Keeping Her Cool: Creating a Sisterhood of Shred in the Northeast with Backcountry Bliss

Words by Katherine Oakes
Photos by Cait Bourgault

The backcountry ski scene in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Western Maine is too often overshadowed by the behemoths of the powdery West. Out here, terrain is variable, conditions can be severe and the weather, in true Northeastern fashion, doesn’t always cooperate with your outdoor plans.

In spite of it all, the stoke remains high, and it’s only continuing to grow — especially among women. In the Mount Washington Valley, the area’s adventure hub, two locals, Hilary McCloy and Lindsay Maycock-Nutting, began co-hosting a backcountry ski and yoga retreat for ladies only. Aptly named Backcountry Bliss, it has sparked a special kind of excitement and evolution in the community of women skiers and riders. The mission is simple: bring together like-minded women through skiing, yoga and fireside chats. Experience isn’t totally necessary, but a sense of adventure and an open mind is an essential.

This past winter, I had the chance to join them for a weekend and can confidently tell you to believe all of the hype and more. Both Doctors of Physical Therapy, Lindsay is also a talented Certified Yoga Teacher and Hilary, an alumni of the U.S. Ski Team, who remains a fierce competitor in the local ski scene. Though they are experts in their fields and leaders of the group, the two blithely join in on the fun; setting the perfect tone to inspire offshoot friendships and subsequent adventures, adding to the number of women exploring and enjoying the backcountry.


While I could keep going, I’ll let them tell you about the genesis of Backcountry Bliss and how they’re helping to foster a sisterhood of shred in the Northeast’s gnarliest backcountry terrain.


Wayward: Hilary and Lindsay! Can you tell us the backstory of Backcountry Bliss and the conversation that started it all?

Hilary and Lindsay: We were constantly in conversation about ways that we could vary our professional endeavors, still drawing on our expertise while increasing our impact. From the beginning (in 2013) we knew we would end up doing something together. We began running injury prevention conditioning series for both running and skiing, as well as delivering a variety of educational workshops on injury prevention and body mechanics. It was through these early events that it became clear to us both that we were better together than we were alone, so we started to dream about bringing people together to enjoy the natural beauty of our home here in the White Mountains and to create community. We eventually landed on the idea of doing a weekend retreat characterized by backcountry ski adventures and high quality yoga. We had access to a beautiful lakeside abode that would serve perfectly as a cozy place to call home for such a weekend, and so we just decided to go for it.


W: What made you decide to start a retreat for women only?

H and L: We honestly didn’t necessarily set out to host women’s only retreats. At the time that we started, there were fewer women in the backcountry and it was through some of our educational and injury prevention talks that we noticed a lot of inquiries from women as to where they could go skiing and how they could find women to ski with. The more we fielded these questions, the more we realized that particularly among women, there was a pattern of reserved curiosity around the sport. This recognition combined with our home in the White Mountains, and the awareness that people are more interested in experiential travel than ever before, made us feel like we had something of value to offer. So we said “let’s give it a go”. We have thought about doing some co-ed retreats too, as we know lots of amazing men who love yoga and backcountry skiing! But we’ll probably always keep some of our weekends exclusive to the ladies!


W: Tell us more about the backcountry ski terrain in White Mountains for those who don’t know much or anything at all.

H and L: In the White Mountains of New Hampshire we have a lot of dense forests and limited above tree-line skiing. We are mostly skinning up hiking trails with, at times, a fairly narrow ski down. Conditions are incredibly variable and often the weather can be pretty severe, especially up on Mount Washington. This makes for an environment where skiers and hikers have to be very tapped into the mechanics of the weather and the terrain and choose their course mindfully. For us, we have a lot of conversations around layering appropriately and basic snowpack science and avalanche conditions. In recent years, there are some local groups of backcountry skiers who are working hard to responsibly establish some gladed areas to enjoy.


W: What about teaching, leading and guiding women has impacted both of you as women?

H and L: There is this magical thing that seems to happen when you put a group of like-minded women together in a shared space and in shared experiences. It’s hard to put into words and honestly, it’s a force far beyond anything we can take credit for. It’s like all armor just drops at the door and everyone is primed to engage in the experience, from the offerings that we put forth as facilitators, to the organic relationships that form over the weekend. We are blown away by the quality of women we have met through Backcountry Bliss. As women, we are inspired by the fact that most of the time our clients come to the retreat not knowing anyone else and we are always so grateful for the willingness they have to engage with the whole experience.


W: Have you seen this create a ripple effect in the greater community of women in the backcountry?

H and L: We definitely have. We often see our past retreat guest on social media getting together with each others to ski on their own and maintaining the friendships that were created at BB. In general, backcountry skiing is getting more and more popular and here in the White Mountains huge strides are being made in creating a supportive community around it. The women who have come through our retreat have become our close friends as well and we are often skiing with each other and supporting each other in all kinds of aspects of life. That, for us, has been so incredible.


W: Lindsay, tells us more about the benefit of combining backcountry skiing and yoga?

H and L: As a physical therapist, I really value yoga as a way to help people become more body aware as they move rhythmically and slowly through a practice. I believe this is valuable no matter what a person’s extracurricular activities include. Backcountry skiing, like so many recreational activities is a repetitive movement pattern, often for extended periods of time. We spend a lot of time coaching and talking about ideal movement patterns for backcountry skiing and so I utilize the yoga element to reinforce those concepts on the mat. I design the yoga practice on the second day specifically to help manage soreness and to address musculature that can be particularly in demand during skinning.

Beyond the physical benefits, I also really love beginning a day, which will take us deep into nature on our skis, with grounding breathwork and meditation to prime our clients for maximum absorption of their experience.


W: Any advice for someone who wants to start something like this in their area?

H and L: If someone is thinking of hosting or running their own retreat, it’s important to realize that the conditions of the retreat are less important than the clear and true intention behind its creation. We felt called to create a space of connection first and foremost, and we just chose to do so in the context of things that we happen love, backcountry skiing and yoga. But it has always been and always will be about cultivating connection through adventure.


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