Currently Wandering » Outdoor Family, Adventure Travel, Simple Living - Family of 5 Traveling the United States in an Airstream.

Summary & Review of REI’s Powder Mountain Outessa Summit

outessa-jcurren-day-1_18We turned up the winding canyon road and our excitement mounted with every foot of elevation we climbed. We turned off the main rode and drove the last few hundred feet up a dirt road to the very top of Powder Mountain Ski Resort. We crested the final hill and were in awe of the view that would be ours for the next 4 days. This was truly going to be a spectacular weekend.

Partnered with REI, the brains behind an all women’s outdoor adventure summit went all out. From amazing REI guides and teachers from all over the country, world class food, national championship level athletes, prominent vendors in the outdoor industry, and a full schedule, they worked to cover every detail to create a one of a kind event.


After checking in, receiving my welcome packet (an Osprey day pack will all sorts of goodies inside!) I was led to the spot where Camp Outessa was being formed. I opted to bring my own camping gear and stake it out in the temporary camp, but immediately became aware it wasn’t going to be easy. We were set up in a parking lot at the top of the hill, and naturally, the ski resort uses a hardening agent in the dirt so the entire top of the mountain doesn’t slide off when the snow hits. It also makes it really hard to stake in a tent. Outessa had laid out fresh sod over the dirt which helped the stake situation (we angled all our stakes in practically sideways) and also provided a soft surface to sleep on. I was extremely grateful to not have dust and dirt in the tent area! We had some resourceful people helping us try to get our stakes in the ground, and resorted to a lot of sandbags, rocks, and sharing  of large tent stakes so we could have at least one corner staked down well.


Thinking I was set up as well as I could be, I met back up with my friend and we explored the REI village where vendors were setting up. There wasn’t really anything going on that evening, just mostly checking in and getting set up. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized meals weren’t provided until the following day, so by the time dinner rolled around I was one of quite a few hungry people hanging out. We snaked protein bars, almond butter, and a few other snacks laid out for the weekend, and after chatting on the deck and watching the sun go down we headed to bed excited and ready for the following morning.


Then the wind picked up, the temperature dropped, and nobody slept.

I swear it was the worst night’s sleep I have had in my entire life and I’ve been pregnant three times. Not being able to fully stake my tent fly out it was flapping loudly all night long while consistently hitting me in the head. It was also bitterly cold. I woke up around 2am and donned almost every single piece of clothing I had brought. Layered up I still slept fitfully with the noise and wind chill.

Miserable, angry, and feeling utterly defeated I woke up at 6:45am the next morning and grumbled my way out of the tent to attempt a sunrise photo. I wasn’t feeling it and I’ll admit I had some not nice thoughts going through my head. I was hungry, cold, tired, and not sure how I was going to manage a full schedule of outdoor activities on little sleep and no real food. Breakfast was light (tofu burritos) and I longed for oatmeal, eggs, or anything that could help give me a boost for the day.

At this point I had a choice. I could suck it up, change my attitude, and purposely strive forward knowing that nothing is perfect. Or, I could give in to the demons in my head, pack up and head for a hotel later that day where I knew I could get a good night’s rest.

I chose the former option and am so glad I did.

My first class wasn’t until 9am, so I went back to my tent determined to fix the fly problem. There were some helpful men running around with large hammers, more rocks, and helpful attitudes. We managed to stake my fly out a little better and I also found the Big Agnes camp hostesses walking around with ear plugs and hand warmers to help both the noise and the cold. Bless their souls.

Buoyed by this success, I started my classes and had a fantastic day. I made my own ProBar, tortured myself with a Trigger Point foam rolling session, conquered an overhang in an intermediate rock climbing class, and headed out on a mountain bike for a trail ride. I loved being surrounded by passionate women who excelled in their sports and were there to encourage and support us in whatever we were willing to try!



Thankfully there was very little wind Friday night (I fully attribute that to all the prayers that I’m sure were being said all day!) and woke refreshed and ready to pound another day.

Mountain Biking Tight Turns, SUP, Backpacking Cooking, and an amazing, travel photography workshop with Chris Burkard kept me running on my feet until dinner. Perhaps my schedule was a bit packed (I did manage to squeeze a few minutes to sit in the ENO hammock lounge) but I thrive on doing all the things. With so many options it wasn’t difficult to keep busy.


Saturday night we hiked a mile to dinner as a group where we were treated to a crab boil! I ate salad, cornbread, seafood, and potatoes amidst some great company, and a charged, positive vibe from the group.


