Women’s Adventure | January/February 2009
The trials of being a single girl in a mountain town
By Kate Siber
Common wisdom around Durango, Colorado, holds that there are three main roads into town but only two ways you wind up moving here: your car breaks down on a cross-country trip or a boyfriend imports you. I wish I could say that I moved here because of the mountains rising straight from the valley or the wide river that carves through town or the dozens of miles of trails I can run to right from my front door. I wasn’t aware of all that when my boyfriend Jeff moved here from Santa Fe and convinced me, a born Bostonian, to come along.
Perhaps that’s why when we broke up and he moved away, I had no inkling of what lay in store in the singles scene. In Durango it seems that if you are an athletic single woman between the ages of 18 and 45 and don’t resemble a hedgehog, you’re in constant, ego-inflating demand. And insisting on staying single makes you no less attractive.
I could hardly take credit for the newfound attention with my own moderate looks and charms. It seemed as if I were the only single woman in town. Not that the attention was always flattering. During my year of steadfast singlehood, I discovered that the oft-repeated mountain-town adage The odds are good, but the goods are odd has more than a grain of truth to it.
There was the barista who cried in my car when I told him I didn’t want to make out with him. There was the sensitive artsy type who, after we had a good hike together, got sloppy drunk in my house, climbed into my bed (uninvited), and barfed all over it. Then there was the financial adviser who refused to dig during avalanche practice because he forgot his gloves but then delivered the most nauseatingly cheesy line about how he’d forgo gloves gladly if it were me down there—wink wink. I can’t forget the guy who called me a snob while we were chatting in the hot springs then inexplicably brought me flowers the next day or the climbing partner who nearly edged me over a small cliff because he wouldn’t stop trying to spoon me, sleeping bag to sleeping bag.
I wondered: Were all the men in Durango so utterly weird and clueless? And was this the plight of mountain-town women across the West? I decided to make a thoroughly unscientific investigation into what caused such ridiculous boy/girl relations. My objective: to see if there were any hope for a sharp, independent, athletic gal looking for a like-minded guy to share her outdoor nirvana.
During my informal interviewing process, which more or less involved calling up friends to discuss their love lives, I quickly discovered that I wasn’t alone. Heather, 33, an acupuncturist in Crested Butte who has also lived in Texas and San Francisco, reported that men in her mountain abode appear to exhibit more risk-taking behavior than their urban counterparts—and not only on the ski pistes.
“You get so much attention here,” she says. “There are times I get asked out four or five times a weekend, sometimes by the same determined guy.” She credits the tiny size of Crested Butte, population 2,000, with breeding a familiarity among its inhabitants that eases inhibitions.
“I think there’s a familiarity and a comfort of being in a small town,” she says, “but at the same time it can get you into a lot of trouble.” One overzealous suitor, for example, cheered her on enthusiastically—embarrassingly—at her softball game before ever meeting her, then asked her out, ever so tactfully, by interrupting her while she was on a date with someone else.
Some of my research subjects suggested that perhaps this lack of fear of rejection has something to do with the nature of mountain towns themselves. These pint-sized bubbles are havens of recreation dedicated to the pursuit of fun—Never Never Lands for grown-ups, where responsibilities, social strictures, and consequences are looser than in cities, where there are more police officers you don’t know.
“It’s sort of a fantasy world,” says Natalia, 22, a ski instructor in Sun Valley. “There are no real responsibilities, no consequences for certain things. A lot of the time you work all night or party all night and then ski all day. So it’s not surprising that a lot of the guys here never grow up.”
Tara, 33, a television host for a local station in Sun Valley, agrees that the Animal House-like capers accepted as daily drunks-will-be-drunks fare in her town would never fly in larger towns. Sure, it makes good fodder for entertainment, she says, but it doesn’t make the town prime potential-husband habitat, if that is what one is looking for. For example, her ex-boyfriend came home to find an inebriated man he was unacquainted with sleeping in his bed—and the man was just as alarmed as he was to find himself sleeping there. She has also walked out of her bedroom some mornings to find naked people she barely knew passed out on her living room floor.
