So you want to teach your girlfriend to backcountry ski; 10 tips to prevent a total meltdown

So you’ve got your avalanche certifications, you’ve skied tons of times with your buddies, and you feel confident in your ability to navigate avalanche terrain safely. But what your off piste experience is really lacking is your girlfriend/wife at your side, right? Er, don’t take her to the snow just yet… while I don’t claim to know everyone’s “bonding style” in the backcountry, I have learned that men and women tend to have different styles on the snow. Based on my experience with my husband, and the steep learning curve he gave me, I’ve developed a few ideas about what it takes to be successful as a couple in the great outdoors.

And although these tips are written in skiing terms, they can apply to any sport! Ready? Here we go…

10. Yes, she has high expectations when it comes to looking good in her ski outfit. When she looks good, she feels good. So when she gets excited that her new boots will match her ski jacket, there’s no need to dart around the corner in the ski shop so people don’t think you’re together. Accept that this excitement is going to happen, and seek to satisfy her need to match. Bonus points (and a mood booster) if you tell her frequently how awesome she looks in her ski getup. (Seriously.)

9. Yes, you should always wait for her. It’s so simple. If she’s just getting used to the the backcountry, it is difficult to mentally press on when she loses sight of her manfriend. Even if you’re going to wait for her “just around the corner,” know that the entire traverse to that corner, she is stewing with anger that you didn’t wait. What’s more important is that she’s definitely NOT learning to love the backcountry at that given moment. If the point of the tour was to ski alone, why did you invite her?

8. Yes, you should encourage her with kindness. Nothing chaps her ass more than someone shouting from ahead, “C’mon! Why are you stopping AGAIN? Get up here!” That makes her want to walk herself down the mountain, thankyouverymuch. If the tone and word choice been more like, “Great job, honey! You’re doing amazing! I love you! You’re beautiful!” perhaps her pace and mood would improve. It’s not rocket science… It’s called empathy.

And when we fall (yep, that happens), make sure to tell her how graceful it was… and explain that the occasional fall is a tell-tale sign that she’s really trying hard. GOOD JOB, HONEY.

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7. Yes, you should surprise her by bringing a thermos filled with hot tea or hot chocolate. It makes her happy to create traditions like this with you. After a super hard climb or ski, a cup of hot tea from a thermos can calm a mood or raise a spirit. (Yes, her positive mood is worth the extra weight in your pack.)

See how happy our friend, Cassie with her thermos filled with hot soup? Take note.

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6. Yes, it does take us that long to pee in the backcountry. Things are arranged differently for women, and although she will improve with experience, you must have patience at the get go. Summertime is one thing… Wintertime is a whole new ball game with more layers of clothing and ski boots. Things can be complicated further by snow depth and whether she sinks while attempting to find a private spot. Get over it.

Here’s our friend, Chloe, visibly stoked that we found an outhouse in the backcountry above the Arctic Cirle:

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Here she is again, stoked on the marine life featured on the toilet paper from the outhouse:

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5. Yes, she knows you want to reach the summit. But consider using the motto, “Slow is fast.” You’re only as fast as your slowest teammate… And when your teammate is your significant other who is not experienced with backcountry habits, you should throw your personal expectations out the window from the start and set a goal together.

So then when you do reach a summit together, it feels freaking awesome (photo credit: Andrew Meehan Photography). Sean (husband) and I:

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4. Yes, her core body temperature really does fluctuate that much. She can go from light baselayer to get-me-a-freaking-down-jacket-STAT! in a matter of minutes. Don’t even get her started on the temperature of her hands. One recommendation is to always have hand warmers and extra layers stashed in your pack so that when she’s struggling, you’ve got it under control. (And, you will realize she’s struggling because you will have waited for her frequently and she will feel comfortable enough to tell you because of your kindness and empathy.)

Sometimes, a ski tour in April requires board shorts over Polarmax base layers… these hot pink shorts did the trick.

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3. YES! She really does need to stop for another photo. Someone has got to take photos to document this experience and display it to the world through Facebook and Instagram. In most cases, you’ll be glad someone documented your adventure, so get over it… And while you’re at it, buy her a backpack with easy iPhone access pockets on the hip strap.

