A sticky situation

We’ve all heard the saying, “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.” But out here in the mountains, it can be hard to wrap one’s mind around such interplanetary concepts. Sometimes, it’s just easier to put things in a local context, you know, like “men are from El Rancho, and women are from Joel’s,” or “men are from the Diner and women are from Le Rendezvous.”

Anyway, you get the picture. And before you start penning the poison letter, allow me to stress that these comparisons are for illustrative purposes only, meant in no way to imply that one is better than the other – just different. And it also isn’t to say there’s no cross over. In fact, just the other day, I bellied up to that legendary white, Formica countertop that we all know and love, for a heaping helping of homespun wisdom and grub from the fastest spatula in the West. I washed it all down with a heady brew that kept my head spinning well past noon. Likewise, I’ve been known to do the same once upon a time, at that legendary Formica bar right next door well past midnight.

Basically, it all comes down to one’s own personal comfort level, whether you’re a “keep-the-glass,” no-door-on-the-bathroom-stall, extra-cheese kind of person or not.

And I will be the first to admit that, in most cases, I am not. But I am careful, when I do venture to the other side, to observe the rules to the best of my ability. For example, there are things that just aren’t done in certain situations, like blotting your bacon with a napkin or asking for “a splash of cran with a twist.”

And of course, these unspoken rules of the sexes extend beyond just eating and drinking, into the backcountry. I learned early on that there’s no room for whining on a male-dominated, 11-mile uphill, backcountry slog, let alone fresh pasta, microbrew in glass bombers and deodorant. If you’re looking for sympathy from the opposite sex because you thought it necessary to tote the entire contents of a gourmet four-course dinner on your back when a Jim Beam traveler and reconstituted beans would have sufficed nicely, then it’s your own damn fault. It’s all about bare, essential – if not somewhat odiferous – simplicity. And this goes for conversation, too.

Limit it to bodily functions, weather, skiing or bodily functions, and you’re safe. Start bringing in anything even remotely warm and fuzzy (unless somehow connected to aforementioned categories) and it’s a surefire way to make the small, cramped quarters go suddenly and uncomfortably silent. And god forbid you ever mention something of a “womanly” nature. You may as well start packing your bags.

I kept this in the back of my mind as I sped over the mountain passes one weekend morning. An early phone call from a skiing buddy had left vague directions about meeting up at the Coal Creek

pull out. It had been a solid year and one child since I last partook in any backcountry skiing, and the spousal unit saw the jonesing in my face as I listened to the message.

“Just go,” he encouraged as I tried to come up with excuses not to.

“My skins don’t fit … I can’t find my shovel … my beacon’s out of batteries ... .”

Fortunately, I soon snapped out of my malaise, realizing that I was looking a ski horse in the mouth. Precious minutes ticked away as I gathered my gear and set out to break the land-speed record in order to make my meeting time – which I didn’t. But as is typical Durango fashion, my party also was lagging. I pulled up just as they were skinning up, and being the token female, I quickly and efficiently got ready so as not to give off a “chick” impression.

As we made the arduous ascent, I stuck to the pre-approve topics: skis, the weather and skiing (I hadn’t known some of them long enough to broach the other topic.)

We finally topped out, and followed the ridgeline until we spotted a good spot to drop in. The first skier pushed off, dropped over a small rise – and then stopped dead in his tracks, the victim of the dreaded post-skin ice build-up.

And although my inner voice told me to keep quiet and let him figure out the dilemma for himself, I somehow couldn’t resist that motherly urge to help. Unfortunately, my mind hadn’t caught up with my mouth, which, without hesitation, called out to the wallowing skier below.

“I have some Astroglide,” I shouted down to him.

As if in slow motion, that final, resounding word bounced off the trees, echoed up and down the mountainside and finally reverberated painfully back on my eardrums. I winced in pain and looked around to see several pairs of horrified, silent eyes fixed on me, feeling the same pain. Not only had I crossed that imaginary line demarcating man land from woman land, but I had taken a flying leap and totally faceplanted.

Allow me to digress here for those who may not be familiar with the item I offered to this man, who happened to be a complete stranger. Without going into great detail, I will only say that it is a personal product, not something one normally totes around in his or her backcountry pack, let alone puts on the bottom of his or her skis. Unfortunately, its name bears a striking resemblance to that of another product, Dyno Glide, which has become an indispensable part of my backcountry kit and is openly sanctioned for use as ski wax.

I tried to explain this to my ski partners. I mean, technically, it was related to bodily functions. But by now it was too late. The awkwardness had gone way beyond uncomfortable to downright excrutiating.

Wisely, the man chose to ignore my offer and soon fixed the problem on his own. As for me, I remedied my own sticky situation the only way I knew how. I took off on what was probably the fastest run in my life, figuring that a skiing foot can gather no mouth.

– Missy Votel