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Chicks Climbing and Skiing To Dissolve After 21 Years of All-Women Instruction

When Chicks With Picks---the first iteration of Chicks Climbing and Skiing---was founded, a team of all-women ice-climbing instructors was a novel thing in a sport that was predominantly led by men. Chicks With Picks changed the status quo.

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After 21 years of providing quality instruction and inspiring women, Chicks Climbing and Skiing announced on August 6 that it will dissolve August 15.

Founder Kim Reynolds began Chicks With Picks with the vision of empowering women through all-female ice-climbing clinics. At the time of its creation, a team of all-women instructors was a novel thing in a sport that was predominantly led by men.

“I feel like we changed the paradigm because it used to be when you walked through the Ouray Ice Park there were few women ice climbers and of the ones that were ice climbing they weren’t taking leadership roles,” said Kitty Calhoun, a guide for Chicks since the first clinic.

“Now when you walk through the park there are tons of women climbers climbing together, leading, they’re setting up anchors, and they’re climbing well,” said Calhoun.

It wasn’t long before Chicks With Picks expanded into rock climbing, and in 2015, when Reynolds sold the company to Chicks guides Kitty Calhoun, Angela Hawse—who is also president of the American Mountain Guides Association—Elaina Arenz, and Karen Bockel, they added alpinism, ski mountaineering, and avalanche instruction.

[Also Read Crack Climbing — Advantage: Women]

The coronavirus pandemic has posed insurmountable challenges to Chicks Climbing, both financially and structurally. Most of its clinics are travel-based, and during the pandemic, many fewer people are willing to travel. Even once at clinics, social distancing is hard; Chicks’ instruction model is based on people sharing physical spaces.

“That is the essence and energy of Chicks,” said Carolyn Parker, another guide for Chicks Climbing. “If you try and dilute that and space it out, you lose the energy and essence of Chicks.”

These challenges, and the uncertainty of how long the pandemic will last, caused Chicks to close.

Throughout its lifespan, Chicks and its owners have been dedicated to giving back. Before 2015, they raised over $200,000 for women’s shelters, primarily in Montrose. When Chicks ran clinics in North Conway, they donated to the local women’s shelter there, and one winter they gave to SheJumps, an organization that aims to increase the participation of girls and women in outdoor activities. Chicks also raised more than $15,000 for the Ouray Ice Park.

Parker and Calhoun remember the powerful impact of changing women’s lives. Parker noted women leaving the clinics with feelings of warmth and self-confidence, and often new climbing partners. Chicks took women from learning to tie a figure eight knot to leading their own rock and ice climbs. One ice climbing clinic participant, Norie Kizaki, was so inspired that she dedicated the next 17 years to mastering her climbing and skiing skills. Now she is working to become a fully certified mountain guide.

[Also Read Kim Reynolds: What I’ve Learned]

“It’s an empowering experience, really. Being able to do things that you didn’t think you could do, both climbing harder grades or skiing steeper slopes but also being able to do it relatively safely and become self-sufficient, independent,” said Calhoun. “And then oftentimes it transfers over to more confidence and being able to speak out and take leadership in the community at large.”

Calhoun hopes that past participants will take these feelings of community, confidence, and competence to help solve some of the environmental and social challenges ahead of us.

Parker is optimistic that the energy of Chicks will carry on.

“Chicks was an amazing machine,” said Parker, “and something good, some silver lining, will come out of it.”