Skiing - - Ode - By Jeff Burke Jeff Burke is a Jack­son-based writer and ski pa­troller at Jack­son Hole Moun­tain Re­sort. He’s to­tally taken.

From a dis­tance, the dat­ing scene in any ski town looks to be

an Elysian play­land of frivolity, snow, and sex. Why else move there? Rau­cous club nights, spilled beer, and throngs of sweaty, fit, at­trac­tive peo­ple ready to take a stab at life.

Seen un­der the mi­cro­scope the view is dif­fer­ent; it is a surreal and terrifying land­scape of ill-ad­vised hookups and awk­ward chair­lift rides. Though the girl-to-guy ra­tio has im­proved in the last 20 years, the re­al­i­ties of ski-town dat­ing are still rough. “You don’t lose your girl­friend,” goes an old ski-town proverb. “You just lose your place in line.”

Ski towns are gen­er­ally small, so those around you study ev­ery­thing you do. Un­be­knownst to Ish­mael and his ship­mates on the Pe­quod, Cap­tain Ahab kept a se­cret whal­ing crew belowdecks, who waited for months in se­cret and dark­ness, only to burst from the ship’s hold when the tim­ing was right, drop the dinghy, man the oars, and row to obliv­ion—all for a chance to slay that beau­ti­ful white devil. If you think there aren’t 10 dudes wait­ing in the shad­ows of a ski-town bar­room armed with their own emo­tional har­poons, ready to hurl their most des­per­ate pleas at the heart of your beloved, then you’ve al­ready lost that place in line for­ever.

Ski towns may well be above av­er­age in ath­leti­cism, health, and good looks, but they’re also brim­ming with quasi-ac­count­able adult chil­dren who would rather com­mit to the po­ten­tially back­break­ing abyss of, say, Jack­son’s Cor­bet’s Couloir than a ca­sual Satur­day-af­ter­noon bar­be­cue. The FOMO (fear of miss­ing out) dic­tates so­cial life in th­ese com­mu­ni­ties, and lo­cals wait un­til the last minute be­fore promis­ing to do any­thing just in case another af­fair pops up that might yield a bet­ter chance at a date or din­ner plan. Don’t be­lieve me? Host your own ski-town Hal­loween party or Thanks­giv­ing din­ner.

So­cial cir­cles are small, too. Ur­ban Dic­tio­nary terms like “Eskimo twins” and “sled sis­ters” ex­ist for a rea­son. Many friends of mine have hooked up with the same peo­ple be­cause it’s sim­ply hard not to, given the cur­rent we all swim in. “The longer you live in a ski town,” says a fe­male friend who does PR, “the harder it is to date.” One thing to re­mem­ber about break­ing up with some­one in a ski town is that there’s more than a good pos­si­bil­ity you’ll know the per­son soon to be swap­ping spit with your ex. And you have to be cool with it. After all, you might work with— or for—your re­place­ment next sea­son.

One thing to re­mem­ber about break­ing up with some­one in a ski town is that there’s more than a good pos­si­bil­ity you’ll know the per­son soon to be swap­ping spit with your ex.

Be­ing 23 in a moun­tain play­ground is a dream come true: five days of ski­ing a week, a rel­a­tively fresh liver, and a low-sta­tus re­sort gig that puts you into the cru­cible of com­min­gling rev­elry. “We don’t go on dates with boys,” says a younger woman I asked. “We all go out in a group, then we go home with one of them.”

But that sys­tem falls far short of guar­an­tee­ing hookups for all. My own best fail­ure played out when a group of friends at­tended a late-night soirée. This in­ter­ac­tion took place not min­utes after a woman asked me what we’d do to each other if we left to­gether: “Why don’t we get out of here?” I said. “Nah,” she said. “I’m sort of see­ing some­one, you know.” “Is he here now?” “No.” “Then it’s on!” “Nope.” “Why?” “Be­cause.” “Re­ally?” “Yep.”

And just like that, she un­crossed her legs, rose from her chair, and fell in line with her friends as they ex­ited the party. The beau­ti­ful devil…

Get­ting dogged is one thing. But break­ing up for real is dif­fer­ent, es­pe­cially in a ski town. Ev­ery­one finds out in min­utes, in­clud­ing all the de­tails—who broke up with whom, why he/she couldn’t com­mit, and the prickly in­nards of your re­la­tion­ship that wake you in the wee hours, nau­se­ated with ex­is­ten­tial dread.

Even if you’re the one to end it, the ram­i­fi­ca­tions aren’t easy. Just know­ing she or he is po­ten­tially nearby is it­self a crip­pling thought. “Oh, you missed Veronica,” some­one will in­vari­ably say. “They just took off.”

In almost 20 years of liv­ing in a ski town, I’ve had my heart bro­ken a cou­ple times. I still at­tribute one breakup to the fact that my girl­friend was a fan of blue­grass mu­sic. (And I also con­tinue to blame my brother’s ex-girl­friend for the death of our dog.) But after all of it, I’ve also found the love of my life.

“I was read­ing Moby Dick qui­etly in the cor­ner and they just grabbed me!”

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