I realized a couple years ago that I have more fun skiing uphill than skiing downhill. I enjoy the Zen rhythm of methodically skinning up the snow, forcing myself to stay at a pace that I could hold for an hour straight without stopping, elevating my heart rate but not getting out of breath.
Then at the top, I’d point the skis downhill and sloppily navigate down, an OK “survival skier,” punching through breakable crust here and there, not really caring if I made decent turns, looked good or even stayed upright all the way down.
My friend Mitsu says skiing is about a lifelong pursuit of perfect turns (I’m paraphrasing; his real explanation is much longer and more wonderful and involves Japanese words like “mushin”). I sit there and listen to him talk about turns and nod and smile, but really don’t get it. I mean, skiing is rad — I’ve had tons of fun — but it’s not my thing. I don’t love it like I love climbing. If you held up a photo of a skier in one hand and a photo of a climber in the other, I would pick the climber. When I see mountains, I look for rocks instead of snow, sort of a terrain-based Rorshach test. I think I’m generally an uphill person, not a downhill person. What about you?
I’ve discussed this with a few friends before, and they think of it as Fast Sports vs. Slow Sports, or Adrenaline vs. Strength, but it means the same thing. Uphill sports are ice and rock climbing, mountaineering, bouldering and arguably trail running, and downhill sports are skiing/snowboarding, mountain biking, and whitewater paddling.
Do you drift corners when walking around corners in your socks at home? Ever catch yourself committing to a line while driving your car through a potholed parking lot? Butt-slide down handrails in the airport? You’re probably a downhill person.
Do you crimp door frames and edges of granite countertops? Do you take stairs two at a time even when you’re wearing dress shoes and a suit? Eyeball public art sculptures and assess their climbing difficulty? You are probably an uphill person.
Of course, you can climb and mountain bike, and enjoy both equally; or boulder and ski. But you’re probably familiar with Benchley’s Law of Distinction, which states:
There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world, and those who don’t.
If you believe there are two kinds of people in this world, you might enjoy categorizing them as Uphill People and Downhill People. Please decide immediately if you’re a downhill person or uphill person, and then mentally catalog and dichotomize all your friends after that.
Alex Honnold is an uphill person. Lindsey Vonn is a downhill person. Ueli Steck: Uphill. Jeremy Jones: Downhill. Does any skier ever say “My favorite part of that day was skinning up”? Nobody climbs El Cap for the descent hike, to my knowledge.
You ask: But what about BASE jumping, surfing, backpacking? Hey, come on, aren’t there only two types of people in this world? OK, thanks, that’s what I thought. Let’s make up some t-shirts or stickers for each one, kind of like they do with those 140.6 and 70.3 stickers for triathletes.