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Tough Love

The Fine Art of Teaching Your Significant Other to Ski

And what to do when it's time to break up with your climbing partner

Remember that skiing is meant to be fun. (Photo: Markos Mant/Unsplash)
skiing

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Welcome to Tough Love. Every other week, we’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at toughlove@outsideim.com.


My partner is an ex-semi-pro skier. He’s kind, patient, emotionally intelligent—and highly competitive. This summer, I taught him to climb, which he agreed to if he could teach me to ski. Fast forward a few months: it’s winter and I’m terrified.

My (very expensive, holy cow!) skis are getting tuned (is that the right term?) as I write this, so it’s too late to back out. But it seems like every friend I talk to tells me not to let my significant other teach me to ski. They say, “That’s how we almost broke up!” or “One time I taught my girlfriend to ski. She’s not my girlfriend anymore.”

Now, I don’t think we’re going to split over this, but I am very worried about setting realistic expectations for my abilities (I’m clumsy and risk averse) and feeling pressured to perform to the point that I’m no longer having fun. What should I do?

Wow, what is going on with your friends’ bad ski relationships? That’s a surprising one. A lot of people learn new hobbies from their partners—honestly, that’s how half the world gets their hobbies—and a lot of those couples are still together. If they break up, odds are it wasn’t the hobbies that did it.

Your partner was semi-pro, so he knows the work it takes to get good, and he’ll probably have realistic expectations for your progress. One of the first tenets of teaching someone a new outdoor skill is to leave them wanting more, so if he’s a good teacher, he’ll give you frequent breaks and keep things low-pressure. You’ll probably be sore after your first sessions, so plan time in between to recover. 

This is a great chance to practice communication—the same type of communication skills you use for sex, washing dishes, meeting the parents, etc. Think about what you want and tell him clearly, so you’re both on the same page about the time you’ll spend on the slopes, specific things that scare you, and the kind of teaching you prefer. (This doesn’t have to be a heavy conversation: “Hey, I think I’d like to ski about twice a month” is fine.) You might even set a goal together for the season, something that feels realistic to you, and then you can work toward it at your own pace. Ask him to give you techniques to practice alone. He can work with you for a while, then take off for a while, and you can come together in a few hours to share your progress.

Most importantly, remember that skiing is meant to be fun. One of your favorite people in the world is teaching you one of his favorite things, and you’ll get to share in that excitement together. I think you’ll have a fantastic winter.


A few years ago I was inspired to become more outdoorsy by a courageous and wonderful friend. With their encouragement, I took up climbing. I trained a lot and they taught me skills and took me beautiful places to climb. We became romantically involved and had amazing adventures. For several years we have lived far apart. We would meet up to climb together and have the most spectacular times and then go back to our regular lives. I applied for a job in my climbing partner’s area and a few months ago I moved just an hour away. Unfortunately, our romantic life has become tumultuous and complex, complicated even more with by the recent news that my climbing partner’s contract will not be renewed and they will move away in six months. My climbing partner is my main connection to the climbing community in my new home and we are fabulous at working together, climbing and camping. However, we are arguing a lot in text and over the phone when we are not outdoors. I wonder if the relationship is stopping me from making my own new friendships. I don’t know how to balance this unpredictable romantic relationship with building new relationships in the climbing community. How do I honor the long term relationship that seems to be coming to an end and integrate myself into the community so that I have future climbing partners?

The best way to honor a relationship that has run its course is to move on while causing the least possible anguish to your partner. In general, this means that once you know a breakup is inevitable, it’s kindest to do it quickly.

There will, of course, always be a reason not to break up yet. Maybe it seems easier to push through these last months before your partner moves. Or maybe you planned to spend the holidays with your partner’s family, or you’re in a class together, or you have a trip coming up with mutual friends. But drawing out a separation rarely makes things easier. And in this case, if you choose to cut off your romantic connection, you should probably stop climbing together, too. You may be great (platonic) climbing partners again in the future, but for right now, it’s best to make some space. 

Every relationship gives us gifts, and this one brought you something particularly special, a sport that’s become part of your life. The challenge will be to reinforce your connection to climbing in a way that’s separate from your relationship. You can find new climbing friends on the Mountain Project forums—though be cautious when you meet strangers, and make sure they know what they’re doing before they belay you—or at your local climbing gym, which may have meetup nights. It’s also worth checking out the Women’s Climbing Festival, which is basically a massive celebration for women who love to climb. 

It may take a while to feel settled, both as a climber and, possibly, as a single person. In both cases, time will help. You’ll be amazed at how much energy you have when you’re not arguing, and soon you’ll build a connection to the sport that belongs to you, just you, and not to your former relationship. You are yours, and climbing is yours now, too. It always will be.

Filed To: RelationshipsSkiingOutdoor SkillsSnow Sports
Lead Photo: Markos Mant/Unsplash
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