“People just go to the wrong houses after the bars; that kind of stuff happens all the time,” she says. “All rules that apply to normal society don’t apply here.” Perhaps it’s because there are less strict social norms in these recreation-happy towns that chivalry is often neglected if not outright tossed out the window.
One Durango friend, who wished to remain anonymous, reported her last straw: when her Peter Pan boyfriend, in a fit of romantic ingenuity, told her for the first time, “I love you, dude.” Another single Durangoan friend, 38, told me that she agreed to go on a date with one fellow only to be asked whether she could pick him up because he was under DUI restrictions. “Talk about a turn-off,” she says.
“Jackson is a great place to date because you can go backpacking and skiing and all of that, and there’s this great group of guys,” corroborates Sarah, 27, a public relations rep. “But I think they’re a little behind the curve when it comes to dating. Don’t expect them to remember to call you on your birthday—and big pow days take priority over everything.” And dinner dates? On a good night, she says, expect ramen noodles or mac and cheese with hot dogs.
On the other hand, if the promise of untracked powder fields and buffed singletrack lured and kept these boys here, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that their athletic endeavors take priority over culinary feats or courtly cleverness. Besides, their athletic talent is often their most appealing asset.
“Mountain men are attractive because they have so much passion for their sports,” says Tammy, a tutor who lived in Telluride for more than a decade and who has dated all manner of fine-looking, several-years-younger-than-their-age guys, such as the one who decided to live (literally) in his bike shop and another who cheated with a climbing partner. “They’re typically very good at them, but they don’t want anything or anyone to get in the way of what they do. Things start to go south as soon as you want more time, attention, and understanding of why there doesn’t seem to be an equal give-and-take.”
Or, for some, just sleeping in on Sunday morning. Shanti, 37, a writer in Sun Valley, Idaho, said that one mountain-town male she dated was so dedicated to skiing he insisted on skiing alone. “On Sundays he would leap out of bed and be like, ‘Well, I gotta go now’!” she says. “He’d go ski by himself. I’d see him on the mountain a few hours later and be like, ‘Um, hi.'”
But let’s be honest: we women can be just as passionate about our sports—and just as competitive. Isn’t that why we love these towns after all? While we might not want to be ditched on the hill by our men, we also don’t want to be able to smoke them—at least not too humiliatingly.
“I’ve tried dating guys who don’t ski, and although it wasn’t the main reason the relationship didn’t work out, it was always lingering there, like a bad smell I couldn’t get over,” says Megan, 27, an editor in Boulder who has skied and raced since the days when boys had cooties. “I know I could never get that serious with someone who didn’t at least share my passion for the mountains.” While Megan couldn’t “give a rat’s ass” what her wedding will look like, her honeymoon is in the bag: Chamonix with long, hard days of skiing and long, hard wine-and-fromage-soaked nights.
“I told someone that once, and they said, ‘What if you marry a guy who doesn’t ski?’ and I answered, ‘I won’t.'” For example, Megan took a prospect, outfitted head-to-toe in shiny straight-from-the-store Gore-Tex, out on the ski hill one morning only to discover that he could barely snowplow. It ended up not working out for the unsuspecting schlub.
Despite all our collective complaints, mountain towns are great places to live; and though dating in them may offer more funny stories than happy endings, they are also fun places to date. Here guys and gals get to know each other against a forest backdrop—backpacking or skiing, biking or kayaking. A date could be checking out a new trail or drinking wine from a familiar nook on top of a local crag. Sure, many mountain-town men reportedly exhibit an aversion to commitment and have pathetically little sense of chivalry. But the upside is that they at least tend to be hot and single and have low standards.
To be fair, I consulted a gaggle of Durango’s most eligible menfolk about their perspective of the singles scene. To my surprise they had similar complaints of mountain-town women: they were too aggressive, they were too fixated on their own sports, and that the good women were always taken. It also seemed that they just wanted to be appreciated for who they were—smelly socks, funny haircuts, squawky bike-race talk, and all.
