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On Skiing Essay:Single!

posted: 01/16/2002

Once, being a never married, middle-aged ski bum was considered a pretty good gig. Instead of becoming part of the suburban food chain, one unfurled the Jolly Roger. Instead of capitulating to the pressures of nesting, one ran with the wolves. There were role models: the urbane Henry Higgins; the dashing James Bond; the ultimate single good guy Superman. Lifelong ski bums were considered sexy and sophisticated, fit and blissfully free. Heck, they were even objects of envy.

Good friends of mine from San Francisco married this winter atop salted white cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Handsome as matinee idols, their endearing sense of partnership warmed the mountaintop like a sunburst. Later, wandering through their reception, I felt like the Last of the Mohicans. Couples abounded, sticking to each other like double-sided tape. How'd I end up still living the single ski dream as I head into my fifth decade? And why are people starting to look at me with a bit of a shrug?

The idea that a never-married man is somehow dysfunctional appears to have gained more than just a toehold in today's Sex in the City culture. Is he commitment-phobic? Is he emotionally stunted? Is he an inveterate womanizer? Is he, ah, gay? Surely there must be a reason for the ring-less left hand.

Hey world. I'm not weird: I just live at Lake Tahoe.

In a land where single men outnumber single women by seeminglyinsurmountable odds, the lovelorn cry of "there just aren't enough women in Tahoe," echoes a sentiment universal among snow country bachelors. "I was visiting friends in San Diego," recalls a longtime Tahoe friend who's 50, a bachelor and a 25-year resident of Tahoe's North Shore. "It was a Disneyland of women. Gals actually asked you out or bought you a drink. At Tahoe, that just doesn't happen." After hearing similar complaints for nearly 30 years in Tahoe and listening to gripes from buddies from virtually every ski town (walk into a bar in Jackson Hole lately?), I decided to see if these anecdotal complaints hold up to reality.

The complaints, of course, are correct.

Of my favorite Tahoe ski shop's 120 employees, 70 percent are men. The Alpine Meadows resort staff is roughly 35 percent women. Squaw Valley Ski Corp's employees are 71 percent male. You get the drift.

For many, the North Shore singles scene appears, on the surface, remarkably healthy. From Truckee to Incline Village, Lake Tahoe offers more than 30 entertainment venues featuring dancing and music and that present opportunities for people to meet. Squaw Valley alone offers 26 bars.

Oddly enough, the North Shore's concentration of masculinity doesn't guarantee a female's satisfaction. Many North Shore women don't complain that they can't find a date. Rather they complain they can't find the right date.

For women, ski towns that are chock-full of fun, free-spirited and ruggedly handsome mountain men can also be viewed through a different prism as populated by juvenile, unmotivated, career-challenged Peter Pans. "Finding an ambitious, career-oriented single guy in Tahoe is a lot like finding water in a desert," a female friend of my explains. "Usually, when you think you've found one, you discover it's just a mirage."

All this still-being-single stuff might be interpreted as sour grapes from an aging ski bum whose salad days have long since wilted. But the aim here is not denial. It's optimism. Even under the cobalt-colored skies and snow-mantled slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Meanwhile, at Lake Tahoe, I await to swoon.

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