It’s no secret that the outdoor world is overwhelmingly white. But if you’re from an under-represented group in the outdoor industry, and like the idea of learning to pack a sled for travel on ice or shoot stunning cold-weather travel photos, you’re in luck. A ‘Polar Academy’ training camp is being held in Minnesota in January, and six BIPOC individuals will be invited to attend on a full scholarship, learning skills to survival in the world’s most inhospitable climates.
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Eric Larsen, who remains the only person to reach the North Pole, South Pole, and summit of Mount Everest in a single year, is one of the world’s most well-known polar explorers and adventurers and will be leading the nine-day adventure. Other leaders will include adventurer and filmmaker Emily Ford, Bicycle Nomad founder Erick Cedeno, and cold-weather gear designer Danica Carey. And joining them to select the winners is Rohan Freeman, the first African-American to complete the ‘Seven Summits.’
Scholarship recipients must be willing to sleep in “extreme polar conditions,” plus meet a few additional criteria, including having a reasonable level of fitness, agreeing to have limited access to modern conveniences, and being willing to pull a fully loaded sled in sub-freezing conditions for nearly a week. But if all that sounds good, the application is available online — just make sure to submit it before December 1.
The scholarship is dedicated to African-American polar explorer Matthew Henson, who made 18 arctic expeditions in the early 1900s and was likely the first to reach the North Pole. And for Polar Academy co-leader Emily Ford, the first woman to thru-hike Wisconsin’s 1,200-mile Ice Age National Scenic Hiking Trail in winter, the decision to name the scholarship in his honor and limit it to BIPOC adventurers is about more than just creating a diverse learning environment. “This is also social justice. This is racial justice,” she told Matador. “My hope is that more POC become more comfortable in the outdoors so that the impact is even greater.”
“My [outdoor] experience has been full of joy due to my innate love of the wilderness,” she added, “and also full of great sadness, as I generally am the only POC in the groups I run in, outdoor films I see, and outdoor books I read.”
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“As an old white guy, I realize I have been given significant opportunities just because of the color of my skin,” Larsen told Matador. “I’ve done other more open-ended scholarships in the past; however, I think that traditionally, most BIPOC individuals have faced significant barriers, and I wanted to use my experience, connections, and platform to remove some of those barriers for participation.” Larsen added that he hopes the training could be the start of a career in polar exploration for one of the scholarship winners, to both carry on the story of Matthew Henson and begin their own outdoor legacy.
Winners will be announced on December 8, giving them — hopefully — enough time to train for the adventure before it begins on January 20, 2024.