How to Spot a Bad Mountaineering or Skiing Partner
This week we sat down with four of our sponsored athletes and asked for tips to spotting a douchebag mountaineering or skiing partner. We spoke to Exum Guide Andy Tankersly, Exum Guide Garrick Hart, Arc’teryx Athlete and two-time Freeski World Tour Champion Crystal Wright, and Dynafit Athlete and US Ski Mountaineering Team Member Meredith Edwards. Below are 6 tips and some advice along with them.
Above Photo By: Tommy Chandler
1) Watch for Big Talkers
“Right off the bat, they talk too much,” said Andy Tankersly. “They’re talking about all the stuff they’ve done. Most people who really get after it don’t find the need to talk about themselves.”
“They’ll give off the vibe that they’ve got something to prove,” warned Garrick Hart.
“If they talk a big game,” said Crystal Wright, “it’s a big red flag. They’ll say ‘I skied this, I climbed this, I’ve done this.’ Another red flag is that they’ll brag about skiing a big objective during a high avalanche-danger day.”
“These days, with everyone trying to make it as a sponsored athlete,” said Andy, “it’s common for douchebags to ’embellish’ their mountain accomplishments and use questionable language like ‘partial ascent’ of a peak and treat it like a full summit.”
“Watch for someone who has a shoddy reputation,” added Meredith Edwards. “They’ll have a reputation of not skiing in control, or not being safe.”
“There is a big difference,” says Crystal, “when you choose mountain partners, between someone who is inexperienced and honest about it, and someone who is equally inexperienced and yet talks a big game.”
Exum Guides Garrick Hart (left) and Andy Tankersly.
2) Look for Wrong/Sloppy Gear
Douchebags will have an “inappropriate rack” for the objective, notes Garrick. And their gear won’t be maintained. “There’s nothing worse then being handed a dull ice screw.”
“I’ve also had someone pull an inadequate rack from his pack because he didn’t want to carry the weight,” Garrick added.
“If they don’t have the right gear,” says Meredith, “it will hinder what you’re able to do in the mountains.”
Crystal looks closely for proper avalanche safety gear—shovel, operating beacon, probe—and a skinning set up.
“Sometimes you can spot a douchebag by what they wear,” Meredith she continues. “Cotton t-shirt, cotton hoodie, super baggy pants.” Meredith doesn’t want to stereotype broh brahs, but she explained that what makes for fashion at the resort or the half pipe simply isn’t functional and can be dangerous in the backcountry.
Andy watches for a sloppy kit, messy ropes, etc. “Their system shouldn’t be sloppy or unorganized,” he emphasizes. “Their shit shouldn’t be all over the place.”
3) They don’t work as a team, they don’t communicate, or they are inappropriately competitive.
“Group dynamics is key,” says Meredith. “You need a partner who communicates. Watch out if they don’t listen to you or are dismissive of your concerns.”
“Be careful of lone wolfs,” says Andy. “It’s one thing if they are faster than you and able to skin ahead, but when you get into an avalanche zone, they should stop, wait, and join the pack to talk through the next step.”
4) They aren’t Mountain Aware
“I watch for people who pay attention in the mountains,” says Andy. “It’s clear whether or not they researched the route and looked at the weather forecast prior to leaving the car.”
Andy also says he looks for signs that they can take care of themselves in the mountains—they bring plenty of food, know how to refuel and hydrate, understand the basics of camping—all the little things which show competency. He describes being fooled by a douchebag who looked good on paper but struggled with the day-to-day realities of mountain travel.
Watch for “Someone who is dismissive of the hazards,” says Garrick. “A good partner looks for and pays attention to changes in mountain conditions and comments on them, and understands and is honest with their limitations,” he continues.
5) Girls need to be wary of guys
Crystal and Meredith both note that many women are introduced to mountain sports by boyfriends or guy friends, and this can be an issue.
Crystal remembers going into the Jackson side country with a guy who simply wasn’t safe—he jumped off stuff he shouldn’t have, and unsafely cut a slope above her.
“When you are younger it’s so much easier to be fooled by guys,” says Meredith. “They might be interested in you or whatever, and be happy to take you skiing, but they end up showing off and leading you into danger.”
It can also be weird when a girl is traveling in the backcountry with a group of guys and the girl is a faster climber or better skier. “It will hurt their ego and they’ll want to rival you,” describes Meredith. “They’ll think they have to impress you.”
Both women remember mountain days in their early years when they were the only women in a group of guys and not being listened to when they expressed their concerns about their ability or about mountain hazards.
Crystal finds it easier to read women partners. Competition isn’t as much of a concern, she says, and weird boy-girl dynamics are absent.
6) If You Aren’t Sure, Don’t Risk It
“If it’s something big, I don’t go with someone I don’t know or trust,” says Garrick.
“Yes,” agrees Crystal. “Trust is everything,”
People who are good partners are upfront and honest, they put the safety of the group first, and they know the difference between friendly competition and annoying ego. They have solid skills, they know their gear, and they aren’t offended when you ask questions; in fact, they should be questioning you and making sure you’re a good partner as well. They have a positive attitude, and they know instinctively when you could use a supportive “you got this!” and when you just need a good laugh to take the edge off. The more you think about what you’re looking for in a good partner, the more you can also be sure you’re being a solid partner in return.