This is the next chapter in my outdoor dating series. Is this a series? I keep writing about it, so I guess so. Today I want to talk about something that seriously can’t happen only to me. This has to be a phenomenon or at least something common: The Non-Date Date.

Here’s how it goes:

Most outdoor pursuits require a partner for maximum radness. Safety, company, picture-taking, drive-sharing, gas-money-paying, load carrying, beer-buying – all that contributes to said radness. So it’s not that unusual to cast a wide net when planning an excursion. “Are you busy tomorrow?” “Can you go skiing Friday?” “Want to climb Mt. Marcus Baker this weekend?” “Care for the Eklutna Traverse on our days off?” That is what my text message outbox looks like if you filter out the snarky comments and off-color jokes.

Sadly, all too often my trolling for partners demands kind invitations are gently rebuffed by my friends. “Sorry, family day.” “Can’t, haven’t seen my girlfriend in a week.” “Nope, stuck at work,” say my cadre of stalwart partners. In this way antisocialish (not really) me is forced to broaden my social circle; well, that and losing friends to Facebook makes me have to keep participating in societal rituals like parties and gatherings. Kidding! I like to socialize. Sometimes. Other times I just want to go fricking skiing!

So anyway, reaching out to new people evidently leads to ambiguity. An innocent “Want to go ski Turnagain tomorrow?” turns into a seething cauldron of awkwardness when, halfway up the first lap, I seem to be, unexpectedly, on a date.

It’s subtle, the dread that seeps in as awareness builds. Why did he bring cocoa for two in a cunning little two-cup set? That’s weird. Hmmm, he’s awfully deferential about the day’s objective and the line we’re going to ski. Is he new at this or what? Wait, it does seem as if he’s bothered to change his base layer for this excursion; he doesn’t stink to high heaven like my other friends. He hasn’t belched, peed, or hacked up a loogie once so far. At the top of the climb while I’m ripping skins he asks some awkward question about whether I have any siblings or where I was born or what my college major was. Oh shit, am I on a date?

Crap, I thought we were just going skiing. I just wanted a safety partner for the day, not to talk about my childhood and my hopes and dreams for the future. I don’t want anyone to Get To Know Me today, I just want them to spot me down this line that’s too big to ski solo. What do I do now? Chances are I’ve never thought of this person in that way. I certainly didn’t think of my ski day in that way. The first few dates are for going to dinner and concerts and art shows and hockey games and stuff like that, aren’t they? Who wants to go backcountry skiing on a first date? Not me. How did I not see this coming?

I honestly don’t know what you should do if you find yourself in this situation, so my advice today is for people who plan to turn their backcountry experience into a date: DON’T! In part this post was inspired by a comment from “Jon” on “How To (Properly) Meet Outdoorsy Women” in which I was thanked for encouraging would-be suitors to be up-front about their motives. It’s less confusing, don’t you agree?

Not that there’s anything wrong with falling in Like with an awesome outdoorsy woman. But you’ve got to handle your feelings in a productive manner that will likely lead to success. Moonily staring at her ass as she breaks trail on the skin track is not the way; she needs an alert and situation-oriented partner, not a drooling sack of hormones on skis. So how do you do this? What do you do if you like a woman who is into the outdoors? After you go read this and this and this, of course.

Done? OK, here’s some strategies for approaching this delicate situation:

1. Keep your feelings to yourself. If you figure out that you might Like this person while you’re doing outdoors stuff, great! Just save it for a more appropriate time, like when you’re done with the day, down from the mountains safe and sound, and are enjoying a beer in a relaxed environment. Then:

2. Ask her out. On a DATE. A real date, not a fake date disguised as something else. Accept the fact that your ski day was just a ski day and a date is something different. Just say, “Would you go on a date with me this weekend?” That’s impossible to misinterpret. Pretending your objective is a classic multi-pitch when really you’ve got your eyes on a classic make-out session is a) smarmy and b) probably just going to piss her off and make her uncomfortable. If you are interested in dating her, make sure she knows what she’s agreeing to. Nobody enjoys the sinking feeling of the realization that your bivvy partner is dreamily watching you sleep. In the meantime:

3. DON’T make your first move when you’re doing outdoors stuff. Dropping your hand onto your woman partner’s thigh on the chairlift is not the way to test the waters. Why? Because she can’t fricking get away from you! She’s trapped. If she’s feisty enough, she might push you off rather than tolerate your groping. If she’s nicer than that, you’re still moving into the dangerous waters of Alienation, Harassment, and Revulsion. Just don’t.

4. Be courteous, no matter what your intentions. You can bring along a summit beer or some extra snacks. That’s okay. Just don’t turn it to a Sound of Music-style picnic on a mountaintop UNLESS you told her ahead of time that’s what you were doing. Who knows, that extra PBR might score you points, so go ahead and offer. Just be mellow about it and don’t take a refusal personally. Treat her like you would any of your regular partners, and if you’re not courteous and kind to your regular partners, you might want to consider starting there before trying to date anyone anyway.

5. Be cool. If you’ve won your lady’s heart, or at least her passing interest, keep yourself together, man! Not every other skier is a potential threat to your future happiness; not every climber needs to see you flexing your lats to be discouraged from hitting on your lady; not every dude yelling “single” in the lift line wants to elbow you out of the picture. Maybe consider that the guy she just stopped to talk to is one of her FRIENDS, you know, someone she knew before you. The outdoors set is still a small community and if you act like an ass to someone near and dear to her, you’re not going to impress her. You’ll earn yourself a one-way ticket to Dumpville (population: you; right Homer?), and when the following weekend you find you’re stuck in your college roommate’s 1981 Subaru wagon, full of empty beer cans and dirty long-johns because he’s the only one who would go skiing with you, you only have yourself to blame.

Best of luck to you. Other reading material, if you didn’t follow the links:

Five Reasons To Date Outdoorsy Women
Guide to Outdoor Dating
How to Properly Meet Outdoorsy Women