How to Make Sure a Beginner in the Outdoors will Hate it Forever

How to introduce people to the outdoors
Ready to rappel off that arch, never done it before…you got it!

We all start at the same place in life. Even going as far back as birth, we are new to the world and know absolutely nothing of it. As a beginner outdoors person – whether they are trying to get into winter sports, climbing, hiking, fishing, whatever they choose – they are going back to feeling like a newborn baby completely oblivious to the outside world because they don’t know any better. As the designated expert who is taking one of these “newborns” out make sure to remember a few things that we all, at times, fall victim to.

1) It’s showtime!

This happens to a lot of us, even if we don’t readily admit it. We fall prey to our worst enemy, our ego. As the expert you feel the need to show off that you can handle anything.

“Oh hey, it’s a 60′ 5.6 rock climb, lets do it without a rope and hiking shoes. I lead climb 5.11 with gear so I’m going to look sweet in front of my newfound (soon to not be) partner.”

“Oh hey, instead of doing a day hike for being your first hike ever, let’s do this 25 mile all uphill slog that requires a combination of the water supply of a camel and the endurance of a husky training for the iditarod.”

“Oh hey, you’ve only skied the blue squared runs in the resort. Yeah let’s go hit the backcountry in avalanche terrain, do this sick-nasty couloir that is just wide enough for your skis and ends with a 30 ft cliff drop. You got it bro, no worries!”

Our ego blinds us, and what happens is that the expert of the group calmly makes it past the obstacle and their partner(s) slowly realize they are in over their heads, mentally and quietly, freaking out. If you’re a guy trying to make a swift move at a lady-friend with a nice caboose, just stop. Stop trying to be cool because you know what’s not cool? Managing to have your outdoors partner ditch you but it is a quick way you can really look like a jerk. Now ladies don’t think I left you out in the conversation, I just think you manage these things much better than guys, your ego specifically. Females seem to be able to keep it under control much better.

Rock climbing in Utah
It’s not THAT high. Oh quick tip before you leave, don’t let go of that brake hand.

2) Don’t provide any equipment, at all.

There are some things that you simply can’t provide, mainly footwear, but most of it can. If someone wants to try a sport, and more so if you add some friendly pressure into it, then you should provide something to offset costs of going to REI and immediately spending hundreds in new gear that they may or may not ever use again. Also, remember in a lot of outdoors-type towns there usually is some rental shop that will rent anything from mountain bikes, climbing gear, skis, snowboards, mountaineering boots, packs, ice axes, crampons, etc etc. It’s really cheap to get just a pair of shoes for climbing, or a mountain bike for a day.

3) Show up in your high-tech outdoors clothes, and stare oddly at their all cotton attire.

If you have never been skiing before how would you ever know what to really wear? It’s your responsibility to inform your beginner partner of the weather and what you would wear in a certain situation, like the next day. Not every person’s body is heated the same, so this isn’t fool proof but always suggest to bring an extra layer, extra rain gear, extra hat because they may need it. They’ll thank you later.

4) It’s not your fault they didn’t bring sunscreen.

Be the person that brings the extras. I.e. the extra food, the extra water, the sunscreen because someone didn’t think that a blazing sun reflecting off of snow was bad. (Guilty) Whatever it is that your partner may forget, either tell them to remember it, but assume they’re going to forget anyway. It might happen.

5) The night before, freak your partner(s) out with horror stories.

It’s scientifically proven, that when humans are told what to expect before it happens they don’t panic in a situation. By telling your partner(s) of what to expect or maybe some small tips on what they should focus on or to do, then they can think about those things instead of worst case scenarios. So you’re going climbing, a beginner’s biggest fear is falling. Instead of them thinking about that the entire time, teach them how to tie into the rope, and teach them good technique. Now they don’t need to be coached but basics will do. In the outdoors a good rule of thumb is expect the unexpected, but for a beginner, they will expect what you tell them.

Backcountry touring safety
Only 2000 more feet of vertical…no big deal you’re only from Ohio.