On a summit—so stoked to be snapping a photo!

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2. Yes, she does need to stop… again. Especially during the first few times out together in the backcountry, she will have to find her rhythm. You have done this a million times – she knows – but she doesn’t care. What she cares about pleasing you by taking up a new sport, snack time, water breaks, and the fact that you don’t mind taking a few moments to breathe with her.

Lots of laughter during a break in Norway:

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And, the number one rule:

1. When she cries, it’s ok. Perhaps this sounds familiar: Girl and boy embark on ski tour. Girl gets frustrated. Girl starts crying. Boy gets confused and doesn’t know how to react. Day ends badly. Boy and girl forgive each other and resolve to try it again sometime. They do, and the situation repeats. Yyyyyyyyeah. So here’s some advice: Expect this situation. If/when it happens, don’t shirk your manly duties. Comfort her with kindness and encourage her to press on (compliments encouraged!). Let her get it all out – try to make her laugh, and then move on at a pace she’s comfortable with. Whatever you do, DON’T make her feel like you’re embarrassed that she’s crying. There’s nothing worse than feeling like your partner thinks you suck—remember… deep down she wants to impress you by even being on the snow. Appreciate her!

On one of our last days in Norway, Chloe, Sean and I headed out for a midnight ski, as the sun never really sets above the Arctic Circle in April. We left camp at 10pm, and I was getting hungry and tired. On the ski down from the summit around 2am, I remember looking out and appreciating the amazing views and then suddenly encountering some CRAZY crust layer as we descended. It was the sort of snow layer that grabs your skis and won’t allow you to turn, no matter how adept you are. To add to the hunger and sleep-deprivation, I was freaked out by the snow; lets say it was a “rough” descent. But Sean stayed true to his role when I start crying. He gave me space, and encouraged me to continue on and that I was doing a great job… God love him!

This was nearing 3am, right before we returned to the car:IMG_1126

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So that’s that. There will never be a foolproof formula for every couple… In fact some of you may have roles in the backcountry that are reversed! Or, you might just be so perfectly matched that you don’t experience any of these issues (aren’t you special?). But at the end of the day, hopefully we can all just get along and do what we love together. In the spirit of the holidays, I’m thankful my husband took a chance and taught me about his favorite sport… And through it all, inspired me to love it too.

Cheers to snow and earning your turns!

Photo credit below: Andrew Meehan Photography

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11 replies
  1. Shane Welch
    Shane Welch says:

    Very well put! I’ll be heading into the backcountry with my girlfriend in just a few days and it’s so easy to forget to slow down, and realize that all of this is new to her even though you’ve done this hundreds of times.

    Reply
  2. Russ
    Russ says:

    My vote is choose a mutual “sport” to come together on. Keep the thing that made you interesting in the first place and find something that you can both enjoy but is not your primary outlet. We had a go at a few things before we settled on rock climbing.

    BOB I hear ya, thats why you have to choose something that you are not going to get worked up about, even thought I will.

    Reply
  3. Alex
    Alex says:

    Are you kidding me? I assumed this was a satire at first. While I’m sure that these whiny princesses who only decide to take up a new activity so that they can spend more time with their man, do exist, this post makes it seem like all women are useless like this in the backcountry. Not only that, but BOB really nailed it on the head: “doesn’t really seem worth the hassle.” I wouldn’t want to take anyone skiing if they required all this spoiling and pandering to either. People who are more concerned with matching their skis to their boots and how they look in their “ski get up,” more than avalanche safety and reaching the summit, probably aren’t doing the right sport for them. If someone requires hot chocolate in my group, they can bring it themself, whether they’re a partner or not. I know women who kick their boyfriends’ asses at skiing and vice versa, but no one I ski with puts up with crying, excessive photos for Facebook, and dawdlers who are too sensitive to handle people telling them to keep up, men or women. When first-timers come along, of course your gonna be easier on them, but it has nothing to do with whether they’re male or female, or if your sleeping with them or not. This post makes women seem like dependant losers or whiny children, and perpetuates the myth that women don’t belong in sports or the backcountry, and they they would be lost in life without a partner to tell them they look beautiful and make them feel better when they fall. It also tells men that the way to deal with their women is to be patient with them and put up with their useless shenanigans like crying, falling, and stopping for no reason.