Afterward we retired to the campfire and sat huddled against the cold laughing, talking and enjoying each other’s company. To top it off we were served grilled peaches, pound cake, and whipped cream while we watched the sun sink on the horizon.


Although I wasn’t in the mood to run, I knew that if I ditched my headlamp run I would forever regret it. Despite the fact that were were full of crab, there were 5 of us that set off on a short 2 mile trail run around 8:30pm. Decked out with Salomon running shoes we made our way down the hill and back up again. Lit by our headlamps underneath the moon and stars it was probably one of the most peaceful things I’ve ever done. Mid-way we stopped to just stare at the night sky full of stars.  Proud of myself and warm from the run I crawled into my sleeping bag and slept easily until morning.


Sunday dawned bright and crisp and after a quick breakfast of yogurt, muffins, and fruit I got dressed in my mountain biking gear and headed for my most anticipated class: Mountain Bike Skills – Wheel Lifts. After attending my skills class the previous morning I was dying to add this class and the night before a spot opened up. The instructor for all the MTB classes was Cindy Abbot-Wood – the Senior Instructor for the REI Outdoor School in Austin, TX and one amazing pro-level mountain biker.


You guys – I didn’t know you could take mountain biking skills classes and I was hooked. I seriously wanted to just drink everything in.



Demoing her awesome skills to the class, our group of instructors including pro athletes Sarah Kaufmann, and Rebecca Rusch, and me learning how to balance while doing a wheelie.

If there was anything I got from attending Outessa, it would be the passion, desire, focus, and motivation to follow my dreams. Cindy and I chatted after class (and my amazingly awesome wheelie!) about life, what I could do to certify as an instructor, and how to continuously improve my skills and even get into the racing scene. She could tell I’ve been bit badly by the mountain biking bug and absolutely encouraged and empowered me.


Julia Mallon(co-founder), Cindy Abbott-Wood (REI Guide), Bart Davis (co-founder)

On a total high from my class and chat with Cindy, I skipped my stretching session and opted for a moment or two in the hammock and time to just breathe before taking the shuttle down to the reservoir for kayaking with OruKayaks. The instructors decided to throw in a little origami while we were at it.


Even though I was dying to go ride with the group on the afternoon trail ride, at this point I was feeling pretty spent and knew that 2 hours on the trail might just kill me. Instead I opted to check out the Leatherman class (and got a free Skeletool!) and ended the day with Yoga at 5pm.


My entire experience was a completely packed 3 days, but there were so many other classes I could have taken. Plenty on hiking, photography, campfire cooking, taking care of your body, meditation, or even map & compass. It was great to gather at meals and see what classes other women had taken and how they felt about it. So many felt enabled after taking an Intro to Backpacking, or Rock Climbing class. Many had sports or activities they had always wanted to try but never felt they could get into on their own. Taking a class, learning about equipment and being able to ask questions was just what most of these women needed. No egos, no judgement, just encouragement from all sides.

Outessa is all about empowering women in the outdoors. They encourage us to nurture our passions and feed our curiosities. I came home fueled up, filled, and completely ready to tackle whatever life throws at me. Was the event perfect? Of course not. From a less than ideal camping situation, to dinner on Thursday night, or even shuttle schedules, I know that the brains behind Outessa are working on solutions. For a first time event however, I completely feel Outessa knocked it out of the park. They were so aware of us, our needs, and what they could do to make our experience even better. Just as we learn from the obstacles thrown in our path you can bet Outessa is already hard at work hammering out details to make next year even better than this one and I can’t wait to be there.

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  • Arah - Way to rally after a crummy night’s sleep – that takes some moxie! As does willingly going to a foam-rolling class. Love this review & the summit looks like fun! Thanks for posting!ReplyCancel

  • Pam - Thanks for posting the review! I love a photo heavy post! It looks like you had an awesome time even though the first night was a bit rough. How cold did it get that first night? What type sleeping bag did you use and do you think you’ll go again? I hope they do it next year. I’m game on flying across country for some fun like this!ReplyCancel

    • Jess - You know, my phone said it was only 40 or so, and I have a 32 degree down bag but that wind chill was unreal. They are making modifications for next year and absolutely I’m planning on going!ReplyCancel

  • Nate - I have a lot of respect for anyone who can make wise decisions after sleep deprivation. Way to go!ReplyCancel

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