6) Overestimate their abilities. Pushing people into the unknown will only make them better!

This theory works if they are already in the sport. For someone who is giving a go at the sport for the first time ever, this doesn’t really apply for obvious reasons. Always underestimate their abilities no matter who it is. They could be a pro-like skier and they get on a mountain bike and boom, they are having a really hard time not flipping over the handle bars. Maybe the person is a pro-like mountain biker, but being on vertical rock just freaks them out. Just because they’re really good at one sport, doesn’t make them an expert in another. Pick something they are capable of finishing. It really sucks to fail, so make sure the first time out is a success.

7) Peer pressure can only lead to good things.

“Hey man I’m going mountain biking in Moab, you should come!”

“No thanks, I’m not a huge fan of being on a bike. I never feel stable…”

“Cmon bro, don’t be a wuss about it. It’s going to be sweet, and you’re going to regret not going!”

“Yeah I’ve done it before, and I didn’t really like it. It freaks me out…fine I’ll go!”

This is horrible (if it doesn’t work out) because 1) they never wanted to do it in the first place and 2) you ruined any chance of them ever being motivated to try it again. It’s a 50/50 shot, they might have a horrible time or they might have found the right person to go with.

8) Assume they’re aspirations are the same as yours because why wouldn’t they be?!

Finding a compatible outdoors partner can be difficult because we all are not on the same level nor are we all motivated to be. I personally had an ah-ha moment one evening climbing with a friend of mine in the gym, who is not completely new to the sport but still relatively new.

Steve: “Sarah you should totally try leading it’s really fun and it’s what climbing is really about.”

Sarah: “Yeah I don’t know.”

Steve: “You’re good enough to do it. I see you climbing 5.10s and 5.11s in the gym, leading a 5.9 should be easy.”

Sarah: “Steve…I have zero motivation to ever lead a route, even if it was the easiest route bolted.”

Steve: “Well, that’s weird.”

Sarah: “I really don’t care.”

My recollection is pretty spotty but it went something like that. I assumed if you climb, you eventually wanted to lead routes because that’s the general progression. For some people though, it’s not even a thought. It’s something they respect but have absolutely no plan to put themselves in those types of stressful situations. Bottom line, don’t assume that even if they are capable of handling extreme activity X, that they want to do it.

9) Never ask questions.

Never ask your beginner partner:

  • How are you doing?
  • Do you need a break?
  • How much water do you have left?
  • Are you feeling sick? (…because you look it.)
  • Do you need to eat something?

It’s your responsibility as the expert to keep an always overlooking eye over the other people in your group. Just because you feel great in 100 degree heat 14000′ above sea level doesn’t mean your friend who just moved (or is visiting) from somewhere that is at sea level will be anywhere near how you feel. If the group consists of locals, still assume that they are feeling worse than you. You might do this stuff everyday so your body has put in the suffer-time to adjust. For someone who is new, their body is using muscles it didn’t know existed.

Backcountry split boarding
FINALLY at the top.

10) Make a big scene when you make a decision based on the weak link.

This one is a common courtesy. If you think your partner is tired (and you should know if they are just by looking at them) then take a break. Take it on your own accord though, not because you are waiting up for them or because they are exhausted, but because you wanted to sit down on a rock for a little bit and take in the view that you have seen hundreds of times. You want to make someone feel not capable, make it seem impossible for them to keep up with you. Works every time! Relax, remember you are not out doing this to enjoy it yourself, you are doing it so your partner(s) can finally understand why you enjoy it. Now that’s a cool feeling.

This article is based on a lot of assumptions of your partner. Assume below their capabilities, assume that the sport is more difficult than you make it out to be, assume that your partner knows nothing – these assumptions can make an outing much better. The first time out for two people to get together shouldn’t be one about pushing the limits it’s about figuring out who the other person is. It’s not until you become close enough that you can start to do that. Especially for a beginner sportist, they want to make sure that they can trust you. Don’t ruin it because in the end you might end up with a great partner for life or if you blow it might end up with someone who has one really horrible story about you that they tell to everyone.