These women are changing the world of adventure film, outdoor sports and beyond.
This past weekend, the No Man’s Land Film Festival took over the small town of Carbondale, Colorado, with three days of films, speakers, workshops, facilitated adventures and even a Sadie Hawkins dance. From writers to athletes to mothers and everything in between, women gathered to find inspiration and connection with other female adventurers. These five stand-out women led the conversation with stories of business acumen, athletic prowess and climate activism.
Founder and Director of No Man’s Land Film Festival
Aisha Weinhold grew up watching adventure films and wondering where all the women were. In 2015, she started No Man’s Land Film Festival to bring together women and change how adventurers are represented on screen.
Three years, later the festival has grown from a local event to a national film tour. Weinhold's approach to creating the film festival—and, ultimately, sparking change within the outdoor community—relies heavily on the principle of show, don’t tell. “While we do have a handful of films that bluntly speak to feminism and sexism, the majority do not. We just put people in front of a screen with a bunch of women doing incredible things," she said. "In my mind, this is where I want the world to go: where you can see a film with a woman totally crushing it and it’s normal.”
Endurance bikepacker, FKT holder on the Trans Am Bike Race, Tour Divide and Baja Divide Trails
Lael Wilcox is a force to be reckoned with. In the last year alone she’s co-created a long distance bikepacking route, set the trail’s fastest known record, started a mentoring non-profit and even starred in the REI short film “Fast Forward.” That’s probably why Weinhold physically traveled to Wilcox’s bike shop in Alaska to ask her to join the festival. For Wilcox it was a no-brainer. “It’s about community and directly trying to inspire people to get out there by being passionate myself and then inviting them along,” she said.
Wilcox not only worked to create the 1,700-mile-long Baja Divide Trail but she also annually awards a scholarship to support a woman in riding the trail. Back in Anchorage, her non-profit, Girls Riding Into Tomorrow (GRIT), strives to mentor middle school girls in cycling. Currently, she’s riding all of the major roads in Alaska and gearing up for another round of scholarships this fall. How to land Wilcox’s Globe of Adventure scholarship? “I look for positivity, someone who could be an inspiration for others, too,” she said.
Dr. Jane Zelikova
Environmental activist, tropical ecologist
For Jane Zelikova, completing her PhD, being published in scientific journals, earning major grants and working for the U.S. Department of Energy just weren’t enough. “I could tell that my science wasn’t getting out in a way that really made an impact,” she said.
Thus, Zelikova joined forces with filmmaker Morgan Heim to create "The End of Snow," a three-part film series exploring climate change through the lens of shifting snowpacks. Her strategy worked. The film has been viewed millions of times, featured in major publications and screened at film festivals across the country.
“I was uncomfortable being the center of the film, but now is the time to get out there and be vulnerable," said Zelikova. "I believe scientists can be connectors between the various silos in the environmental movement.”
Businesswoman and adventure paddler
When Alpacka Raft was first started by Sheri Tingey, Sarah (her future daughter-in-law) helped out by sewing materials. But Sarah left to follow a career in environmental consulting and moved to Portland, Oregon. A few years ago, Sarah returned to Alpacka Raft—this time as the outreach and operations director, responsible for managing the company's structures, production and distribution. In a packrafting world that’s predominantly male, Alpacka Raft is unique in that it was founded by a woman and is now run by a largely female staff.
Sarah recruits women, aims to hire many of them into leadership positions and makes sure they’re active across the company, including in customer service. “It’s subtle," she said. "When people call they hear a female voice. We’re making sure it’s not just men in the space.”
She also organizes women-specific trips and training and requires that if Alpacka Raft is a sponsor of an event, there’s equal prizing for men and women.
Personally, she’s continuously pushing her personal comfort zone on the water. This past year, she became one of the first women to pack raft down the Grand Canyon self-supported. “Packrafting as a sport is very male-dominated," said Sarah. "It’s been fun to watch the women’s packrafting community blossom.”
Professional climber, guide and coach
Last August, Madaleine Sorkin claimed a First Female Ascent on The Honeymoon is Over, a route on The Diamond of Longs Peak, the sheer east face of the iconic mountain. Rated at 5.13c and topping out at above 13,000 feet, the send was not only a testament to Sorkin's skills as a climber but also her grit in the face of inclement weather and dizzyingly thin air.
Sorkin, a climbing guide and coach based in Boulder, Colorado, had tried and failed at the route before, a struggle captured in the film The Honeymoon is Over by Henna Taylor. "There’s a lot more we can talk about besides the send, the achievement," said Taylor. "We need to acknowledge the achievement but also dig deep into the human experience. It’s all about sitting with discomfort, not only for Madaleine but with rock climbing in general.”