From New Member to Instructor: A Journey through the Colorado Mountain Club

Ari before becoming a CMC Member

Ariana (Ari) Antonio bought an ice axe in 2016 and quickly realized she didn’t know what to do next. She was interested in alpine climbing but how to do it or who to ask was a mystery. The Colorado Mountain Club offered her a quality, cost-effective opportunity to learn. She joined the club in 2017 and has since become an Alpine Climbing School and High-Altitude Mountaineering instructor.

Ari’s problem was a common one. She knew that climbing mountains in the winter required a specific skillset, but she didn’t know if she wanted to spend a lot of money enrolling in a full school before knowing if she was going to enjoy it.  

After some late-night searching on Google, Ari discovered the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC). She attended the new member orientation session and was still not sure if it was the right place for her. After attending the Alpine Climbing School (ACS) orientation, she decided that that was the track she wanted to follow. She joined the CMC for the ACS with the goals of climbing a 14er in the winter and climbing three high-altitude volcanoes in Mexico.

At the end of her ACS courses, she successfully climbed Pico de Orizaba (Citlaltépetl) in Mexico, which inspired her to enroll in the CMC’s High Altitude Mountaineering School.

The classes were daunting, but Ari’s determination kept her focused on her goals. The more she learned and the more classes she took, the more she questioned whether she belonged and fit what a mountaineer is. Thankfully she had some great instructors and made good friends in the classes that helped her power through and eventually became an instructor herself.

“I became a mountaineer through the club,” Ari explains. “It wouldn’t have been possible before.” The cost-effective classes allowed her to test out her interests before fully committing. “The club was an avenue to learn a sport that I was interested in but wasn’t sure if I could do or would stay interested. It’s a cost-effective way to join a sport that already has a high barrier to entry.”            

Since becoming a CMC member and instructor, Ari has also become a local leader in Brown Girls Climb. Both give her places to hone her skills, boost her confidence, and give back to the community. “Being in the CMC and BGC gave me the validation that I was a good mountaineer and that I was in a position to pass on those skills and that learning.”

She’s focusing more on progression – both in her skills and ability to instruct others. Up next: Becoming a trad leader.  

For Ari, the question of what comes next is easy. “How do I get the certification to give back to my community?” Ari is taking a Single Pitch Instructor course this fall. Her goal is to lead outdoor events with BGC and the CMC gives her a chance to keep learning and growing as an instructor.

“It feels like parallel lanes going in the same direction. I have the opportunity to give back to the community, particularly people underrepresented in the community.”

For those thinking about joining the CMC, Ari recommends it. “Do it. Sooner rather than later,” she says. “Especially if you’re trying to get into something or you don’t have people to go out with.” One big perk of joining the CMC is that you have people to test out your new skills with. “It’s like a one stop shop – you get the skills from in-depth, knowledgeable instructors and friends to do things with,” Ari says. As you take more classes, you become more familiar with classmates and instructors. “The CMC is really good at fostering partnerships in the mountains.”

Another perk of the CMC is the opportunity to connect with great instructors. “It can be hard to find mentors, but the reason I was able to carve out space for myself in the Club was due to both friendships I made and great instructors,” Ari explains. Instructors like Jeff Speake from Basic Mountaineering School (now called Alpine Climbing School), whose caring and gentle nature made it easier for Ari to understand the lessons and Jane Rutler from HAMS, whose ability to validate others helped boost her confidence. “Seeing this quiet and petite but strong female instructor out there charging in the mountains was encouraging.”

The CMC will soon offer a BIPOC group within the ACS. The group will be for students that identify as Black, Indigenous, or as a Person of Color and will be taught by BIPOC instructors. ACS is where Ari started her progression in the Club. It provides students with the skills needed to participate safely on non-glaciated CMC mountaineering climbs within Colorado in all weather conditions, including navigation and route finding, planning and organizing climbs, rock climbing skills for following on fourth and fifth class routes, and snow climbing skills up to and including roped climbing with crampons. We are excited about this endeavor and are actively seeking participants. Please complete this interest form if you are a potential student and are interested in hearing more.

If you’re looking for a good place to try out interests or improve your skills, the CMC is a good place to do it. With a wide variety of schools, events, Groups, and Sections, the CMC has activities for so many outdoor recreational activities. Learn more about joining the Colorado Mountain Club at https://cmc.org/Join.

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