International Women's Trail Summit: Spreading Western Colorado's Outdoor Spirit

Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of SPOKE+BLOSSOM



When Elisa Janson turns 40 this fall, you won’t find her being pampered in a fancy spa or dining in a high-end restaurant. She will be hiking her way down to Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, to mark the completion of 400 trail adventures during her 40th year.

This is a fitting celebration for the co-founder of the International Women’s Trail Summit (IWTS), a two-day online workshop that debuted in February. Janson and her IWTS partner, Melinda McCaw, established the Summit to educate, motivate and inspire women around the world to get outside.

“We want to reach the women who are busy, who are struggling to get out, who want to build that type of [outdoor] culture for themselves and their family,” Janson says.

The two Western Slope women hatched the idea on a mountain bike ride after Janson, who is also a musician and educator, created a successful virtual conference for music teachers. The online format allows people to attend or present from anywhere in the world and to view the sessions in real time or later, without the expense and travel of a traditional conference.

The decision to gear the conference toward women was an easy one.

“These days, women are so pressed to be everything: to be a mom, to have a career, to be the best,” Janson explains. “There are all of these amazing physical, psychological, emotional benefits which have been proven time and time again to be connected to outdoor recreation and exercise, and not enough women see that value. Having watched the benefits of it in my own life, I wanted to share that with other people.”



Randi Hitchcock, executive director of Colorado Springs nonprofit UpaDowna, attended IWTS after hearing about it at the Outdoor Retailer expo in Denver. She says the IWTS online model aligns with her organization’s goal of providing access to outdoor adventures for all by offering women a non-threatening venue to learn about outdoor recreation.

IWTS will likely look different in the future, not in small part because the Summit’s outdoors-loving founders had a hard time sitting inside at a computer for two consecutive weekend days. Janson and McCaw (who has completed the 567-mile Colorado Trail on bike and foot three times) envision a hybrid of online and in-person experiences, perhaps spread out over time, with a group of women around the world.

Although some people “seem to think we should be somewhere bigger,” Janson says, they see the Grand Valley as a natural home base for IWTS, with its burgeoning outdoor recreation industry and easy access to trails, mountains and rivers.

“We are so amazingly blessed to live in the outdoor culture that we do here, and our efforts in the Summit are to spread that culture around the world for the benefit of all busy, crazy, working, high-pressured women,” says Janson. “We want to bring a little Western Colorado spirit to the world.”