Love in a Cold Climate

Words by Poppy Smith

It’s not easy going out with a pro snowboarder. One night, during our first winter apart, I came out of the cinema, turned my phone on and got the call every girlfriend dreads. It was my boyfriend’s mother telling me Adam was in hospital after a bad fall. However much you prepare for this – and in this game, injuries are two a penny – it doesn’t make it any easier. Fortunately, on this occasion it turned out to be a sprained neck rather than a broken one.

That winter I was in the final year of my degree with an enormous amount of work to do, cooped up in a small flat in London, whilst he was jetting around the world filming a group of gorgeous female snowboarders for the all-girl movie, Dropstitch. Our trust and commitment took a beating that year, as did the phone bill, which averaged £1,000 a month.

When I met Gendle, at The British Snowboard Champs in 2003, he had been doing seasons for six years and was already sponsored. I’d gone out on a girlie holiday before going off to work in New York and certainly wasn’t looking for a boyfriend. I’d been forewarned about the trials and tribulations of going out with someone who does seasons and wasn’t about to get into that kind of relationship.

Two years down the line, we’re still together. There have been great times and not so great times, like not being able to spend Christmas and birthdays together, although nothing injects a bit of creativity and humour into a relationship like spending time apart. One birthday I sent him a picture of myself wearing a ‘Happy Birthday’ sign and not much else, and I’ll never forget the day he scared the hell out of me by jumping out from behind the bedroom door when he should have been in France.
Although it’s tough, it’s definitely worth it. I caught up with three couples who understand only too well what it’s like being the other half of a professional skier or snowboarder. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

Andy Topping, 25, professional freestyle skier, and Shelley Jones, 21, student and skier, have been together for three years.

Shelley: Going out with a pro skier was a novelty to begin with. But there have been periods when we haven’t seen each other at all and making plans is sometimes impossible because things can crop up for Andy at the very last minute.

I used to hate him going away and viewed his trips as holidays where he chose for me not to be there. I never really knew what he was getting up to, which made me jealous of everyone and everything. When Andy explained what he did when he went away, and I started seeing him in magazines and on posters, I felt really proud of him and, instead of getting upset when he went away, I began to share his excitement for what the trip would bring.

To help me get over my problems, and to have a better understanding of what he did, Andy suggested that we go and do a season together. It only took one day of skiing with him and I was hooked. This changed my attitude towards his job completely as it made me realise that he didn’t want to get away from me, that he really did go away just to ski.

Since I discovered skiing, our relationship has become far more exciting. Now we both compete at the same level and even share sponsors, which means we often get to travel together. Although we now get to spend more time together, I am at university which restricts the amount of time I get to go away with Andy and so I quite often set him a challenge to achieve on his skis while he’s away which keeps things exciting and gives us things to talk about on the phone.

Shelley’s tip: For a relationship like this to survive there has to be lots of trust and an appreciation for what the other person does so that you can share in their excitement and be proud of their achievements.

Andy: When we got back from our first season together I still had to go away for photo shoots, which was hard because I was used to Shelley being with me. I missed her so much that it got to the point where I was in two minds whether to go or stay – but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

When I got my first magazine cover, although Shelley hadn’t been there with me, it was really great having someone to share it with, and she was more excited than me! Since then it has been cool having Shelley there to push me and share my success.

Being apart from each other in the same country is hard enough, but being in a different country is even harder. We spend a lot of money on phone calls and if anything it gets harder, not easier. I make sure we stay in contact every day and a nice big present often makes her feel loads better.

At the start of the relationship I got really jealous when I was away and I knew Shelly was going out, but now we’ve been seeing each other for three years I trust her more than anything. Now, although I miss her a lot, I know I don’t need to get jealous, it just takes time to build the trust, which is definitely helped by her kinky phone messages!

Andy’s tip: Trust one another, keep in contact and have awesome make-up sex!