Greg, 30, a contractor and mountain-bike racer, fell in love with a woman whom he said rode the up phase of their courtship with gusto then high-tailed it when it started to become more real. “She was strong and fit and pretty,” he said. “She was totally on her own. I was so infatuated with her. But the second she saw weakness in a guy, she’d dump him. The next guy she dated was the same. It was great until she found his flaws.”
Could it be that we are too hard on our men? Then I realized, Maybe the doofuses we tend to meet are just the most obvious ones. “Chicks come to town, and within days the hawks always go for them right away,” says Jeremy, 30, who owns an outdoor store. “We [the good ones] turn around and are like, ‘Where are all the chicks?’ Turns out these guys are dating them.”
In fact, despite many women’s reporting a drastic surplus of single men in mountain towns, the U.S. Census Bureau has a different take on the ratio. According to the people counters, towns across the West, from Taos to Durango to Jackson, have about equal numbers of single men and single women. So even if there’s a disproportionate number of Peter Pans, drunks, and narcissists among the single men, there must be a few keepers in the mix. Jeremy was right: they hide in the most inconspicuous places.
After nearly a year of my own misadventures in singledom, I decided to stop simply avoiding Durango’s ample population of doofuses and put some effort into charming a keeper. My first target was Hot Yoga Boy, a tall, tanned guy with a big nose and a shock of curly brown hair who frequented my hot vinyasa class. I decided to approach him after class only to discover my own laughable dating incompetence.
“I think you look familiar,” I said. “Do I look familiar to you?” In defense of possibly the world’s lamest come-on line, he did look familiar in that small-town sort of way.
“Um, no,” he responded and walked away. But a few classes later, Hot Yoga Boy, never ditching his cooler-than-thou aloofness, which of course made me more curious, asked for my number. Several days later he invited me to go backcountry skiing, my favorite activity. We hadn’t been skinning up Anvil Mountain near Silverton, Colorado, for very long when I realized that he was ridiculously slow. Was this guy just trying to put me at ease or was he a closet lard ass? By the time we made it halfway down, despite the snowy skies and powdery chute we had all to ourselves, he asked if I wanted to do another lap. I considered it a no-brainer.
“Well, I think I’m good so, um, want to just ski down? Okay, uh, let’s go,” he said, before I could argue. We clambered into his truck, and he bee-lined it into town, screeching to a halt at his house. He muttered something before dashing in and dashing back out, barely letting me meet his roommates.
It was more than a year later when Hot Yoga Boy, whom I now call Andrew, told me why he was so curt when I approached him after that first yoga class: he didn’t have his glasses, so he couldn’t see me. And the reason why he was being such a weirdo on our first backcountry ski date? He had been doing a cleansing fast the entire week beforehand, and his digestion was a bit, shall we say, uncooperative.
“If I had known you better, I would have just gone and taken a crap,” he said. “But I was like, I don’t even know this girl.” I had been tempted to write Andrew off as just another funny story; I never would have guessed that over a year and a half later the story still hasn’t ended.
Sure, he’s a stereotypical mountain-man type in some respects. He tends to have a layer of scruff on his face and doesn’t own a pair of nice shoes. He often eats with his elbows on the table and shovels dinner into his mouth miner-style. He devolves into bro-speak when hanging out with the boys, and he prefers his Coors Light in cans. But he’s also smart, honest, and unfailingly open-minded. Best of all, he tolerates my own abundant idiosyncrasies with incomprehensible patience.
He knows not to try to convince me to go biking when I have apocalyptic bouts of PMS. He always cleans his plate when I serve him my botched kitchen experiments—bowties with kale, onions, strawberries, and lemon-ginger sauce, anyone? He listens intently to my dorky jokes that slow down our hikes, and he uncomplainingly adds five or 10 minutes to any time I tell him I’ll be somewhere. He fixes my bike and tunes my skis without my asking, and, let’s be honest, he turned out to be a killer ski partner.