As the founder and co-owner of VNTRbirds, I can tell you something we are most proud of is our scholarship program. We are here to break down the barriers to have more women, femme and non-binary people in the outdoors. Our mission is to not just showcase that there is space for everyone in the outdoors, but build access as well. We joke that VNTRbirds loves to raise money and then give it all away. Laugh we do, but it is the truth. At VNTRbirds we work extremely hard to fundraise, promote our cause and then bring the funds to those who have a desire to gain access to this industry or are looking to have a leadership role such as guide or coach.

VNTRbirds has multiple scholarships twice a year. We just wrapped our 2024 Winter Scholarship applications and were overjoyed to have read through over 50 applications with inspiring stories and ambitions. Before we announce the 2024 Winter Recipients, let’s hear from some of our past winners.

What drew you to apply for the VNTR FUND scholarship + mentorship?

My entire career (10+ years) was in the outdoor education field until I was laid off during the pandemic. For two years I tried to figure out how to fill the unplanned hole that was created when I stopped teaching. I’m on a new career path that I truly enjoy, but I believe I’m an educator at my core. Something was missing. 

The VNTRbirds scholarship + mentorship program helped me find a new teaching path, through teaching Backcountry Basics. I loved the women-specific programs I got to teach and lead, and believe there is something special about being in a women-only group outdoors. I feel so grateful for the opportunity to learn, and be able to build other women’s confidence in the outdoors. – Carrie Scheick 2022 Mentorship Recipient

What was your goal for the scholarship you applied for?

I had my eye on an AIARE Level 2 course, but the mentorship aspect was really exciting to see as part of the program because it not only showed VNTRbirds engagement and interest to bring more women into the backcountry, it helped me frame this opportunity as a way to build community and lasting connections with backcountry professionals. – Erin Hennessey 2023 Mentorship Recipient

What’s something you learned from this experience that surprised you?

I was surprised that I was more competent than I thought! Also, many companies have missions driven by inclusion and empowerment, and I was surprised by how VNTRbirds truly embodied that mission. – Eileen Cullen 2023 Intro to Backcountry Recipient

How badass I am. I learned how incredibly intelligent and capable I am and just needed a space to nurture some confidence and reassurance in that. I also learned that there are people in the backcountry community that don’t want to compete and just want to be included, and that was a beautiful thing. Gabriela Garcia 2023 BIPOC Recipient

How has your past winter season changed your role and relationship with the outdoors + backcountry?

I find myself more often in a facilitation role within the groups that I recreate and work with in the backcountry. This past winter season helped me to hone skills to help keep tabs on my group-mates and have a keener eye for recognizing the decision making process we engaged in either consciously or subconsciously. By both shadowing VNTRbirds courses, and the opportunity to take my L2, I was able to see and learn from a number of leadership and teaching styles and further refine how I engage with my teams and the backcountry. – Erin Hennessey

What is the BEST PART about being a VNTRbirds scholarship recipient?

I love that I’m able to share my story with other women and encourage/empower them to try something new or something that intimidates them. I started snowboarding at 27 when I moved to Summit County. I started to get into the backcountry at 30. I started mountain biking at 31. You’re never too “old” to try new sports! Being in an all-women’s environment takes the pressure off and allows women to be themselves. I hope that my VNTRbirds journey is an example of the path you can take to build new skills, make new friends, and even become part of the VNTRbirds staff. – Carrie Scheick

The best part was meeting, and then getting to connect with the VNTRbirds instructors during multiple courses. I can’t emphasize enough how much they are dedicated to refining they’re curriculum and teaching styles to different groups, and they are fantastic women to learn from who have a wealth of knowledge about traveling in the backcountry. – Erin Hennessey

Do you think VNTRbirds presented an inclusive and accepting environment?

YES! One thing I appreciate is how they allow space for you to be wrong. There is no judgment as we learn, and the kind and accepting way in which our instructors would correct us was motivating. I know that sounds simple, but it is hard to find spaces where others do not condescend you for the knowledge you do not have! – Gabriela Garcia

Absolutely! It is challenging to find other outdoor communities that go beyond tolerance and are truly inclusive and accepting of queer folks.  Eileen Cullen

Do you think you would have been in the role you’re in today if it wasn’t for the VNTRbirds scholarship?

I have felt confident to use my voice in the backcountry and I don’t think I would have been able to do that without it! – Eileen Cullen

I think I would still be in the same role if it weren’t for the VNTRbirds scholarships, but I don’t think I’d have the same confidence in myself or my ability to advocate for mine and my team’s safety in the backcountry. Seeing other examples of women asking thoughtful questions of each other during various decision making and risk assessment conversations, helped me to see where I could ask engaging, rather than confrontational, questions of my teammates, supervisors, and coworkers to address my concerns.  – Erin Hennessey

It is VNTRbirds’ greatest pleasure to announce the Winter 2024 Scholarship Recipients! Congratulations!

Want to donate to the VNTRFUND? Click the link below:

AIARE Level 1 Supported by Mammut: Mayla Sumner

Backcountry Basics Supported by Norrona: Stephanie Buckholz

Backcountry Scholarship Supported by Arc’teryx RiNo: Sage Windell

BIPOC Backcountry Scholarship Supported by Arc’teryx RiNo: Hannah Chen

VNTRbirds Mentorship: Isabelle Wassilie