In July 2011, Maddie Crowell stood on the summit of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park with her friend Lindsey Cannon. It was Crowell’s first big ascent since a climbing accident, and standing at 14,259′ she was relieved and excited to feel comfortable in the mountains again. Cannon and Crowell were the only hikers at the top, so they decided to free themselves from the boundaries of their sports bras and shorts and take a naked summit photo. That feeling, Crowell recounts, was one of the most liberating she’s ever felt — addictive, almost.
As Crowell and Cannon headed down the peak, the ideas started bubbling to the surface. The women are both Telluride, CO, natives each with a vibrant passion for exploration, but outside of their outdoor-enthused hometown, they wanted to encourage more women to get up off of the couch and feel that wonderful moment of power standing on top of a mountain, naked.
This, officially, was the beginning of Mountain Babes (MTN Babes), a social media craze that, in the next five years, would have women from all over the country scrambling up mountains to take off their clothes and snap that iconic picture at the top.
Soon after that initial photo on Longs, Crowell began encouraging her friends to take similar shots, and with a gallery of almost 50 images, she built a simple website where she could share these experiences. The blog launched in November 2011, and would later become mtnbabes.com.
Initially, Instagram and Facebook kept shutting MTN Babes down for infringement on community guidelines — the rules specify no nudity. Crowell began to publish images from the waist up, with only back showing, and with this change, she’s been able to keep the account for over a year.
As for the other sex, “We definitely get guy submissions, but we want to focus on women,” says Crowell, “We’ve seen a huge wave of female participation in the outdoors recently. And on social media especially, you see more and more female athletes.”
The success of MTN Babes coincides with a greater interest in female participation in the outdoors headed by influential athletes like Lynsey Dyer and her ski film “Pretty Faces” and a growing number of women centric outdoor clinics like Yeti Cycles’ Vida MTB Series and She Jumps’ “Get the Girls Out” programs.
But this forward momentum is counter-balanced by the underlying reality that women are often misrepresented (and under represented) in the outdoor industry. Outside Magazine published an article in April titled “No More Barbie Gear,” encouraging brands to take women seriously: “Drenching ads in My Little Pony colors isn’t the way to inspire today’s women. Instead, show us succeeding at our sport,”the article stated.
Maybe that’s where MTN Babes’ true appeal is found: There’s an authenticity to the movement and it lies in MTN Babes’ no-frills approach. Grab your girlfriends and head outside, because even if you’re not tackling the gnarliest summit, it’s still something to be celebrated. The Instagram comments are filled with women offering support and encouragement to each other; tagging their friends in hopes of making it on the MTN Babes page, too.
Even with such a large following, it still surprises Crowell how many business inquiries she has received lately. Social media followers are a form of digital currency, and MTN Babes’ following of young, adventurous women, is very appealing to brands trying to make an influence on an authentic community.
Crowell, who has a full-time job as a forester on Vancouver Island, hardly has time to develop the business side of things, but is intrigued by recent collaborations. Namely, a brand partnership with Skida: a Burlington, VT, based company that makes headwear and accessories in colorful patterns and appealing styles.
Over the years, Crowell has seen other social media pages try and copy MTN Babes, and for the most part she, considers it flattery. When the name is blatantly copied, though, that broaches on frustrating, hence the desire for the Trademark.
“Making money with MTN Babes was never what I had in mind,” says Crowell. “But I would like to take advantage of these opportunities and start collaborating with businesses and people that align with our ideas.”
Of course, like any new business, this comes at a cost. All of the hours spent posting photos, and building the brand side of MTN Babes, is time Crowell has to spend away from the mountains — an irony that she can’t quite reconcile.
“It’s such a love hate relationship,” says Crowell. ” We’re so addicted to having a way to connect and we have to use social media to spread the message, and yet it’s really powerful to go outside and be okay with not being connected.”
— Celine Wright