Stine Brun Kjeldaas, 30, pro snowboarder, and Robert Johansen, 32, publisher, have been together for nine years.

Stine: I remember one of the first things I told Robert when we started to date was that he had to let me snowboard and travel without holding me back if our relationship was to work. Fortunately, Robert has always been very supportive about my career and never complains when I go on yet another trip.

When I won the silver medal in the Olympics, I got a lot of attention from the media, friends, family and random people coming up to me when we went out together, which put him in the shade a bit. But he doesn’t seem to care at all, and has always been encouraging without any signs of jealousy. Sometimes, when I’m away, I’ll call him to tell him how much fun I had at a crazy party. I’ve never heard him say anything other than ‘Good for you, girl! Do you have a hangover? Ha, ha! I hope you had fun!’.

I do miss him lots when I’m travelling, and I wish I could share all my ups and downs with him, but I think it’s good that we both do our own thing so that we can learn from one another.

That was one of the reasons I fell for him, because he could give me a different perspective on life. He reads a lot, is interested in politics and has different values to those I find in the snowboarding world. When I need advice about my career I can go to him, when I feel lost he puts me back on track, but it’s nice not to have to talk about snowboarding if I don’t want to when I’m at home in Norway.

Stine’s tip: Give each other lots of freedom and take an interest in what your partner is doing.

Robert: Dating a pro snowboarder is really not that difficult, even if she is a world champion. Maybe it works because Stine is a strong and determined young woman who knows what she wants and I’m a simple guy who doesn’t worry too much. I know that snowboarders are a strange and untraditional race and you can’t change that. They sleep 12 to a bed, they party all night long, and the boys are young testosterone bombs…it’s just the way it is.

Stine and I have created a parallel universe to her world of snowboarding and my world of publishing and it’s here we spend our time together like two horny students on summer break. This is our biggest strength, but we have to be careful not to forget about each other’s ups and downs when we’re not together. I haven’t been around when Stine has had her biggest achievements, like the silver in Nagano, and I haven’t been able to comfort her when she’s had her lowest lows. It’s these moments when I miss her the most, and when being apart is a drag.

Robert’s tip: Give them a reason to come home. Find their soft spot, and be good at that. In our relationship it’s Stine’s love for food – after nine years I’ve become a pretty good cook!

Swiss rider Tina Birbaum, 30, and Brit, Johno Verity, 29, are both professional snowboarders and have been together for two years.

Tina: The best thing is being able to share my passion for snowboarding with someone else who understands. I can’t imagine myself being with someone who’s at home waiting for me.

With Johno, I don’t need to feel guilty when I’m leaving for a trip and nor does he because we understand each other. When we go to events together he knows I need to talk to the press and be available at all times because that’s part of my job. If I was with someone who isn’t in the industry that person would get really freaked out by it all.

I’m someone who gets bored in a relationship, but by travelling around a lot, with or without Johno, and facing new challenges, such as figuring out how we’re going to see each other, means we always have something going on which keeps the relationship fresh.

The hardest thing is spending a lot of time apart. When you’ve been on your own for a while, you begin to crave attention and there’s the danger that you’ll try and get it from other people. You’re constantly surrounded by people, press and snowboarders, and there are always parties with lots of attractive girls and guys, which isn’t helpful for a relationship. If I were to ask myself what he’s doing every time we’re not together, I’d go mad!

Tina’s tip: To build trust you need to tell each other everything. Give each other space, be prepared to make sacrifices and don’t think that it’s always going to be perfect when you do see each other.

Johno: Generally, going out with another snowboarder is brilliant. You get lots of free time so we get to spend endless days loitering in nice places together, and can go on long surfing trips in the summer. We often get to travel to interesting places and work together too.

I really enjoy riding with Tina, she’s really willing to try new things and is the most fun to be with when she has just learnt a new trick. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that sometimes I get a bit competitive with her when it comes to snowboarding, especially when we are both trying to learn the same thing and she gets it much faster and better than me. I guess that’s the macho in me coming out!

