Yuki with friends on a hike with mountain and water scenery behind them

The power of women in the outdoors

To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re sharing the stories of inspiring women who have found their place outdoors – and who want to inspire others to do the same. Get to know Anita Naidu, Sandy Ward and Yuki Tsubota and their thoughts on everything from goals to gear. Find out what power they tap into, their biggest breakthrough moments, advice on getting outside and more.

To cap it all off, learn about the MEC-funded women’s expedition grant from The Royal Canadian Geographical Society to spark future adventures.

Anita Naidu

MEC Ambassador and mountain biking coach who’s also an electrical engineer, award-winning humanitarian and aspiring astronaut. @abrownpanther

Anita getting some air mountain biking

Becoming the first professional mountain biker of my ethnicity was by far my biggest breakthrough in the outdoors. Because I never saw anyone of my race (particularly a female!) choose this path, the absence of role models meant there was no prescribed ritual for what I wanted to do. There were many instances when I questioned if it was even possible. But more importantly, becoming the first pro of my ethnicity has allowed me to offer up my skills in service and my hard-earned insider privilege to help others be more included.

The greatest power that women can tap into in the outdoors is a defiant refusal to be less than who we are. So much of what’s established isn’t organically empowering for women and girls – it’s vital that we build systems of empowerment in the outdoors and beyond. Whenever doubt creeps up, which is natural in mountain sports, I tap into my own ideological coordinates of what’s possible, which helps bend the sharp edges of fear and hesitancy.

The greatest power that women can tap into in the outdoors is a defiant refusal to be less than who we are.

How do you approach goals?

So much about goals – whether they’re personal, career, adventuring or athletic – isn’t just about fulfilling them, but knowing which goals are worth setting. What’s served as a guiding light has been to ask myself if what I’m doing is helping me become the person I want to be in five, ten years? Because our most valuable currency is attention and energy. Do not waste either on anything that does not bring you closer to living your highest ideals. Some goals are worth pursuing even if you don’t attain them… if they bring you closer to the best version of yourself.

Anita coaching a mountain biker over a drop on a trail

It’s a privilege to be in the lives of others, and I’m most exhilarated when coaching them to new heights and witnessing their breakthroughs in adventure.

When are you happiest outside?

I’m joyous in the outdoors when I’m a part of someone else’s best day. Personally, thriving comes from experiencing the unknown, whether it’s endless airtime, the sound of my edges slashing untracked powder, or placing the final piece of gear on a new climb. In all these cases, you don’t know how it’s going to turn out until it’s over, so it forces you to be comfortable with ambiguity. That joy is only surpassed by the happiness of guiding others through their challenges with uncertainty and helping them reach their outdoor goals.

Some goals are worth pursuing even if you don’t attain them… if they are goals that bring you closer to the best version of yourself.

Anita’s gear recommendations

Sandy Ward

Snowboarder, photographer, climber, mountain biker and backcountry mentorship team co-lead for Indigenous Women Outdoors. @sutik.maqa7

Sandy in the backcountry, doing a big turn on her snowboard

The biggest breakthrough I’ve had recently was being put in the spotlight as an Indigenous female splitboarder. That may seem small, but by showcasing Indigenous athletes we are giving Indigenous youth role models to look up to – hopefully that will inspire them to go for it and achieve goals that may have seemed impossible. I’ve been very lucky to have some amazing snowboarders and skiers help me out along the way, including Marie-France Roy, Leah Evans and Claire Smallwood.

Surrounding myself with other strong like-minded women has enabled me to achieve so many things. A great example is meeting Myia Antone and starting up Indigenous Women Outdoors, which has been an amazing experience. We empower more Indigenous women to get involved in winter sports by breaking down the barriers around accessing knowledge and gear. We all raise each other up, and in doing so, we can achieve amazing things. Showcasing real people just out having a good time makes the outdoors seem more achievable.

Surrounding myself with other strong like-minded women has enabled me to achieve so many things.

What advice do you have for women who want to get outside more?

