Before you head into the hills, it’s important to have an honest conversation with your climbing partner. These simple questions can make your day run more smoothly, let you both have more fun, and keep things safer when things get real.
What are your comfort limits?
As tempting as it can be to exaggerate the terrain you’re comfortable climbing, skiing, or traveling through in the mountains, it’s vitally important to be honest with your climbing partner—and with yourself. Identify which grades are easy, challenging, and outside of your comfort level, and keep in mind that those numbers might be different on different types of terrain. A 5.10 crack climber might be uncomfortable on a run-out 5.7 slab, for example, and that’s important to understand.
Do you have any physical concerns?
When your life depends on the person holding the other end of the rope, it’s important to understand any medical concerns or health issues that they might have—especially if you’re in a remote area or off the grid. Ask your partner if they have allergies, what medications they’re taking, if they’ve ever had surgeries, and if there are any other medical concerns that you should know about. If you’re planning a multi-day trip, write down emergency contact numbers, health insurance information, and pre-existing conditions.
If something goes wrong, what kind of training do you have?
Before heading for the hills with a new partner, it’s worth comparing experience. Do either of you have wilderness medical training, like a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) or Wilderness First Responder (WFR)? Have either of you taken an avalanche course? Do you have safety gear—beacons, shovels, a rescue rack—and do you both know how to use it? Not having training isn’t a deal-breaker, of course—but it might be a good excuse to seek out some training opportunities together.
What’s your dream goal?
Everybody has different goals, and they can vary wildly among climbers and skiers. For rock climbers, it might be a first trad lead, an iconic multi-day big wall, or an onsight of an impressive grade. For skiers, it might be a backcountry tour, a first descent, or just that nailing that hard run at the local resort. But knowing what your partner daydreams about can help you pick objectives that challenge and satisfy you both on your precious days out.
What do you need from me?
Everybody operates differently in the mountains, and every climber faces different challenges. For some people, vocal encouragement and positive stoke help build confidence; for others, having partners shout beta might be distracting while they’re on lead. You’ll gain understanding with shared miles, of course, but don’t be afraid what helps your partner be the best they can be.