When I moved from Los Angeles to Montana in my mid-twenties, I became well acquainted with the clichés of mountain-town dating, went through a period of swinging singledom, and then met the man I thought I might marry. Years later, we became each other’s greatest heartbreak. I emerged in my thirties to the same small-town dating scene of my twenties and found it no longer fit what I was looking for.
Unlike much of the ski-town crowd, I don’t live in a van or a tiny home (although I’ve been known to live out of the back of my truck for weeklong stints). I’m a classic weekend warrior, generally working full-time as a freelance writer and marketer. I like to have money in my bank account and an adult home, and I tend to choose a nice bottle of wine over a night at the bar these days. I chase winter, but I put down roots where I land instead of blowing through in a hedonistic storm. I want a mountain man who’s similarly mature, adventurous, and self-sufficient (did I mention employed?).
I’d like to think depth in a relationship and the mountain lifestyle aren’t mutually exclusive. But when the pool of single men is notoriously overcrowded with Peter Pans and 40-year-old ski bums, the search for a mature, healthy relationship starts to resemble a quest for the holy grail.
And so I set out on my quest in ski towns across the world in search of real romance. These are my dating dispatches from a year traveling through three different mountain locales.
The Hazardous Ski Lift Meet-Cute
What It’s Known For: More nonprofits per capita than literally anywhere else; A River Runs Through It; and Snowbowl, the local ski hill with unpredictable southern exposure and the best Bloody Mary around.
The Scene: I’d spent the fall of 2015 in Missoula without meeting anyone of note, and I was ready to give up. Enter winter and Snowbowl’s aging two-person ski lift, which has been sneakily matchmaking the locals for years with its interminable rides and frequent breakdowns.
One day in December, I yelled, “Single!” and hopped on the lift with another single dude. We were well into acquainting ourselves on the slow ascent when the lift lurched and stopped abruptly. As we hung there for 45 minutes, waiting for our death-defying rappel rescue by the ski patrol, we talked about work, passions, and life goals.
Before we’d even been lowered to the ground, I decided I would ask him out. He beat me to it.
The Outcome: Bachelor #1 and I dated for several months. Over the course of this relationship, I became deeply familiar with the iconic commitment-phobia of lifelong ski bums. This category of man can typically be found on the ski hill or in the backcountry for as many days as there’s snow. He doesn’t work in winter, holding down summer seasonal jobs long past his twenties to fund his powder habit. While Bachelor #1 bucked many of the common stereotypes, he was unable to fit anything (or anyone) into the ski bachelor lifestyle he’d been living for so long. I ended it in favor of finding someone for whom I would be a priority (and in favor of chasing winter).
The Swiping Experiment
Wanaka, New Zealand
What It’s Known For: Mellow vibe, Treble Cone’s big lines, and badass Kiwis.
The Scene: I left Missoula in the spring of 2016 to chase winter in New Zealand and landed in the paradise that is Wanaka. In the spirit of adventure, I decided to try dating apps for the first time. I quickly encountered all the classic hazards of small-town Tindering, including repeated awkward encounters in our only grocery store with that dude I accidentally Superliked and running into all three of my most recent matches in the lift line.
I met Bachelor #2 when I commented on the speed-flying photo in his profile. He offered to take me out, and I was booked for my first full-day outdoor Tinder date.
We drove to the Old Man Range and sledded around in search of an appropriate learning slope. He gave me a quick safety talk on how to operate the wing, and I took off on my first attempt—promptly crashing after about 45 seconds in the air. I hit the snow laughing, lucky not to have injured myself spectacularly. The wing wasn’t so lucky: I’d grazed the only rock on the entire slope during the crash, tearing a hole in Bachelor #2’s $2,000 piece of gear and effectively closing the door on a second attempt (and a second date).
After that, I decided to expand my Tinder search into neighboring Queenstown. I matched with Bachelor #3, whose beat-up truck was a little too beat up to make it over the icy pass. He hitchhiked over to Wanaka for our first date, wearing a costume tiger onesie in the hopes that it would facilitate being picked up on the side of the road. I gave him points for guts.
The Outcome: We drove my slightly more-functional station wagon to the shores of Lake Wanaka and made dinner over a fire. We dated for the rest of my stint in New Zealand, making time for ski missions between his 50-hour-a-week startup gig and my budding freelance career. Only my expired visa interfered with what could have been an endgame romance.
The Too-Friendly Town
What It’s Known For: Drool-worthy big-mountain terrain on Rogers Pass, a legendary snowpack, and Revelstoke Mountain Resort’s extreme vert.
The Scene: Revelstoke is renowned as a seasonal ski destination, its population of almost 7,000 swelling by as much as 2,000 people in winter. When I arrived there for the winter of 2017, I was in the market for a lasting relationship, but little did I know I’d be viewed as a nomadic ski bum myself.
I met Bachelor #4 at the resort. He was smart, funny, a badass skier—and a local. We went on one of those dates that evolves from skiing to beers to dinner. In this case, it evolved into dinner with his best friends, the ski-town equivalent of meeting the parents right off the bat. However, Bachelor #4 was the male version of me: mid-thirties and looking for a lasting relationship. Ultimately, I couldn’t prove to him that I’d still be there when the snow melted, and that was that.
Shortly after, I broke my ankle in a high-speed ski crash, effectively ending my run on the Revelstoke dating scene. After all, being laid up with a broken bone is not an ideal way to meet men in a ski town. That is, until I crossed paths with Bachelor #5, one of #4’s best friends whom I’d met on that fateful dinner date.
Bachelor #5 was a recovering ski bum just trying out the professional life, and he offered to take my broken self out on his snowmobile for a sunset sled after work. Having suffered a season-ending injury of his own the previous winter, he understood my craving to get into the mountains—whether I could take turns or not. I brought Montanan IPA to share, he brought local red wine, and we had an unexpectedly awesome happy hour on the cat track.
The Outcome: The next morning, I snuck out of his house and ran smack into Bachelor #4, who was picking up #5 for a morning ski mission. I decided that while this overlap is part and parcel of mountain-town dating, it was more than I could handle—a decision that also, unfortunately, precluded me from dating about 82 percent of Revelstoke’s male population.
My quest for the holy grail of meaningful relationships is ongoing, but I refuse to let all the clichés of mountain-town dating win. Somewhere out there, among the 40-year-old ski bums and seasonal liftees, there’s a unicorn in ski pants looking for a dawn-patrol partner before we both head to our full-time jobs. It’s only a matter of time before we run into each other on the mountain.