Just get out and go for it! Find one or two friends and learn together. Hiring a guide is a great way to learn – they have so much knowledge to share, from simple tricks with gear to how to read terrain. It doesn’t matter what activity it is, hiring an experienced guide for a day or two will give you so much more confidence to go out on your own eventually.

Also, be kind to each other and lift each other up. The outdoors can be a challenging and scary place, and we can all learn from each other’s lived experiences.

Sandy smiling outside with a snowy forest in the background

What’s your favourite place outdoors?

The peak of a mountain on my traditional territory. Up the Duffey, I can see all the mountains around me where my ancestors travelled in all seasons. The traditional names have stories behind them that we can still learn from. I love to learn these stories, as they make me feel more connected to the land.

Be kind to each other and lift each other up. The outdoors can be a challenging and scary place, and we can all learn from each other’s lived experiences.

Sandy’s gear recommendations

Yuki Tsubota

MEC Ambassador, skier and two-time Olympian. When she’s not on the slopes, she’s biking, camping or SUPing. @yuki_tsubota

Yuki doing a huge drop on her skis in the backcountry

As women, we are all connected. I’ve never met a woman who I didn’t share something with; shared experiences or emotions can turn a stranger into a friend. I love listening to women, hearing their stories, adventures, obstacles they’ve had to overcome, and finding a bit of myself in her.

I find when I get out with a group of women, there is such powerful energy. When I used to be in the competition scene, the days I learned the most were the ones when I skied for fun with a bunch of girls. We all hyped each other up and fed off one another.

I find when I get out with a group of women, there is such powerful energy.

Who is someone that’s inspired you?

I will always and forever look up to Sarah Burke. She was a big reason why I chased my dreams to become a professional skier. She always encouraged young girls to follow their dreams and believe in their skiing ability, and I believe that will continue for generations to come.

Yuki and friend in sleeping bags in the backcountry

Falling asleep under the stars up in the alpine is my favourite place. I even love to camp in the pouring rain with a good tarp set up; it reminds me of being a kid and having a dialed fort.

What advice do you have for women who want to get outside more?

Don’t be intimidated! I know it’s a lot easier said than done, but we all started out new to the outdoors at some point and it’s never too late to begin. I hope I can encourage more women to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Being outside and doing physical activities is so good for your mind and body that everyone should be doing it.

I think if we can grow mentorship programs, that’s the best, safest and most encouraging way to get someone out. There is such a great women’s outdoor community that’s growing every day, and it’s something I plan to continue to be a part of. I’ve found the majority of groups to be welcoming and encouraging, you just have to get out and meet them. Reach out! Don’t be shy.

We all started out new to the outdoors at some point and it’s never too late to begin.

Yuki’s gear recommendations

  • MEC Synergy Jacket: I’ve been wearing it for the past couple of seasons and it hasn’t let me down once. A good shell is crucial for the backcountry, especially in wet coastal weather.
  • A multi-use tool: I never leave home without one – it’s saved the day numerous times.

Women’s Expedition Grant

MEC is proud to partner with The Royal Canadian Geographical Society as the exclusive gear outfitter for the Women’s Expedition Grant. If you know a woman with big expedition goals (maybe even you?), this is an awesome opportunity. This grant encourages leadership and participation by women on expeditions in Canada, and provides funding for expeditions where all participants are women.

Grant funding applications are due at the beginning of each calendar year. Since expeditions require plenty of planning, now is the perfect time to start poring over maps, building a team, and pulling together an ambitious expedition proposal to apply for funding by the January 7, 2022 deadline.

Need some inspiration? The most recent RCGS Women’s Expedition Grant recipient supported by MEC was Melanie Vogel. She set out to hike 18,000km alone across Canada – from the Atlantic to the Arctic to the Pacific oceans – on the Great Trail, the longest recreational trail in the world.

Jumping people on a dock
MEC Staffer

A Canada-wide crew of adventurers, thinkers, doers, writers, photographers and people who love the outdoors.