Meet the New Outdoor All-Stars
The athletes, entrepreneurs, and community organizers who are making the outdoors a more welcoming, awesome, and vibrant place
Of all the awesome trends happening right now in the outdoor world, perhaps the most inspiring is all the energy and effort being committed to making the outdoors a more inclusive and welcoming place. The coolest part? The people making it happen. This effort is being led by a vibrant group of young adventurers, entrepreneurs, activists, community leaders, and athletes. Though varied in their tactics, they’re all working toward a common goal: to make the outdoors a more diverse place. And they’re succeeding.
Founder, Latino Outdoors
José González’s mission started with a single question: Where are the other people like me? In searching for an answer, González founded Latino Outdoors, an organization that helps Latino communities engage in outdoor pursuits in culturally relevant ways.
“I want to expand and move beyond our culture being subjects of programming,” González says. “There’s no shortage of programs getting youth of color outdoors. What’s missing is ways in which parents can be involved in the experience as well. What’s missing is the cultural connection between the outdoors and the Latino community.” That’s where Latino Outdoors comes in. Last year, the nonprofit organized more than 100 events across the country, helping thousands of kids and parents enjoy and connect with the outdoors.
When pro freeskier Gus Kenworthy came out in 2015, it was a big deal: the Olympic silver medalist became the first openly gay action-sports star. He immediately started using his status to push for inclusivity in the world of professional sports—and hasn’t stopped since. “I wasn’t doing anyone any good by keeping it under wraps,” the 27-year-old says. “If I had had a skier to look up to who was killing it and was gay and proud, it would’ve given me so much more confidence.”
Most recently, Kenworthy has been working hard to educate the public about HIV awareness and safety, pledging to do the AIDS/LifeCycle, a seven-day, 545-mile road ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, raising $1 million for HIV research in the process. “HIV doesn’t get enough attention,” Kenworthy says. “It’s not something that’s over now; we need to talk about it and be educated about it.”
Founder, Venture Out Project
In 2014, Perry Cohen had a job he didn’t like and was in the process of coming out as trans. Things were tough. So he went hiking. “I climbed this bald summit in New Hampshire that had awesome granite slabs,” Cohen says. “It was a stressful scramble without handholds, so I had to trust my feet, and I had this epiphany: this body—that I felt so alienated from my whole life—was getting me to the top of the mountain. For once, I trusted my body. It was wonderful.”
Cohen hiked down the mountain, quit his job, and immediately founded Venture Out Project, a nonprofit that leads day hikes and backpacking trips for the queer and trans community. The once local project is now a nationwide effort, with hikes in almost two dozen cities, guided by 24 volunteers. “There are so many queer and trans people that want this experience,” Cohen says. “And the outdoors is a wonderful place for this community because there are no mirrors, no gendered bathrooms, everyone’s wearing a T-shirt and shorts … All these ways we typically gender ourselves in our society just aren’t present.”
Founder, Soul Trak
City Kids, a Wyoming summer camp for urban youth, changed Tyrhee Moore’s life. It set him on an adventurous path that has included mountaineering expeditions all around the world. But most of his peers from the program never pursued the outdoors beyond camp. “I saw other kids grow out of it because there was no buy-in from their community back home,” he says.
That’s why last fall Moore, now 26, founded Soul Trak, which engages Washington, D.C.’s African American community through “brunch and adventure” outings. “People are naturally willing to try new things if their family and friends are into it, too,” he says. Moore is parlaying the early success of Soul Trak’s adult programming into versions for D.C.’s universities. “College is when you start making your own decisions. I want to give these young adults the opportunity to choose the outdoors, and make sure there’s a community to support that decision.”
Claire Smallwood speaks four languages and is an accomplished private chef and ripping skier. But for the past few years she’s been laser-focused on a single goal: to get more women and girls outdoors. This led her to found the nonprofit SheJumps with pro skier Lynsey Dyer and writer Vanessa Pierce. Since its inception in 2012, SheJumps has become a prominent force in making the outdoors more inclusive. “We want to serve everyone,” says Smallwood, “from people that already have the experience in the outdoors to people who are resource-challenged.”
SheJumps now has events in 19 states, such as the new Forces of Nature Program, which took 24 immigrant and refugee girls on a series of outdoor outings in 2018. And Smallwood hopes to replicate the program by partnering with community organizations already doing work with underserved populations. “We want to provide a layer of outdoor education that the organization might not be able to provide otherwise,” says Smallwood.
Founder, Adventure Scientists
As a young man, Gregg Treinish pulled off some remarkable expeditions, including a 7,800-mile trek along the spine of the Andes, but they weren’t completely fulfilling. “I wanted to do more,” the 37-year-old says. “I started working as a field tech for wildlife scientists and realized that these researchers were limited in where they could go because they didn’t have the outdoor skills or resources that my friends and I had.” It was a lightbulb moment that led him to create Bozeman, Montana–based Adventure Scientists, a research project and nonprofit that turns trips into data-gathering expeditions for science.
Today, Adventure Scientists’ goal is to be the most efficient provider of hard-to-obtain environmental data. To that end, its staff and volunteers are working on a timber-tracking project with the U.S. Forest Service, a butterfly project with the University of Arizona, and a wildlife connectivity study that recruits cyclists and runners to record roadkill observations in an effort to reduce the number of animal-vehicle collisions.
Lindsey Elliott and Jainee Dial
Co-founders, Wylder Goods
In 2015, Lindsey Elliott and Jainee Dial were sick of the “shrink it and pink it” paradigm that dominated the outdoor industry. So they created Wylder Goods, the first (and still only) online outdoor retailer for women that features an inventory vetted for functionality and sustainability. “We wanted a space that framed outdoor women in a way we were more comfortable with being portrayed,” Elliott says.
But Wylder Goods is much more than an online store. It’s also a journal and social hub that shares stories of women in the outdoors, and it’s a megaphone for like-minded nonprofits. Elliott is especially proud of Wylder’s new Field Trips, small retreats designed to showcase the different ways women are participating in the outdoors. “We’re spending time with farmers and scientists and entrepreneurs—they all have this amazing expertise and live adventurous lives that need to be highlighted.”
Vasu Sojitra was born with a rare blood disease that resulted in the amputation of his right leg when he was just nine months old. The loss didn’t stifle his passion for the outdoors. “When you’re an amputee, people only tell you what you can’t do,” Sojitra says. “I’ve always been really motivated when someone tells me not to do something. I want to see how far I can take it.”
Turns out he can take it really far. He’s an accomplished rock climber, freeskier, mountaineer, and The North Face’s first-ever adaptive athlete. He was also the first adaptive climber to summit the Grand Teton. And he’s planning to up the ante by doing it again—this time on skis. “The world isn’t made for folks with disabilities,” Sojitra says. “That’s what I’m working towards, in small ways like figuring out how to get up a mountain on skis, and bigger ways like creating universal access and design. I want to bring that concept into the outdoors as much as possible.”
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