Ann Bancroft grew up in rural Minnesota. She described her family as one of risk takers. It is reported that she struggled with a learning disability, but nevertheless graduated from St. Paul Academy. Bancroft became a wilderness instructor and a gymnastics teacher in the St. Paul area.
She gave up her teaching post in 1986 in order to participate with the Steger International North Pole Expedition. She arrived at the North Pole together with five other team members after 56 days using dogsleds. This made Bancroft the first woman to reach the North Pole on foot and by sled. She was also the first woman to ski across Greenland. In 1992 and 1993 Bancroft led an all-women expedition to the South Pole on skis. This expedition was the first group of women to reach the South Pole on skis. Her achievements led to the itroduction into the National Women's Hall of Fame in the USA, and Bancroft received a number of other awards and honours.