Among the transients at the hostel when Mountain Man and I arrived was a woman, who I’ll call Sandra. Sandra was the owner of the red Honda CR-V that Mountain Man almost destroyed. She was from Georgia and had traveled to Colorado alone, spending nights in the back of her Honda to avoid lodging fees. She was in her late twenties. She had an ebullient laugh and kind eyes that told me she had nothing to hide and no reason to judge. I liked that. We hit it off right away.

Side note: The entire time I was writing this, all I could do was think of this freakin' song...

January 13th was our first day at the Breck resort. As we rode the Breck gondola up the mountain, packed shoulder-to-shoulder with our hostel-mates, Mountain Man looked me in the eye and announced that he was going to ski with the Japanese dude and the New Zealander and would rather that I not join them. It was embarrassing, and I froze up. I couldn’t think of anything to say, but I didn’t have to because Sandra spoke up. She said she’d ski with me.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Sandra and I were at roughly the same level of experience with skiing. Once we got bored of the groomers, we started challenging ourselves with steep, mogully runs. I showed her what I’d learned at Vail about maneuvering moguls, and we tried to perfect this technique, but our virgin leg muscles got tired after about the third mogul-ridden trail and we both fell most of the way down. Falling then became the focus of each descent, and we laughed our heads off and goofed around until it was time to meet the boys for beers at the lodge that evening.

Skiing with Sandra was a stark contrast to skiing with Mountain Man. Mountain Man always laughed at me, but nothing that I thought was funny was ever funny to him. Sandra and I naturally found humor in the same things. Mountain Man mocked me when I fell. Sandra and I laughed whenever one of us took a tumble, but only if the one falling laughed first. We never left each other behind; if one of us had to use the restroom or get something from the lodge, the other would follow so as not to lose track of each other. Spending the day with Sandra revealed to me that it’d been a while since I’d had real fun.

Me and Sandra having fun

Sandra also helped me realize that I’d been treating skiing like a pissing contest. She told me that she’d only really been skiing for five years—since she met her fiancé, who was a pro freeskier. Five years—hell, I’d only been at it for a few months and I was at her level; I was going too fast, I realized. Instead of trying to “catch up” to her partner’s level (as I was doing with Mountain Man), Sandra was learning at her own pace, gradually collecting ski-bum traits as she went, but only adopting them once she’d practiced and perfected them. Sandra was happy and had a healthy relationship with her fiancé (as it should be, of course).

I don't think Sandra would’ve publicly (and kindly) assured me that she’d ski with me at Breck (after my own boyfriend publicly assured me that he wouldn’t) if she hadn’t suspected that something was “off” between Mountain Man and I. Many people had told me that Mountain Man was no good for me, but Sandra showed me. I don't think I'd have seen it so soon if she hadn't. Thanks to Sandra, I became aware of the level of toxicity in my relationship with Mountain Man. For the first time, I began to feel a shift in my feelings towards him—away from idolization, and towards resentment.

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