There are many heroes who work unselfishly far from headlines and spotlights by helping other people through their passion. Meet one of them – Janine Tschanhenz – a dedicated skier and climber from Tirol, who combines her passion for mountain sports with her job as a social worker, in the European Alps as well as in the Pakistanian Karakoram.
During my search for inspiring mountain adventurers, I came across an Austrian woman with a network of amazing people who truly deserves to be highlighted. Janine Tschanhenz, 29 years old, provides adventures for youngsters who are unable to do it themselves.
“I am a social worker, working with refugees and young people having drugs and family problems. The social organization I work for is helping young kids that live alone from an early age” she says. Besides her regular work, Janine also coaches and motivates young kids in freeride skiing. “My goal is to combine my passion for mountains with my work.”
It was natural for Janine to start with mountain sports. With a climbing wall in the garden and the ski lift nearby her child home in the Montafon valley in Vorarlberg, Austria, she got hooked at an early age. “Freeride skiing is becoming quite popular now in our local ski club. But when I was a kid, traditional ski racing was the only alternative we had. Freeride skiing was not available for kids back then” Janine explains.
With friends as dedicated as herself, Janine got the opportunity to inspire kids far from home. “I took part in a ski course for young girls that was organized by Pakistan Youth Outreach a couple of years ago. The ski course was initiated by two male mountain guides, Stephan Keck from Austria and Mirza Ali from Pakistan. One of the leaders involved in the organization is Samina Baig. She was the first Muslim woman to climb Seven Summits and is the sister of Mirza Ali.”
“She is known and respected by everyone in her home village. The men in the village are inspired by her and want their daughters and sisters to get the same opportunity. It was very different compared to much else we observed in Pakistan.”
Janine travelled to Pakistan with two male friends. “During the final, full flight towards the mountains I asked my friends if they recognized what was weird in the plane, but they could not figure out what it was. They did not notice that I was the only woman in the plane!”
Pakistan Youth Outreach is a nonprofit organization established by Mirza Ali for the youth in Pakistan. The activities aim to encourage young men and women to undertake adventures and challenging situations, and gender equality is one of several focuses.
“When I was there, the goal was to provide a ski course to the girls in the village. I was there as a ski teacher, and I was the only female ski teacher during the course. Perhaps it was a little easier for them to talk to me.”
Janine was impressed by the effort from everyone involved and by the girls’ dedication. “Thirty girls attended the course. The ski equipment was carried for a full day from the village to the base camp at 4000 meter above sea level. Although there were sherpas involved in the transport of the equipment the girls walked for a full day with 20 kg back packs. They slept in a house without heating, and they were wearing skirts during the whole course.”
Another thing that impressed Janine was the strong support the girls got from their fathers, brothers and families. “The girls return to the ski course year after year. They talked more openly to me and I could ask them more than the male ski teachers could. They told me that they want to study engineering and things like that. It was impressive to hear, because when you travel through the country many things you see are much less inspiring from a gender perspective” says Janine.
Back in Austria, Janine is currently involved in freeride coaching for the local ski club in her home village. One of the main challenges, that Janine and her friends involved in the initiative face, is to find teenage girls who want to try freeride skiing. “We search for girls who want to join us, but it is very difficult to find any at all.”
The reason behind the absence of interested girls in her home village is something Janine has pondered a lot about. “I think it has to do with stereotypes. The girls have other things on their mind and are influenced by societal stereotypes suggesting that freeride skiing isn’t ‘girly’. Moreover, the girls seem to be more comfortable with trying something new when a friend comes along. Therefore, it is important to show them that it is feasible for girls too, to gather several girls and to continue to actively invite them.”
Janine can be found in social media. She is ambassador for a couple of brands, which makes her way of living a little bit easier. But she has mixed feelings about it. “Social media is a big scene, especially for women. But it is very much focus on the look and the beauty, less about the sport itself. In my opinion it should be about adventure, sharing and having fun. Not whether you have a beautiful body or not. Sometimes, the focus is wrong, although I haven’t experienced it myself.”
“It feels like there are more and more women in mountain sports, but still I do 90% of my activities with men” says Janine. “I have always missed to share it with other women. Sharing special moments is a little different with women. We push each other a little differently, and it is so fun to overcome fear together. Women feel that they understand each other a little better. When you climb with another woman, you share similarities in projects. It is really fun with girlfriends!” Janine emphasises.
Currently, she has got several plans for the future. “Friends of mine are about to start a freeride base in our valley Montafon, and I am involved as a freeride coach. Moreover, I want to support young women and girls by teaching them climbing too. Hopefully, I can combine it and support both young women and men in different kinds of mountain adventures. My goal is to give them confidence in themselves at a young age. It is also a way to unite people. It is about doing a sport, but also about sharing special moments and good feelings together.
First of all, though, Janine will enjoy a few more weeks of climbing. Janine and her boyfriend have spent the last six months travelling and climbing in the Balkan countries. Again, Janine is struck by the dedication and effort that people are investing in something that is served so easily in the Alps. “In the Alps we are used to go climbing by the guidebook, and we easily find nicely bolted routes. There are so many inspiring and motivating people over here, making the path to the rock. They drill all these new routes, and invest a lot of hard work to get the adventures they want. At home everything is perfect. Here they work so hard” Janine concludes.
To me, Janine and her friends’ efforts and initiatives are impressive. But they also demonstrate the power of mountain adventures as a mean to strengthen individuals and local societies, I believe.