Thursday, February 17, 2011

Skiing with the Other Half: A Primer on Relationship Maintenance for a Backcountry Skier

Kids want GI Joes.  Not ski couples.
As we dive headlong into the heart of ski season, perhaps you’ve found yourself forgetting what your spouse or significant other looks like.  After all, unless you’re one of those power skiing couples it is unlikely that your better half shares your ridiculous obsession with untracked powder.  For the last several months you’ve been catching only glimpses of them while you run out the door on a Saturday morning on your next adventure.

Even the most understanding of partners has already begun to attend co-dependence meetings, place ads with your likeness on the back of milk cartons, and disappear on week long “book club” outings to Mexico.

It’s time to do some relationship maintenance.  It’s time to share the addiction and do some skiing together.

In this analogy skiing = dinner roll.
Aside from developing a workable avalanche awareness, perhaps the hardest thing you’ll ever do as a backcountry skier is find a way to share your love of skiing without smothering your loved one with enthusiasm bordering on mania. 

Play it cool and follow a few simple rules.

 Like Chris Farley with his naughty little pet... You don't want to go overboard.

1. Take It Slow

Beginning skiers often get frustrated skiing the bunny slope repeatedly.  After learning the basics, they yearn to explore more of the mountain. They see everyone heading up on the big-people lifts and want to be part of the fun.   Their desire to try something more challenging dovetails nicely with your desire to see everything the mountain has to offer.  Visions of the power skiing couple begin to fill your head.  Suddenly you begin to realize you can feed your addiction, and at the same time spend time with your loved one. Next thing you know you're talking your better half into their first black diamond trail. 

Beware:  This is where you can commit the cardinal sin:  One which will inevitably lead to a screaming match in full view of the big-people lift.

I like to refer to this mistake as the “Scaring the crap out of them” move.  Unfortunately your enthusiasm leads you into dragging your bright eyed loved one onto a trail they have no business being near.

Aside from the immediate unfortunate consequence of getting TOLD in front of the lift, “Scaring the crap out of them” has potentially disastrous long term consequences.    

You see, once you scare the bejeezus out of your ski partner, you’ve lost their trust.  Then, every trip up the mountain onto a new trail is a potential life threatening experience to them.  They never really relax and start getting all jittery every time you take them skiing, or even talk about taking them skiing.  Eventually they wake you up in the middle of the night with a combat knife to your neck, covered in sweat and rambling about some double black diamond trail you led them onto three years ago on Mt. Macho Grande.

So go ahead and take them onto new trails, but choose carefully, and conservatively.  Instead of throwing them to the wolves on an icy blue square, wait until a powder day to coax them onto the steeper trails.  Also consider sending them along a toll road while you run the black diamonds between the cutbacks.  That way they get to see how to handle the harder trails before going down it in a ski patrol sled.

2. Keep them Warm

People who don’t spend a lot of time outdoors in the winter are irrationally afraid of the cold.  Having grown up in northern Vermont, I know that waiting for the bus in -20F for an hour doesn’t kill you.  Eventually (sometimes years later) the feeling will return to your fingers and toes. Ski addicts also don’t mind losing an occasional appendage in service of a cold powder day.  Normal people, however, are concerned about silly things like frostbite, and therefore need to be kept warm.

Make sure that your partner is properly dressed.  If there is a question about more or less layers, go with more and bring a backpack to carry extra layers if they get too warm.   This goes for everything except socks.  Too many socks will lead to constricted blood vessels and cold feet.

If your partner still gets cold feet, try investing in footbeds that have heat reflectors.  Or really go high-tech and get boots with battery powered foot warmers.  

In addition to dressing like an Eskimo, take more breaks than you can bear in order to go inside the lodge, get some hot cocoa, and talk about how rad and epic that last run was.

And if they're still too cold,  kill a taunton, gut it and shove them in it until ski patrol arrives.

3.  Go Someplace Exotic

I'm guessing no spa.
Nothing brings people together like an adventure.  Try taking a vacation someplace neither of you have been before. Be sure that the place you go has ample non-skiing activities.  While Silverton, CO might be paradise for a backcountry fanatic, it might not be the most ideal of spots to take a lay person.  Places like Lake Tahoe, CA or Salt Lake City, UT offer lots of great skiing with plenty of activities for a non-skier.  That way, when you're significant other has gutted out a couple of days on the slopes to make you happy they can be rewarded with a day of spa treatments and celebrity watching.

4. Don't Take Them Winter Camping

Under no circumstances should you ever take a normal person winter camping.  Even if you have some sort of Jedi mind control that allows you to talk them into it: just don't do it.  Maybe someday they will ask you to share the beauty, splendor, and tranquility of winter camping, but until then: keep dreaming.

Ultimately, you have to remember that you are one of the chosen few who has been anointed by the Gods to share the backcountry love.  The odds of finding soulmate who also shares your passion for backcountry skiing are remote.  This is why you have friends: friends who backcountry ski.

And for you power couples out there that are reading this blog together while you watch the latest Teton Gravity Research Film, waxing your skis and not really understanding what I'm talking about.  Well you can go fuck yourselves.


  1. You are wise man, Randonee Andy, and will likely stay happily married to your very tolerant wife.

  2. Smart man. I tried teaching my wife to snowboard years ago. All I'll say is that her board sits happily unused in the basement...

  3. good try at gender-neutrality, but I have this strange sense that those friends you speak of who backcountry ski are not female...?

    backcountry chicks kick. and we do exist.

    potential tip 5: don't try to do everything yourself. Grab a skier friend (maybe even a lady friend - gasp!) who is friends with, or should/could be friends with, your better half and get those two out on the slopes together. good things might happen! ...with less chance of fist fights under the lift...

    plus, it means you have more time to fix a nice hot dinner for them to return to.

  4. Bird & Woods- I share my mistakes so others may avoid my pain. :)

    And yes, Sara, I was trying to be conscious of the ladies out there who might struggle with this as well. Although, I think the odds of winding up in a power ski couple are a little better for women who backcountry ski. You're right on with Tip #5. I've employed that one as well.

  5. yup. didn't want to be too smug (we ladies have it a bit better with the odds on that end. sorry. sort of :)

  6. "Under no circumstances should you ever take a normal person winter camping."

    - Everyone should heed the truth of these words.