When Maranda Ratcliff was a kid growing up in Billings, in the wide and wild prairies of eastern Montana, bordered by the towering Beartooth Mountains above Red Lodge, it wasn’t a question of if she’d get outside to play, but rather of when.
“I was born and raised in the outdoors,” Ratcliff said during an interview last week in her Kalispell home. “I went hunting and fishing and hiking; I kind of did it all with my dad.”
Last month, Ratcliff opened up the Flathead Valley arm of her organization, Rocky Mountain Women Outdoors, a group for women who want to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle, meet new friends, develop confidence, and grow as humans.
Like many people, Ratcliff felt herself drawn to the outdoors because of the beauty and a deep connection to the land, and she loved her experiences growing up learning the skills necessary to have a successful and fulfilling trip in nature.
As she grew up, Ratcliff felt the absence of other women in her adventures. She started a blog online to write about everything she was doing, and soon built a community of like-minded women she met through her writing.
She was musing out loud about how nice it was to start a community and find friends, when her mother stopped her and said that idea could be a business. About a year later, in January 2018, Ratcliff bought her business name and insurance and set out to create adventure.
The first trip took place in Red Lodge in February 2018, when Ratcliff took a group of women snowshoeing.
“It was really fun,” she said. “I taught them how to do it and afterwards we went and had lunch.”
One of Rocky Mountain Women Outdoors’ goals is to help women feel empowered in the outdoors. Ratcliff uses her mom as an example. Her mom would come on camping trips when Ratcliff was younger, but didn’t participate in the longer, overnight trips because of hiking experiences she’d already had with her husband.
“He made her feel like she couldn’t keep up,” Ratcliff said.
Many women have a similar experience when taught outdoors skills by men, or are worried they’ll be laughed out of the group for not knowing the basics. Ratcliff took her mom on one of RMWO’s backpacking trips, and it changed her mom’s perspective completely.
“She went on her very first backpacking trip with us this summer and she’s addicted,” Ratcliff said. “She needed that extra level of comfort and support.”
Ratcliff’s business, which started in Billings, grew to include chapters in Red Lodge, Bozeman, Helena, Missoula, and now Kalispell. She’s hired on a team of trip leaders across the state, and they organize day trips, weekend getaways, and multi-day retreats.
Each month, there’s a retreat happening somewhere in the state, Ratcliff said, and there will be one daytrip per region of the state per month.
Last month, Ratcliff led a group of 20 women on a three-day retreat in Hungry Horse that included cabins, home-cooked meals, snowshoeing, yoga, painting, and other activities. The participants ranged in age from 21 to 72.
Ratcliff also acknowledged that a lot of mothers have their households arranged in ways that mean they can’t take a weekend or multi-day trip away. The daytrips are perfect for these situations, she said, and for women who might not be able to afford the longer trips.
Upcoming events in the Flathead include a Bohemian Snowshoe adventure on Feb. 24, and a potential March retreat.
Ratcliff encouraged any women who feel curious about this experience to give it a try, and not to employ the worries that may have held them back before.
“A lot of women are concerned they don’t have the experience,” Ratcliff said. “They’re welcome, and we will teach them, and they will not be slowing us down.”
For more information on upcoming events at Rocky Mountain Women Outdoors, visit www.rockymountainwomenoutdoors.com.