The Bozeman Belles

The Bozeman Belles

Beaudoin, Kate
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Mountain Belles, formerly Team WinS (Women in Sports), have been encouraging women to “adventure together” for almost a decade. Initially, Team WinS sponsored competitive female athletes who did everything from triathlons to figure skating to rock climbing. The organization helped cover the cost of the competitors’ entry fees, and in return, the competitors met with other Team WinS members and inspired them to get outside and try new things.

But when the economy took a downturn, so did the team’s funding. “It was hard to get businesses to make donations,” longtime board member Angie Mangels says. “So we ended up not having enough funds to sponsor any athletes.” The group agreed that they needed to change their focus if they wanted to continue inspiring women to get outside. In addition to changing their goals, some veteran board members wanted to move on. “The original cast changed as well as the play,” two-year board member Alissa Farley says. It was time for Team WinS to re-invent themselves. First on their list? “The need to come up with a name that could better reflect our group and our activities,” Farley says.

And that’s how the Mountain Belles were (re)born. The new group’s focus is to offer outdoor-oriented clinics at a low cost to members. It is, of course, a work in progress. “We’re trying to find our niche in the areas that women cannot find elsewhere,” Farley says. “Or where women want to try things in an all-female, low-pressure environment.” The Belles offer one clinic every month; some of their most popular events are the skills clinics: mountain biking, fly fishing, climbing, and shooting. They also offer educational clinics, like CPR and First Aid. “The CPR training course put on by Lena Conlan with Crossing Latitudes was so much fun,” member Melanie Harmon says. “The classes are small, there’s great communication, and it’s a skill people need to know. I learned so much.”

Thanks to the generosity of local businesses like Spire Climbing Center, Rising Spirits Shooting School, Owenhouse Cycling & Fitness, Girls Outdoors, and others, most of the clinics are free; after a membership fee of $20, the Belles enjoy admission to all events for a year. “I believe that our ‘top-ranked’ outdoor community should have a group like Mountain Belles,” Farley says. “An organization for women to learn new skills and meet new people—all in the outdoors.”

Harmon, who uses the word “adventure” as a verb, says she joined the group primarily to meet other women who were interested in staying fit. “My husband and I are at about the same fitness level, but you know how guys can be,” Harmon says. “They want to push harder, go faster. At Mountain Belles I’ve found other gals who are on my level.” When asked if men can go on adventures with the group, Mangels shrugs and says, “Sure. But they have to put up with being called ‘honorary girls’ the whole time.”

Though the group’s focus is specific, the members remain unique. Some women prefer non-technical adventures like walking and bird-watching. Then others prefer challenges like mountain biking and backcountry skiing. But they all share one thing: “The women at our events,” Farley says, “are forward-looking people, seeking the new, with a ‘yes’ kind of attitude. They’re women who enjoy learning and trying new things with all kinds of people.”

The Belles plan to continue to offer a diverse calendar of events that are open to a wide variety of women with different abilities and interests. They hope that with continued exposure, more women will be interested in becoming Belles. “I could cross-country ski anytime with friends,” Farley says, “but in Mountain Belles, I’m with women I don’t know and who I get to learn about. They take me away from my same old routine with the same stories and the same interests. It’s a breath of fresh air—in more ways than one!”

The Belles’ Spring Fling, a “meet and greet” social event, is April 11. Their next clinic is fly fishing with Greater Yellowstone Fly Fishers on May 11-12. For more info on Mountain Belles, to become a member, or to see their events calendar, visit mountainbelles.com.

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