Disclaimer: This piece deals with adult themes (no shit). Use discretion. Also, you’re on the internet, so I sure hope you’re using discretion regardless.
Look, I have about as much sexual experience as I have backcountry skiing experience, that is to say, some, but not a ton, and the more I learn about both, the more I’m struck by their similarities. Acolytes of the horizontal tango and the vertical human-powered experience have a lot in common, and I think there are some lessons to be learned in those similarities. Skinning, and well, the other kind of skinning, share a lot of principles. So here we go.
Consent is key
In terms of sexual politics, the term is “enthusiastic consent” and it’s defined as a definite “yes” as opposed to an absence of “no.” This is a key part of how I’m trying to model the conversations I have with touring partners as we assess avalanche danger and our plans to mitigate it. No matter what you’re planning to do with someone (or a group of people), you need to be communicating throughout and making sure everyone is on board.
Does everyone in the group want to make this call, and agree that it’s the right one, as opposed to a general lack of opposition in the group. Enthusiastic consent addresses the common problem of less experienced skiers being afraid to speak up, or hesitant to bring up concerns. Look for enthusiastic consent, and communicate with anyone who is less than enthusiastic. And, just like in bed, there doesn’t need to be one definite reason for someone to refuse consent. That’s their call, and everyone else needs to respect it.
The second part of this is that sexually, consent needs to be continued. There needs to be a framework in place for that consent to be withdrawn at any point. That’s why safewords exist. Either party should have the power to stop all activity at any point for any reason. As backcountry travelers, we need to listen to each other, and honestly, having a safe word that brings everyone to a stop to re-evaluate the conditions is not a bad idea to include into your touring routine. Consent is an ongoing conversation, not a single statement.
Spewing about your exploits is gauche
We’ve all met the guy (is it always a guy? I think so) who won’t shut up about how many hotties he’s “banged.” And we’ve all met the guy at the bar who won’t stop spewing about how many legendary lines he’s climbed and skied. Often, they’re the same guy. Always, they’re obnoxious. Don’t be that guy. Nobody thinks you’re cool when you brag about your sexual exploits or your skiing ones. There are times and places to share stories, but your first priority should always be respecting the romantic partners involved, or the mountain ranges they took place in. Shut up, you’re making the rest of us like sex, and skiing, less.
You don’t have to be into everything, but you need to accept that other people are
This took me a while to learn, and I’m still figuring it out, but the diversity of experiences that are possible both in bed and in the backcountry are part of what makes both pursuits enjoyable. You don’t have to be into every kink, but it is worth accepting them as valid, and respecting folks who are. Nipple clamps aren’t my personal jam, and neither are ski tours that involve ice climbing, but I’m stoked that folks are out there doing both. Mostly-clothed missionary with the lights out and no kissing sounds just as exciting to me as 15° hippie pow with nothing to jump off of, but hey, to each their own. If that’s what makes you feel good in bed, or on the skin track, good for you!
Expand your horizons
On that note, don’t knock new things till you’ve tried them. The heteronormative, patriarchal power structure present in both skiing and sex sets arbitrary boundaries for what a good time looks like. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Jump off rocks, try ice climbing, strap on new gear, and try it out. You might just find a new passion.
Deal with it.
It’s not like the movies
A more experienced touring partner once told me once that shooting for a ski movie is like shooting a porno, what you’re doing might not actually feel great in the moment, but that’s not the point, it’s not about you, it’s about making your audience stoked.
Ski movies are designed to paint a picture of backcountry skiing that’s unrealistically great. They cut out the bad snow, the sketchy climbs, the puckered feeling athletes, and leave you the platonic ideal, deep snow, big hucks, stomped tricks. I have not worked as an adult entertainer, but the process seems to be very similar. Put yourself into uncomfortable situations, doing things that look better than they feel, to sell your audience an idea of sex that’s largely inaccurate.
I have no beef with ski athletes or sex workers doing this. That’s the point of entertainment, to distill a digestible idea from its larger context. But anyone just getting into backcountry skiing (or sex) who has gotten all of their information from ski porn or regular porn is in for a rude awakening. It’s not like the movies. Real backcountry skiing is harder and more imperfect than what we’ve been fed by the film companies. There’s a lot of work and training and safety precautions that go on in the background that we as viewers never see. Real backcountry skiing is less glamorous, more taxing, and often more rewarding than what we see in ski films. I think the same applies to sex. Context makes things more difficult, and more worthwhile. As a side note, both ski porn and real porn that don’t sugarcoat the process (my favorite example is The Fifty Project) make for more interesting viewing.
One night stands require caution
Ski touring partners have a lot in common with sexual partners, and often the two overlap. That said, there’s a time in most folks’ sexual journey that’s characterized as “sowing their wild oats.” It’s a time for free-spirited promiscuity, a time to hook up with anyone who’s interesting and available. This is an important period of personal development and overall seems to have a positive impact on people’s lives. The downside is that it can be dangerous.
I remember my first season after I got my Avy 1. I was wildly promiscuous with my ski partners. I’d tackle any objective with any partner, on any day. Just tell me when to be where and I’ll be there with my skins on my skis and an ice axe in my pack just in case. I had just enough knowledge to get out there, but not enough to be a valuable partner when it came to decision making. So I got burnt. I got in over my head with bad partners who made unsafe choices. I took foolish risks because I was desperate to ski with anyone that would take me. I learned a lot, but I got away with more.
So sleep around, tour with a bunch of different people. But use protection. Choose low-consequence tours with new partners, take your time and make sure everyone feels comfortable and safe. It doesn’t really take away from the experience, and it’s worth it.
Practice makes perfect
A really strong inbounds skier who’s never toured before is like an extremely attractive virgin. They’ve got a lot going for them, but no one is just naturally good at every part of skiing, or rolling in the hay, right from the get-go. Proficiency comes from practice. So don’t expect to be a natural. Come into it ready to learn and listen. Your partners will have wisdom to impart--accept it gratefully, pack it away mentally, and practice it. There’s no shame in finishing tours early or failing to ski hard, as long as you learn from those experiences.
Spontaneity is hot. So is planning.
Skiing, or making the beast with two backs, is no fun if every turn, every motion is pre-planned. Humans like to be surprised sometimes, spontaneity is the spice of life. But good planning can create situations where spontaneity and surprises are exciting and fun, not scary and dangerous. Think through your plan before you put your boots on (or before you take your socks off). Game out a few different potential scenarios. Are you physically and mentally prepared for all of them? Awesome! Go get it!
But, once you’re in the act, be ready to adapt. Read the wind loading and be prepared to ski a different slope, be prepared to have fun bailing to ski a smaller line, look at the mountains as a playground, not an assignment. And maybe consider doing the same with your romantic trists. Defining sex as a rote activity that starts with kissing and ends with a male climax is no fun for anyone. Plan ahead to create an environment that encourages safe spontaneity. A little preemptive waxing is never a bad idea.
Backcountry skiing is fun. So is engaging in a little adult time. And both activities have plenty of lessons to teach us about the other. So go have a great summer, maybe you’ll learn something that will make your backcountry days a little better.