Finding her calling took Maranda Ratcliff, 23, several years, a bit of disappointment and a lot of “soul searching” before she discovered a way to combine her love for nature with her desire to meet and connect with other women in her own business.
Owner and founder of Rocky Mountain Women Outdoors, Ratcliff, of Kalispell, is in the business of adventure, organizing and guiding day trips and retreats for women like herself. Ratcliff grew up in Billings, thrust outside into nature at a young age by her parents.
“From probably the time that I could fit in a hiking backpack I think my parents had me out hiking with them,” she said.
No sooner had she started to walk when her father put her on a pair of skis and took her down the mountain, guiding her between his legs as they glided down the slopes. At 10 years old, she received her first overnight backpack and started backpacking with her family. Rather than coming home on weekends or after school to plop down in front of the television, Ratcliff said her parents constantly pushed her to go outside and play.
“That was what I grew up with,” she said, “and there were definitely times when I was like ‘I don’t know that I truly enjoy this.’”
The leap to a naval academy in Maryland after high school rekindled the flame for nature first stoked by her parents, Ratcliff said.
“I definitely was immersed in it and really forced to be in it for a long time,” she said, “and then I just went through this process of figuring out that it was truly my thing.”
When the career she planned to pursue through the naval academy flew out of her reach due to a physical injury, Ratcliff said she had to do some soul-searching to figure out what else she might want to do with her life. She returned to Montana, and after three and a half years of studying engineering at Montana Tech, Ratcliff said she still felt a drive toward a career she hadn’t yet fully discovered.
“My biggest desire was to make an impact, be able to influence people,” she said. “I really just wanted to find a career where I felt like I had a purpose.”
Around that time, she said, she returned to her outdoor adventures and began blogging online about her fishing, hunting and backpacking trips.
Through her blog, she encountered a group of women who expressed a desire to learn the things that came so naturally to her and to experience the outdoors in the same ways she did. Inspired to begin building a community of female adventure-seekers, Ratcliff said it was her mom who first proposed the idea of a business venture.
In December 2017, she began looking into the legal and technical parts of creating a business centered on women pursuing outdoor experiences. At the time, she was working full time as a coffee shop barista, putting in 40 hours a week on top of trying to get her new venture up and running.
She persuaded her boss to allow her to work the early shifts, 5 a.m. to 2 p.m., to give herself the afternoons to research, make contacts, advertise and organize her first official outing.
In January 2018 she launched Rocky Mountain Women Outdoors with her first snowshoeing adventure. Her slots for the day trip filled up, and around a dozen women took advantage of her expertise for a trek through the snow, filled with stunning views and new friends.
The second adventure she scheduled, a weekend getaway, quickly filled as well, and before long, she said she was on her way to creating a real business.
“After that I was like, ‘this is a real thing! It’s not just a dream, like I could actually do this,’” she said.
The boom came as summer rolled around and Montanans emerged from hibernation eager to get outside. Fishing, whitewater rafting, hiking, camping, backpacking and more adventures of every kind began to fill up her schedule for the season as her brand began to expand and gain more attention.
Along with getting paid to go on outdoor adventures, Ratcliff said through her business she began to find herself surrounded by a community of women with whom she could connect and share her favorite activities.
“Growing up, I had a hard time connecting with other women…and I never really understood why,” Ratcliff said. “I kind of realized that it was maybe because I hadn’t really found people who shared my same values or my same motivations or enjoyed the same things I enjoyed.”
Now, she said, she’s found purpose in her self-employment by helping other women not only learn and experience new things outdoors but also establish a community based on shared interests.
“I think that most women really crave meaningful connections and a lot of times we don’t know how to make those meaningful connections or where to find them,” she said. “It’s been really cool watching them attend my trips and make new friends and leave with their cup filled.”
This month marks the business’s first anniversary. Having now moved to the Flathead Valley full time, Ratcliff said she plans to spend the next year expanding her business into her new community, establishing new partners across the state and finding ways to give back through outreach programs. Driven by her success in 2018 and her excitement for continued growth, Ratcliff said she plans to attend additional training sessions in California and Mexico this year to expand her knowledge of marketing, social media and advertising.
Over the last year, Ratcliff said she’s worked with an estimated 200 different clients, many of whom were repeat customers who have signed up for several different events.
Hoping to travel throughout the state to lead retreats, Ratcliff said she will partner with adventure guides in different areas who will work as independent contractors and lead day-excursions under her brand. Her current partners include a guide in Red Lodge and Boulder where customers can sign up to enjoy a day of skiing, hiking and more.
Meanwhile, Ratcliff plans on focusing more on the retreat side of her business, scheduling multiday getaways through which she can spend more time teaching and exploring with her customers and getting to know them.
“When I first started the business, I thought I was going to be the most passionate about the experiences, like the outdoor adventures,” Ratcliff said. “But I think my favorite thing about them, now, is the people I’ve met.”
To view a full list of upcoming adventures or to sign up, visit https://rockymountainwomenoutdoors.com/.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor may be reached at 758-4459 or email@example.com.