The down sides can be when we are both away on separate trips, which happens fairly often. Then, when we are together, we pretty much live in each other’s pockets. We had to spend two months apart earlier this year and it was pretty strange when we finally saw each other, almost like you have to get to know what it’s like spending time together again. I find that it happens pretty quickly, though not without its problems!

Sometimes I long for a job where I will be away from Tina for a few hours a day and then get to see her after work, I think that would make it a little less full-on.

Johno’s tip: Try and reserve time for when you can be together, away from friends and distractions. It is important to try to get on with life when you are away from each other too.

Long Distance Loving

Relate counsellor Christine Northam has tips on how to make your relationship work long distance.

When you’re apart:

  • ❤ Speak frequently. Set times to talk and stick to them, proving to your partner that you are reliable and they are important to you.
  • ❤ Make extra effort to communicate well. Have enough time during the phone conversation to tell each other everything that’s going on, and not just the big important stuff but trivial gossip too. This way you’ll feel more involved in their life.
  • ❤ Be honest and open. These are the essential ingredients of trust. If you’ve been to a party where there are glamorous people around you, talk about it and don’t keep anything back – you don’t want them finding out about it from someone else.
  • ❤ Be organised and plan in advance. Set dates or times when you know you’re going to be together and stick to them.

When you’re together:

  • ❤ More communication. If you’re finding it hard adjusting to being back together (his dirty clothes all over the place are driving you mad), talk and laugh about the problems. Don’t bottle them up.
  • ❤ Respect one another. Value each other’s profession and outlook on life however ordinary or extraordinary it may seem in comparison.

Bag a Boarder Babe

Not put off by tales of long distance love? Here are the best places to get jiggy with your own pro this season.

❤ The Daily Mail Ski Show – October, London Olympia, www.dailymailskishow.co.uk

This event is the prelude to the season, not just for people in the industry. The show swarms with British pros who come to build the big indoor jump, work on the stands and generally have a knees-up. Hang out in the Hand and Flower pub, where they all stay, and listen out for after parties, which happen most nights.

❤ Burton European Open – 14-21 January 2006, Laax, Switzerland, www.burtoneuropeanopen.com

Held in the resort renowned for its super-pipe, the BEO attracts pro riders from all over the world. Everyone eats in the Pizzeria, drinks in the Crap Bar and parties in the uber-cool Riders’ Palace, so you’re bound to rub shoulders with one somewhere along the way.

❤ Orange British Snowboard and Freestyle Ski Championships, (aka The Brits), 11-18 March 2006, Laax, Switzerland, www.aimseries.com

A week-long competition and party fest. All the British pro freestyle skiers and snowboarders are here, showing why they’re pro on the slopestyle, big air and skier- and boardercross courses, before then partying like it’s going out of fashion every night. The Rider’s Palace is where they stay – handy for when you’re staggering out of the club underneath at 6am.

❤ Snowbombing, Mayrhofen, Austria – 2-8 April 2006

Pistes by day, beats by night, this winter music fest rocks.

❤ Garmisch

Garmisch is spiritual home for the German pro scene and The Lodge, co-owned by pro rider Xaver Hoffmann, is where they all hang out. If it’s a bad weather day, head for Virus, the new snowboard shop where there’s a comfy sofa at the back or to Amici for a cappuccino and eye candy.

❤ Les Arcs, France

For French pro action head to Les Arcs and the Mountain Café in 1800 where they’ll will be chowing down on Tex Mex before hitting the Fairway club for one of it’s renowned hip hop nights. In 1600 the New School snowboard shop and café next door is a popular hangout.

❤ Morzine, France

The British pros’ resort of choice for the last couple of years for it’s vast Portes de Soleil riding terrain, Morzine has it’s share of cheesy clubs including Opera where most of the UK pros hang out after Dixie Bar shuts.

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