    Reply
    • Sean Busby
      Sean Busby says:

      In reference to this comment,

      “If someone requires hot chocolate in my group, they can bring it themself, whether they’re a partner or not. I know women who kick their boyfriends’ asses at skiing and vice versa, but no one I ski with puts up with crying, excessive photos for Facebook, and dawdlers who are too sensitive to handle people telling them to keep up, men or women….”

      Alex, for a second I thought you were Brendan Leonard over at semi-rad.com … bummer

      http://semi-rad.com/2013/04/how-to-get-your-new-boyfriendgirlfriend-to-hate-your-sport/

      Reply
  4. Russ
    Russ says:

    AHAHA Nice Alex. I was unaware that people who don’t know Sean and Mollie were reading the blog. I appreciate the response. I agree completely, just had a softer delivery since these guys are traveling half way across the globe to see us in 2 weeks, we live in China.
    “so YOU want to teach your girlfriend…”
    I would add to your short but pointed rant that often times the guys are the culprits in these situations. They drag along their lady friends so they can have company or because they don’t want to deal with the shit of leaving them home, because they have one of those “we do everything together” relationships.
    My best friend Lesley could kick my ass on a long mountain bike ride any day of the week, so I appreciate that perspective as well. For me it comes down to one mentality, if you are not willing to go do it on your own, then you are not that serious about it, argo you are not invited. And hey you have to carry your own damn hot chocolate…sorry Mollie :)

    I was teaching climbing 5 days a week and the gap was getting bigger between my lady friend and I. While I was gone coaching BMX over the summer she went to the rock gym and crushed it on her own for 3 weeks, climbed when she could wrangle someone to belay outside, and got way stronger. I came back and we got back to climbing and she progressed dramatically while I was gone, about 5.9 to 10c.

    Reply
  5. Mollie
    Mollie says:

    Whew! It’s always good to have some heated conversation on the blog!

    Bob: Go with your gut on that one.

    Alex: As I said, I don’t claim to be the expert on anyone’s relationship… in my case (and the case of numerous women I surveyed before writing this post), a softer intro to a sport can be a good thing for some. I’m not speaking in infinitives… just from my experience. I’m living proof that women are not useless in the backcountry, and yes: I carry my own damn hot chocolate. My advice to you is to stick with your instinct and stay out of the backcountry if whiny princesses are involved… I don’t think that situation would bode well for either of you! (Oh, and you might want to re-think the bit about patience. I think most—if not all women—would agree that having patience is a very good thing.)

    Russ: I could hear you chuckling as you wrote that. See you in a few weeks! Will you carry my ski bag from the airport? ;-)

    Thanks to all for reading!

    —Mollie

    Reply
  6. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Mmm…, I’m not sure how to read into this as a lady. You’re painting a pretty miserable picture of women on the slopes. I remember the struggles of being a beginner very well, and if anyone told me “Great job, honey! You’re doing amazing! I love you! You’re beautiful!” while I was failing miserably, I would be very tempted to knock their goggles off. Male or female, hitting the slopes as a newb is tough. Pegging these struggles to women so specifically is not cool. It really is a deeper question of society allowing many women to be softies, when we all know very well that we don’t have to be. Anyhow, beginners need to be treated with empathy and understanding, whether they’re male or female. But creating this female, newb stereotype isn’t going to get more girls on the slopes (so they can eventually kick some major butt). Also, matching boots and jacket? Seriously? My second-hand scruffy gear works great. I really don’t need matching pink girly wear to shred.

    Reply
  7. Christian Ludwig
    Christian Ludwig says:

    hey Mollie,

    thank you for the 10 point scale…i enjoy reading this, i totally agree to most of them…i tried to teach my girlfriend ski lessons on and off pist in the backcountry…and i am a snowboarder too, you know…believe me it was a great experience for me with all her emotions from 1 to 10…in the meantime she´s improve her skills and getting better from tour to tour…we both have fun reading your 10 points…keep going on with your blog!

    @sarah: this is not a gender diskussion, it´s reality between couples…so don´t worry…

    Reply

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