Nearly two years ago, Lisa Raleigh hiked to her favorite spot in the mountains of Colorado, a beautiful place surrounded by snowy peaks with hawks flying overhead. She was working on an idea to bring women together for a special event called O2 Outdoor Women’s Festival and she went to this spot to commune with the greater universe and ask for her dream to come to true.
The idea for O2 started fomenting a few years ago during conversations with her husband, Duane Raleigh, who was then the president of Big Stone Publishing (which produced Rock & Ice, Ascent, Trail Runner and Gym Climber magazines) and is now the content director for Climbing.
She was hoping to launch in fall 2020. However, her idea was put on hold when the pandemic hit. But it didn’t remain that way. When Outside (Outside Business Journal’s parent company, formerly Pocket Outdoor Media) purchased Big Stone Publishing in 2020, it decided to move forward with the festival, which is now set to happen in September 2021.
Lisa Raleigh has worked in the outdoor industry for a long time. She worked as the advertising and marketing director at Climbing before co-founding Backbone Media, which is now one of the largest outdoor PR firms. “What would it look like if we brought women of all backgrounds, abilities, and ages together who were connected by a broad love of the outdoors?” she recalls saying to Duane. “Let’s create a space to have really meaningful conversations and be inspired and motivated by extraordinary women.”
What O2 will look like
The O2 Outdoor Women’s Festival will be held September 16-19, 2021, in Carbondale, Colorado. It will be a four-day, intimate event of 250 women who will gather in a safe and inclusive space that will foster education and comfort in the outdoors.
Attendees are invited to attend an opening wine reception and closing ceremony with a guided meditation and closing keynote by Alison Hadden of No Time to Waste. They can choose between four speaker sessions and four outdoor educational clinic sessions, such as “Avalanche and Snow Safety,” “Backpacking Tips and Techniques,” “Fly Fishing,” and “Bike Tech 101.” Light: A Documentary, a film about eating disorders in the climbing community, will be shown during the festival and be followed by a conversation with the filmmakers and the featured athletes. And throughout the event, attendees can join group runs, biking experiences, and yoga sessions through local partners.
“If you come by yourself, the idea is that from the minute you land, you’re in the stream of O2 until you depart on the other side,” Raleigh said.
Inclusive and accessible
Raleigh has worked to make the event feel inclusive and accessible to women of all backgrounds. While registration is currently open and tickets cost $499, O2 will be accepting applications for 30 full and partial scholarships.
“We just added an option on the registration form. When someone registers as a full-price registrant, they can pay it forward, [and] we can increase the scholarship fund beyond what we currently have,” said Raleigh. “I’m hoping at the end of the day, the attendees will represent a pretty awesome cross section of everything—geography, background, industry, non-industry.”
As far as speakers go, O2 already has a powerhouse lineup of women like Verna Volker, founder of Native Women Running; Beatriz Soto, Wilderness Workshop’s Defiende Nuestra Tierra director; and trail running coach and outdoor guide Kriste Peoples. Speakers will discuss topics like mental health, environmental justice, diversity, personal reinvention after age 50, and motherhood.
“We’re going to ask each of the speakers to give us one or two takeaways in whatever lane we’re discussing in that session— grief, risk, inclusion, or environmental justice,” said Raleigh. “One or two things that, as audience members, we can take away right now, that are tangible and can move the needle in the right direction for the world we want to see.”
A festival of value
The festival may be $499, but Raleigh believes the price tag offers great value. The fee includes four hands-on clinics, four speaker sessions, a film screening, two lunches, and an opening and closing reception. It’s also important to note that O2 will be paying speakers an honorarium and travel expenses.
“Yes, we have to charge a registration fee, but we are working incredibly hard to put significant value to all of these aspects, so that when you come, you say, ‘Wow, that was priceless,’” she explained. “That same philosophy has to apply to the very people who are providing the content and the meaning. The speakers’ value is extraordinary. We absolutely need to recognize and honor that and set that precedent.”
Raleigh is perhaps most excited about the clinics that O2 will offer.
“On one hand, the outdoors is everywhere and there for the taking. But on the other hand, a lot of outdoor pursuits require some knowledge or understanding. There’s inherent risk. I think to be able to address it in a really safe environment where you can ask that question is important,” she said.
The opportunity to bring women together to discuss how they move through the outdoors is another key takeaway that Raleigh wants O2 to provide.
“When I first started trail running, I would leave little cairns at intersections because in Colorado, the trails can really get out there,” she said. “I don’t know if I was worried about human interactions, animal interactions, or getting flat-out lost. I’d like to have these clinics and say it’s okay to feel those things and here are some ways to manage them.”
With a festival date in mid-September, Raleigh and the organizers hope that vaccination efforts will make Covid less of a threat. Even so, they’ll be following all local and state ordinances and ensuring maximum safety for guests. If all goes according to plan, O2 will produce multimedia content that will be shared throughout the year, result in more festivals, and ultimately become a movement.
“[During the pandemic] women have been holding up their half of the sky, plus another quarter, by stepping away from careers and jobs and wrangling homeschooling,” Raleigh said. “This O2 festival will hopefully be a chance to reground, inspire, and maybe start migrating towards whatever our new normal is going to be.”
Interested parties can register for the event here.