When it comes to love and skiing, men and women are light-years apart.
The trouble started with Klaus. He was all grown up and as handsome as they get -- one part Jean-Claude Killy, one part Brad Pitt. He was a ski instructor who had been imported from Austria for the winter to give Great Gorge (now called Mountain Creek), New Jersey, some cachet. He was lonely. My Austrian father and Southern belle mother, who took the family to Great Gorge every weekend, adopted him. He adopted me. One day he took me down Kamikaze, the steepest, iciest, bumpiest run at Great Gorge. He held onto me and we skied it together. It was terrifying -- and the best time ever. Pretty soon it became a regular thing. Klaus and I would find each other at the end of the day and go ski Kamikaze. What made it so great was more than just the thrilling skiing. I loved Klaus, and Klaus loved me. Life was perfect. I was six.
For years afterward, I carried Klaus's picture in my little pink wallet: blue eyes, chiseled jawline, short brown hair with hip '70s sideburns, turned-up red parka collar. As I got older and began to dream of skiing and boys in the same thought, there was always the memory of Klaus, the two of us swooping down Kamikaze as one, nothing but flow, me squealing with glee, Klaus protecting me from harm.
I don't think I've had a better skiing boyfriend since.
For many people, ideas of romantic love go hand in glove with the thought of skiing. Here's the classic image: The handsome ski instructor and the sexy ski bunny (one of them has a broken leg) drink hot, intoxicating toddies on a bearskin rug in front of a huge stone fireplace.
Ooh, la la.
Okay, so maybe what unfolds in front of that roaring fire is not romantic love, but you get the picture. And truth be told, many people think of skiing and that subliminal fantasy in the exact same thought.
The reality of what happens when a couple hits the slopes together is often quite different:
GUY: (downslope, flushed from a great run, calling uphill) Come on!
GAL: (stock still, legs rigid, poles gawking outward like landing gear from a broken space probe) You said this was a blue run.
GUY: You're fine!
GAL: (glides a yard jerkily, stops again) Why do you always do this to me?
GUY: Babs, sweetie, you can do this. Just get aggressive! (demonstrates an aggressive body position) You'll be fine.
GAL: (sits down stubbornly, tears welling up in her eyes, looks away like there's something really interesting happening in the trees, speaks under her breath) Jerk.
GUY: (rolls his eyes, heaves a big sigh, starts hiking uphill, muttering as he goes)
Women who love to ski have their own fantasy-reality equation. The fantasy merges ski partner with the modern notion of soul mate. "You definitely cannot even date someone who is not a good skier," explains a woman from Mammoth. "You don't want to be embarrassed. And the dream is to discover your skiing mate."
For one famous woman skier from Crested Butte, the ideal life would mean living in a log cabin with smoke curling out of the chimney, where little towheaded ski kids would bundle out to the slopes and a faithful, handsome, strong, rugged, clean-living mountain husband would ski by her side. Clearly, Fantasy Guy would have to ski really well (a big turn-on for us ski chicks) and want to ski with his wife all the time (ditto). He also -- and this is where fantasy separates completely from reality -- would (a) be able to make a commitment, (b) have the capacity to grasp the simultaneous concepts of adult responsibility and the enjoyment of life, (c) dig the fact that his wife is as good a skier as (or better than) he is, and (d) have some kind of steady job.
The reality: (e) none of the above.
Guys who are devoted skiers have a different set of ideas. The perfect woman doesn't have to ski very well at all; she just needs to be able to enjoy ski vacations -- and not get in the way of the guyss' skiing. "If she's really competent and can ski whatever I ski, then it's a blast," says my pal Bob, a ski-crazed tycoon. "The ones that are bad news are the ones that are not as good as they think they are -- the high-maintenance intermediate skiers. If you bring them along, you get in trouble, and if you don't bring them along, you get in trouble. It reminds me of Lost in Space, where the robot waves his arms and says 'danger, danger' and spins around in a circle."
As for me, well, skiing is consistently gratifying. But I still hold out hope -- not for Fantasy Guy, but at least, like Bob, for a partner who can accept the other love of my life. Yet whenever I meet someone new, which doesn't happen as often as it used to, my friends all ask the same thing: "Does he ski?" Which really means: Is he as committed to skiing as I am?
"No," I'll say. "But he's got a job! And a car, and a place to live. And he's not an alcoholic or a stoner! He wants to have kids one day. And he's really smart and nice! We get along super well!"
"Ah," they'll say knowingly. "It will never last."
And they're right, you know.
Which leaves me wondering: What ever happened to Klaus?