 2021-22 Women’s Mentorship Program.

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Words by | Lani Bruntz

Words & images by | Athlete Name

As an athlete, guide, and educator, I believe in the power of outdoor recreation cultivating introspection, growth, and stronger connections, while instilling stewardship values of the land and community. As a creative and storyteller, I am most inspired by the intersections of sport and activism, representation and identity, education and outreach.

Read more about Lani here