Fearlessly Female: Jan Reynolds on life up high and advice for aspiring women ski mountaineers

Jan Reynolds, 62, is familiar with being the lone woman on daring and remote expeditions. As the former record-holder for women’s high-altitude skiing, which she achieved on Tibet’s Muztagata (24,757 ft.) in 1980, Reynolds has made her mark on ski history. Then, after completing the first circumnavigation of Mt. Everest in 1981-82 and, in 1985, a descent of Toubkal (13,671 ft.)—North Africa’s tallest peak—she shifted her focus to include studying the various roles women hold across cultures. Here Reynolds sheds light on how to grow and encourage the female ski-mountaineering community.

Jan Reynolds on the 1979 Southern Cross Expedition to New Zealand. “No helmets, no radios, no weather reports, no tents, just ‘Me and The Boys,’ as Bonnie Raitt used to sing,” she says. [Photo] Courtesy Jan Reynolds

After I graduated from the University of Vermont [in 1978], I thought, “Well, I’ll just teach skiing for a year, or one winter, and then get a job.” Ned Gillette hired me to teach skiing at Trapp Family Lodge. I taught skiing that winter, and then we ended up going to New Zealand. We did the first traverse of the high peaks of New Zealand [the 1979 Southern Cross Expedition]. We linked some peaks together that had never been linked before. We did it on cross-country skis with metal edges. We had leather boots, our heels weren’t locked down, and we had 50-pound packs. We did a new route. It was three men and I.

When I was first asked to go on that Southern Cross Expedition with Ned Gillette, Tom Carter and Allen Bard, I did a classic thing: I said no. I thought, “Wow, if I do anything wrong they’re going to think, ‘Yeah, we never should have brought her.’” I wasn’t sure I had 100 percent of the skills, even though my skill level was better than some of the others’. But they bugged me so much that I finally said, “I’ll go, but just remember, you’re the ones who wanted me.” In the end, an expedition that should have taken a week took us a month, because there were so many storms in the Southern Alps. We were snowed in and stuck in a snow cave for almost five days. But it was a great experience, and I’d do it again.

When I was young, I looked at everybody as the personality they were instead of man versus woman. It wasn’t until I got older and looked back on certain situations and scenarios that happened on expeditions that I realized what I was experiencing was different from what guys were experiencing. But we always got along, and we were successful. It’s been proven over and over again that a more diverse team is a more successful team—there are broadened experiences to draw from.

My advice for females who are hesitant about ski mountaineering or think it’s too much for them is hedge your bets, go with a friend, go to a local gear shop to get some advice. But the thing is to take that step. Women often think, “I should brush up on this.” But by the time ladies raise their hands to take their turn, the guys are already gone. I think that’s the biggest internal barrier for women: maybe they’re not sure they can do it, or they might be nervous about it. I say, “Just go!”

You don’t need an objective that’s huge; I think that’s really important to remember. You find out so much more about who you are, what you can do and what the world has to offer when you try. That’s a hard thing for women—to take that first step. But once they do, they’re on it. They love it. They stay in shape; they bond with their friends.

My only hope is that I can be the voice in every female’s ear that says, “You got this. You can do this. This is yours.”


  1. Natalie Koncz says:

    Rad lady. She deserves a feature article in your next edition!

  2. Great read, an inspiration to all. Allen Bard I’m sure is tipping a nip your way.

  3. Thanks Jan, for speaking about the experience of being an adventurer athlete woman, for being brave, and for sharing your inspiring and affirming words!

  4. Jennilee post says:

    That’s Awesome!! The journey of a badass women!
    The older we get, it’s hard to believe we did some cool shit!
    To us woman you have paved some adventure, and to those who are just starting!!❄️❄️❄️⛷❤️

  5. Jan, can you please write more? More about past trips and experiences, personal stories, etc. What are you doing these days, what type of ski mountaineering gear do you use? You obviously have been doing this for some time, it would be great to hear more!

  6. Bob Carlson says:

    Believe in yourself! How many shit for brains guys doing extraordinary things? If asked to be part of a team, believe you can do it, or not.

  7. Jan.

    You were buoyant throughout that trip!!!

    Thanks for your joyful positive attitude!!


    Tom Carter

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