Looking for a Ski Partner? Choose Wisely.
Skiing is undeniably a social sport. After all, it's the original "the more, the merrier" winter pastime. That's why ski clubs can be such a blast. But the truth is a ski outing with the wrong mix of people, or simply the wrong attitude or wrong set of expectations, can go horribly wrong before you even get on the hill.
Now, I'm not a pessimist; just a realist. A ski retreat can mean different things to different people. The more bodies you add to the mix, the more likely you're going to have a difference of opinion. Sometimes, it only takes one other person. Depending on whether that person, or persons, is a certain someone special, a family member, an old buddy, or a colleague, you'll have some choices to make.
Pack Well, Look Great.
So here are a few tips on finding, and keeping, the right ski partner (or partners):
Skiing with a Significant Other
With Valentine's Day in February, it's always tempting to head for the hills to celebrate this amorous Hallmark holiday. But it's no secret that mixing your passion and your love life can be a dicey proposition.
My younger brother Mike, an expert skier, taught me a great lesson about skiing with a significant other. Long before he married, Mike was dating a really fun woman with a terrific sense of adventure but precious little skiing experience. Even though Kathleen (not her real name) was game to learn how to ski, Mike didn't have the requisite patience to wait for her to "catch up."
However, snowboarding was just coming into vogue, and Kathleen, a good athlete and skateboarder, thought this new sport looked intriguing. Mike, a natural athlete, was willing to give snowboarding a try, and quickly went out and bought a pair of planks. And the two of them absolutely clicked, quickly learning how to snowboard together. It was a tutorial in being flexible and creative, two really important traits in making a mutual ski outing work.
I'd also recommend avoiding the longer, weekend getaway for an initial date. If you and the apple of your eye aren't seeing eye-to-eye, and you've already dropped some serious coin for a weekend hotel and two- or three-day lift passes, things can get frosty fast. The single-day outing gives you a ready escape clause if sparks aren't flying.
Another thing I've learned, if you're determined to take a multi-day trip, is to spend a few extra bucks and rent a place on the mountain. My wife is a solid skier, but doesn't share my intrinsic need to be first on the hill the minute the lifts start running. Lauri prefers to ease into the day, which was a problem if we weren't staying right at the resort. Typically, I'd be champing at the bit, prowling around the hotel or condo while Lauri would meticulously make the coffee and prepare for the day (I guess finite patience is a family trait).
Conversely, with a slope side condo, I could jump on the trails before Lauri was out of bed, bang out a few turns, and swing back in time for a fresh cup of coffee and a bright-eyed bride. Perfect.
These days, after many years of marriage, Lauri and I are comfortable enough with each other to take separate shuttles to the hill, so slope side isn't quite as important. That's a nice way to save a few bucks. Great mobile phone service helps as well, as Lauri can let me know once she gets to the lodge.
Skiing with Friends
These outings can be a blast. Who among us doesn't love to relive our wild and unfettered youth? Nothing makes that easier than a boys' or girls' weekend with our closest pals. But they can also go sideways quickly if you're not careful.
Again, knowing everyone's ability level is a good place to start (remembering, of course, that people often lie about just how good they are). If you're skiing together, find trails that match the level of the lowest common denominator in your group. If you knowingly bring a novice to a black diamond because that's what you want to do, you're just being a jerk, not a friend.
One rule should be paramount: "What happens on the slopes, or at après ski, stays at the resort." OK, even that rule has limits, considering you might also be good friends with a friend's spouse or partner. But, by and large, your pals should be able to enjoy themselves without thinking they've brought their parents along. (I always ask my friends to avoid putting me in a compromising situation regarding their partners. And they respect that.) As far as being goofy, and simply having a good time, I'm all in.
Skiing with couples
Drawing again from another "like experience," an old windsurfing buddy once gave me a great piece of advice on tackling a new sport with couples. Switch partners. It's amazing how much more patience you have when you're providing lessons for a friend's spouse. This requires a certain level of trust among all participants, obviously, but if you've got that, it's a great option.
It's also a good idea to make sure you're all on the same page for après ski activities. Some might want a candlelit dinner, and others a raucous night on the town. My suggestion is to let folks do what they want. There's no reason to be rigid, and coerce others to go along with your plans. That rarely ends well. Again, this is why it's important to avoid setting expectations beforehand, and maintaining a sense of give-and-take.
Speaking about ski trips with couples, keep in mind that many ski resort accommodations were built either quickly or on the cheap (or both!), and can feature notoriously thin walls. Need I say more? No, I didn't think so.
Skiing with family
I'm one of six siblings; a classic super-sized Irish Catholic clan. Some of us ski often, and some not so much. We all have significant others, and three of us (myself included) have kids. All together, we number 21 (plus six hounds). That's a pretty good definition of "logistical nightmare," especially with children in the mix.
We make it work by communicating early and often. Make sure there are plenty of options for everyone, so no one feels like they're being pigeonholed, or being asked to do something they'd rather avoid. That's why all six of us are still such great friends!
Skiing with Co-workers
Want to see your co-workers' true competitive colors? Sign them up for a NASTAR race. Nothing quite ups the ante of an inter-office rivalry like running gates. Think of it as a mid-winter alternative to the company softball game.
Of course, if your boss is talking trash, and it's clear you can take him (or her), then you've got a decision to make. Think long and hard about whether the bragging rights that come from a slalom win (or schuss to the lodge) are worth the potential office backlash. I'm not suggesting you "let" the boss win; I'm a competitive guy myself. In that situation, I might avoid racing altogether.
Here's another concern. The "what happens on the ski slope" rule, while ironclad among good friends, can be trickier among colleagues. The last thing you want is to have an embarrassing on-hill or après ski incident following you back to the office. Discretion is highly advisable (see previous point about the paper thin walls at your hotel or condo).
Ski Gear Checklist (Printable!)
10 Tips for Skiing with Kids
Bag of Tricks: Other Key Ski and Snowboard Accessories
The Right Stuff for Family Skiing