Izzy Lazarus is blazing trail for women in the world of splitboard guiding
I first met Izzy Lazarus while photographing Teton Gravity Research’s International Pro-Rider Workshop in the winter of 2022. Given that we shared the same first name and last initial, I was intrigued. Who was the other Izzy L? Watching her teach crevasse rescue techniques, avalanche safety, and wilderness medicine, I discovered she was a confident, knowledgeable woman in the outdoors–the kind I look up to.
What struck me about this Izzy L was not just her ease on a splitboard or her high level of knowledge in the mountains. It was the kindness and comfort she offered everyone and her natural talent for teaching.
One morning this fall, we were both visiting our families away from Jackson and we chatted more about her guiding career, the process of learning to be intentional with her time in the mountains, and about how being surrounded by women in the outdoors is more than just representation.
Izzy grew up in New York City and experienced the outdoors through the ocean. She recalls wanting to spend every free moment at the beach. “I had no idea what mountains were,” she explained. “So I would argue with my parents about the validity of the Adirondacks being mountains because I’d seen photos of real mountains,” she continued. It wasn’t until she attended the University of Vermont in 2011 that she had her first experience in the mountains she had dismissed. “It was a really profound moment for me. My first summit was a tree-covered knob in Vermont, and it blew my mind,” she said. Soon after, she learned to snowboard and she was hooked on life in the outdoors.
The concept of outdoor education became ingrained in Izzy through her experiences at UVM. After graduating, she worked as a lead instructor for experiential education non-profit Outward Bound. It felt like a professional extension of what she’d been doing in college. She didn’t see herself as a guide then but as an outdoor educator. She hadn’t given the guide path much consideration. In her mind guides were tall, skinny men in khakis and flannels who moved through the world with an air of condescending arrogance.
“No other women are certified splitboard guides, and I could be the first.”
She pursued her own outdoor education and dove into learning technical climbing systems. Along the way she began meeting people who changed her ideas about guiding. Izzy took an American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) rock guide course in 2015 in Joshua Tree, California, and met people who were guides but also weird, genuine people. “Then I met my friend Erica Engel, who’s a fully certified mountain guide. She was the 11th woman in the United States to do that.” The following spring, Erica invited Izzy up to Jackson Hole to try her hand at guiding in the Tetons.
Talking with Izzy brought to mind other women in the action sports industry I’ve met who’ve shared similar experiences. Representation is essential for many women to believe they can do something. Having Erica say “You should do this,” pushed Izzy to believe she could. But ultimately, her motivation to become a guide was intrinsic. She explained that currently, “no other women are certified splitboard guides, and I could be the first. I’m doing it for me because I want continued education and work opportunities.”
Izzy took her ski guide course through the AMGA in 2018 as one of the first steps toward full certification. There was one other female snowboarder pursuing the same certification. Since then a few other female snowboarders have started down the same path, but the number of female AMGA-certified guides is small, and no snowboarders have finished their certification yet. So it’s a race between Izzy and a handful of other women to see who will be the first.
The outdoor world isn’t known for welcoming those who fall outside the usual straight, white, male category. But sometimes it presents women with unique opportunities, which Izzy quickly acknowledges. “I sometimes think, being a woman and working as a guide, there are many opportunities. More and more, identity recognition brings more clients to the table for guide services. But here and there, there are some ugly moments,” she said. Izzy recalled leading a group of three female clients up the Grand Teton with one other male guide. She had been keeping pace in front of that guide, and when it came time to switch spots, Izzy went to the back to tail guide. The crew continued up the trail and came upon two younger men at the base of a boulder field.
Although Izzy was at eye level with the men and wearing an Exum Guides hat and shirt, they called to her fellow guide for advice on how to get up the boulder field. Being closer, Izzy interjected to try and tell them the route, and one of the men put his finger up in her face and said, “I’m not talking to you.” Her co-worker and clients went slack-jawed. Finally, one of them said, “She’s the guide!” The men stammered apologies but there was no doubt: They failed to realize she was a guide because she was a woman.
Many of her experiences have been positive and heartening. She reminisced about guiding an all-female ascent of the Grand with the SheJumps organization. She and the other guides had strategically dispersed themselves through the group so that everyone was moving at the same pace. She remembered looking down from the top of the Friction Pitch on the Upper Exum Ridge to several belay stations below her and only seeing women. “That was mind-blowing to me just because I had never seen that. Not only were we women, but we were crushing it, you know?” Izzy’s question now is not only how to create all-female spaces outdoors, but how to bring everyone into the conversation. How can we work together to make sure all are welcome in the outdoor world?
Her challenges in building a lasting community go beyond gender. It’s always about the next big mission for some athletes and guides. Their lifestyle of constant risk can be heavy and tiring and–like many young people in Jackson Hole–Izzy has struggled to build friendships that aren’t based around recreation. “It feels like: If we’re not doing this sport together, are we actually friends? I have tried hard to have a life outside of the mountains because I want multiple avenues to feel happiness or satisfaction or just engagement with life,” she revealed.
“I watch some people totally shrug off the weight of being in the mountains all the time. That makes me question if I should be there at all.”
Part of overcoming that doubt has been working outside of the guiding industry. She is behind the cash register at Picnic in Jackson one day a week, and it allows her to make money in a safe setting with no risk of injury and no life-or-death decision-making. Being able to choose when to prioritize snowboarding and outdoor adventures, rather than it simply being her default, has allowed Izzy to spend more meaningful time in the mountains. These days, she is genuinely excited to be out there.
Izzy Lidsky is a freelance photographer and writer groovin’ in the Tetons. She tells stories through writing and photography. @izzylidsky