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Ice Fest Stories: Nikki Smith

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Ice Fest Stories: Nikki Smith

Bozeman Ice Festival

A shot of Nikki Smith during the 2018 Bozeman Ice Festival. Photo credit Sarah Klintworth.

A shot of Nikki Smith during the 2018 Bozeman Ice Festival. Photo credit Sarah Klintworth.

A note from Nikki Smith:

Last week I was privileged to be able to teach at the Bozeman Ice Fest. People from all over gather to visit Hyalite Canyon, just outside of Bozeman, Montana, and spend the week learning from one another. For the athletes/instructors, guides and companies, it’s a family reunion of sorts. We get to see each other, catch up and can share our experience and love for the outdoors with so many new climbers. It’s fantastic to watch as the students learn throughout their clinic. Improving drastically as the day goes on. Building confidence as they overcome their fears or trepidations. It’s something I’ll never tire of! But it’s not just the students who learn and grow.

The 2018 Bozeman Ice Fest was my first year teaching as myself. The @bozemanicefest and my sponsors Grivel, Beal and Cilo Gear, supported me by adding “Queer Friendly” 🏳️‍🌈 in the title of my clinics. I want to create a safe space for anyone who has been too afraid to come out to try climbing because of who they are. I was nervous about the reaction and a little apprehensive as I started the introductions to each clinic asking everyone to give their pronouns. Something most had never experienced, and I had never asked of others before. Throughout the day some of the students would come to me privately to ask questions about why we shared our pronouns.

For years, I was afraid of the reaction I’d get from the climbing community if I revealed who I really was. Although my photos might not reveal that I’m transgender, I still have a deep voice and am 6’ 4”. I’m commonly addressed as Sir, referenced as he or him. People often assume someone’s gender based on superficial traits. It’s uncomfortable. It can be extremely disheartening as misgendering, stares, pointing and laughing, and harassment is a daily occurrence for many trans people. By asking everyone to give their pronouns in a setting like these clinics, nobody is forced to be the only one who is different. Nobody has to spend the day being referred to as the wrong gender because they were too embarrassed or afraid to speak out. From the start, we are all on equal footing as nobody has to assume our identity. For many people at these fests, I’m the first transgender person they “knowingly” have met.

Some days it feels like a heavy burden, but it’s one I gladly take on. I’m so happy to finally let everyone get to know the real me and want to try to make it safer for others to do the same. Thanks to everyone at the fest for their kindness and generosity. I had a blast and can’t wait for the next one!


This blog post originated as an instagram post by Nikki on her page @pullphoto. Nikki Smith is an athlete for Grivel, Beal Ropes, Cilo Gear, and others. She has been a member of the Bozeman Ice Festival family for years and we fully support her initiatives to make climbing a more inclusive space.