2022 Wandering Trails Scholarship Recipients

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It’s always difficult to select winners from among so many incredible applicants, but we’re proud to announce Devin Gaan (Grand Prize) and Song Seto (Runner-Up) as the recipients of the Wandering Trails Scholarship for Women in the Backcountry.

We’re giving a round of applause to the brave athletes who shared their stories with us. Thank you for trusting us to hear you. Our mission for this scholarship is to provide resources to help more women access the backcountry. And beyond that, participation in this scholarship gives us a lens through which to deepen our understanding of the social terrain that we’re all navigating, as well as a deeper appreciation for the journey toward our true selves and the heart of the natural world.

Be sure to check out the 2023 Wandering Trails Scholarship for Women in the Backcountry!

Continue below to read the winning essays…

Grand Prize: Devin Gaan

Seattle, WA • Hong Konger • Snowboarder

My story is an example of why representation matters. I’ve been snowboarding for 26 years but only been Devin for 4. You see, I was born a boy but it took until I was 33 to be brave enough to begin my transition and stop suppressing the fact that I am transgender. But my journey to reaching the point where I could come out to the world did not start with gender, instead it started with reconciling with my race.

You see, I am Chinese… specifically I am a Hong Konger. My family moved from Hong Kong in 1992. I was 8 years old. We moved to a mostly white neighborhood in Seattle and I was immediately enrolled into mostly white schools. I remember my first school and my experience quite vividly… specifically my recognition that I was treated like a novelty item because I was Asian. Then as I got older, I experienced a lot of what I think many immigrants experienced… racial jokes, teasing about our food, etc. Pile on top of those negative enforcements with what is in the media… the “beautiful” people are white, the Asians are the butt of the jokes. Asian women are sexualized and men are emasculated. Needless to say, I didn’t have much to tell my young brain to believe I was beautiful, desirable, or my culture is something to be proud of and to be cherished.

My gender identity was one thing I was confused about, but my lack of self confidence in my Asian culture was obvious. I remember going to bed fantasying about waking not only hoping to be a girl, but a white girl. Because everything I had experienced outside of my home was that Whiteness equated to beauty. It wasn’t until my late 20’s when I began to really embrace and recognize how wonderful it was to be Chinese and be from Hong Kong. And as my perspective began to change, I realized the impact of the lack of positive influence had on me. As I traveled in Asia as an adult, I began to ask the question “what would I be like if I grew up in Hong Kong… where everyone looked like me?” And as I reflect now on my transition and being truth to not only my culture but my gender identity, I honestly can say that I would have never been brave enough to transition if I had not first found my pride in my culture.

So why does this matter in terms of backcountry skiing/splitboarding? Well it matters a lot because representation matters. I love the sport and the community I’ve found in it. I am also very passionate about avalanche education and safety. And what I see in the ski industry at large, and even more so within the backcountry educator/guiding community is the level of white male dominance. My goal is to become a certified AIARE instructor and focus on working with organizations that focus on under-represented communities such as women (especially women of color), BIPOC, LGBTQIA folx. This scholarship will help me with continuing my personal education in pursuit of the knowledge and experience necessary to become a certified instructor.

Runner-Up: Song Seto

Los Angeles, CA • Asian-American • Skier

Dreaming about Being on Top of a Mountain

I want to be remembered for casting pebbles upon water and that the ripples of change I created were simple yet significant. There’s this old saying that a rock cast upon water will send ripples further and further outward. As a person of color (POC), child of immigrants, and 1st generation, and not having a family explore the mountains. I want to send out hope to others be being an example of the backcountry.
Previously, I’d climbed the 3 peaks in England, Wales, and Scotland within 24h to raise funds for Parkinson’s UK. Following that year, I made it to the Mount Whitney summit in heavy snow. Little steps, lots of gratitude, lots of pain, lots of re-routing. I broke eight fingernails, my knees swelled, was later diagnosed with two additional autoimmune disorders, but the memory has been imprinted indelibly forever. There’s an emotion associated with the fact that I made it even when I didn’t have the confidence to “get in there and do it. Always grateful for the experience.

This meant I had to scale back on my strength endurance, especially with the hands, legs, and core. My only option at that time was to stabilize my swollen joints by taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for every drug refill, I would need to do bloodwork to check how my organs were functioning. This was a difficult ordeal I had to cope with, as mountaineering is a relentless pursuit.

I went cold turkey in 2018-2019. By January 2022, I wanted to harness The Psychological Power Of ‘3.’
I got back to the mountains this winter, as I was unloading from the chairlift, I flung and rolled down the mountain. Thinking out loud, in utter embarrassment, I am curious about the backcountry to take a bigger presence as a woman and POC. I have been renting ski-boots – so it comes with its problems. It was detrimental to my skiing ability and hard-earned vacation. This saves money in the short term but was terrible for my skiing experience.

I am now hungry to get further into the backcountry – from lacking the necessary equipment to take the next level – I want to complement my mountaineering capabilities with backcountry skiing
I wanted to get out there and inspire others by hiking on a glacier, traversing a deep crevasse, and see the Cascade Range, Seattle, and the Pacific Ocean. I did the prior two climbs all alone and I now want to learn from Brooke Jackson and others about the proper techniques of a beacon, probe, and shovel, avalanche training. Climbing to me is counter-acting that negative voice “It is too hard, you can’t do it” with “I am more powerful than any ‘Jedi’, one foot in front of the other. When I find a good rest, use it.”

I accomplished all this while raising funds for the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, Inc. My goal, if I was awarded the scholarship, is to raise funds to match my contribution. Receiving the scholarship would mean I have succeeded on my third and last climb with backcountry skiing. Your gift is not only assisting my financial needs in the present, but it is ensuring my success in the future. I greatly appreciate the value of giving back to society – by being an example for that 1st generation immigrant little girl that climbs + backcountry skiing, and ascending above the clouds literally and figuratively, are possible. It is my personal vision to guide young adults to gain a meaningful outdoor experience(s) as you have for me.

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