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