As the USA Pro Cycling Challenge was working its way around Colorado and into the Front Range in August, I saw this Facebook status on my friend Rebecca’s page:
I thought, Hell No that’s not bad. And kind of a good question. A long time ago, after two years pouring drinks in a sports bar, I pretty much swore off watching sports, on TV or otherwise. And then I started climbing, backpacking, bicycling, skiing, and all that other stuff we love to do in the mountains. Like Rebecca, 95 percent of the time I’d rather be out doing the stuff I love than watching it. Where I live, that’s pretty easy to do—it’s rare to get shut down by bad weather, and if you can’t climb rocks, you can usually ski or climb ice. Which doesn’t leave a lot of Saturdays and Sundays to be a fan of traditional spectator sports.
In Colorado there are quite a few opportunities to watch some of the sports I do, too: The Teva Games, X Games, Ouray Ice Festival, cycling races, climbing comps, trail races, but I hardly ever find myself gravitating to them. I know the names of “famous” climbers, but I’m a long ways from calling myself a “fan” of anyone in action sports. Are you?
And if you are, what does that look like? Watching climbing or mountain biking videos on your work computer in the afternoon? Buying the full kit to match your favorite cyclist’s? Cheering someone on at an indoor climbing comp, or a ski race? Eating the same energy gels as your favorite ultrarunner, or wearing the same brand of shoes?
My friend Nick used to do PR for a ski industry organization, and at the SIA show a few years back, he confided that he felt awkward at the show because he didn’t know who any of the famous skiers were. He said,
“I just want to say, ‘I love skiing because I love skiing, not because you’re good at it.”
Which is really true for me. Something definitely happens when I watch a video of Alex Honnold free-soloing on Half Dome, but it’s not inspiring me to go free solo the same route, or even climb it. Watching someone move fluidly on rock reminds me of the feeling I get when I do it (of course it’s much easier than the stuff most people in climbing videos are doing). So sometimes I’m glad someone made a climbing movie, and I caught it at Banff or the Adventure Film Festival, because it is inspiring, in a way. But does it matter who’s climbing in the video?
Usually if you meet someone and they say they like sports, they mean they like to watch sports, while sitting down in front of a TV. Correct me if I’m wrong on that, but I’ve never heard anyone say, “I like sports. You know, like skiing, and climbing, and backpacking.”
Most people who love football aren’t getting suited up in pads and helmets and playing in competitive games on their days off. As my friend Justin said a few weeks back, “High school sports are interesting, because you play them, and then you never play them again—you watch them.” Outdoorsfolk are in a bit of a different position. Outside of cycling and skiing, and a few once-a-year events like the Teva Games and the X Games, there are few televised events for most of our favorite sports. No one’s sitting on their couch watching someone else go backpacking or canyoneering.
So why is football something we did when we were younger, but only watch when we’re older? If there was a 24-hour TV channel where I could watch athletes float up all the routes at Eldorado Canyon and Lumpy Ridge, would I spend my Saturdays watching it? If you had a choice, would you rather:
a. Watch one of the best athletes in the world in your sport (climbing, mountain biking, skiing) perform
b. Go to a slideshow by a guidebook author detailing routes or trails or backcountry ski runs that are all within your skill level?
The more I think about Rebecca’s question, “Is it bad that I would rather ride my bike than watch other people biking?”— the more I think the real question is, “Is it normal that I would rather ride my bike than watch other people biking?”