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Mountain Mentors entering second year

Group looking to make more connections in 2017-18

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Carolyn Klassen has benefitted from Mountain Mentors twice since the organization took root in the Sea to Sky last October.

The Squamish resident, who moved from Vancouver about two years ago, received splitboarding mentorship last winter and mountain-biking mentorship last summer.

In the first session, Klassen looked for an opportunity to boost her knowledge and take on a greater role in backcountry expeditions.

"I wanted to get more connections with women in the backcountry, specifically for splitboarding. I was a partner for going into the backcountry. I'm more of a back-up person. I don't usually do any of the planning or those kinds of things, so I wanted to be more confident in some of those skills," she said.

Though Klassen only went out once with her splitboarding mentor, she said she got plenty out of the experience.

"We reviewed notes and looked at avalanche safety background before we headed out. We were talking it out as two people, as a team, with a little bit of coaxing from her so I would come up with the answer," Klassen said.

Her mentor brought a fellow guiding friend, and Klassen said hearing them banter led to a major breakthrough.

"It's not that you don't know what you're doing. It's that you don't know how to then share it with somebody else," she said.

The summer experience was a new one, as she had never mountain biked before. She and her summer mentor became close, rode regularly, and by the end of the summer, Klassen was taking on some black sections of trail as her confidence skyrocketed. She also found she went from completing the Half Nelson trail in Squamish in 28 minutes in May to 12 minutes last weekend.

"It was awesome to see how the progression has been and then to send a screenshot of that to my mentor and her to say, 'That's amazing!'" Klassen said. "The support (is there) even if we're not out together doing something."

Co-founder Brett Trainor said there was an overwhelming response when the program started last year, as the organization hoped to facilitate 10 connections between mentors and women looking to build their skills. The program received over 200 applications for mentorship.

"We were super blown away and humbled by the demand for mentorship," she said.

After some growing pains in the first year, Trainor said the program is creating a few stricter guidelines for those involved to follow, asking that everyone commit to meeting once a month for a total of 35 to 40 hours over the season. As well, those being mentored must have three tangible goals and complete an AST 1 avalanche course by Dec. 9.

When facilitating connections, trainer and co-founder Thea Zerbe learned to ask better questions about the schedules for both women and the goals of their "mentees."

"People who succeeded the most in their mentorship were those who had three specific and tangible goals and were proactive in following up with their mentor," she said. "In those situations, we saw tremendous skill growth for the mentee and really positive rewarding feedback from the mentor. It was inspiring to see someone they helped reach a new level of climbing or skiing or biking."

The mentors serve as volunteers, and while Trainor said the program is working to increase the number of perks and benefits, she doesn't believe that's what is keeping some from getting involved.

"Women, maybe, have a harder time taking a step forward to believe that they have the skills to be a good mentor, too," she said. "We're working to keep building and attracting more mentors.

"You don't have to be a gnarly, crazy skier to be a good candidate for either. You just have to have a willingness to share and learn and grow."

Mountain Mentors is accepting applications for the winter season until Oct. 29 at www.mountainmentors.org.

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