There Are Uphill People, And There Are Downhill People

uphill downhill

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.


42 replies on “There Are Uphill People, And There Are Downhill People”
  1. says: Shelby

    hmmm… I’m a runner and I like steep uphills — ones that make me feel like I’ve really accomplished something when I reach the top. If hands are involved as I climb, even better!

    But technical downhills that I can run are such a blast, they are another reward of the climb…

  2. says: Karl

    I dig this post. I’ve spent probably too much time considering this dynamic. For me, each activity set exercises something distinctly valuable.

    With climbing it’s generally the deliberate, disciplined, focused, organizational, and planning areas that I exercise with as much intention as possible, and try to consider how those things can relate to other aspects of my personal and professional life.

    Descending on the other hand, engages a more immediate and present state of mind, forcing me to be experiencing and adjusting rather than predicting and mitigating.

    I’d be interested to hear what Daniel Kahneman would have to say about these things. In short, I’ve learned to understand and appreciate both experiences. But to answer the question on preference, I typically find that I enjoy ‘having had done’ one and ‘doing’ the other.

    Good to be here,

  3. says: Rebecca

    hmmm… I’m not sure. I like the whole experience of back country skiing and the whole experience of mountain biking–both include uphill and downhill. to be fair though, when it comes to biking, I like the uphill better b/c it’s “safer” at my current skill level. but with skiing, since I’m pretty good, I like both just as much.

    I really liked Karl’s comment re focus–that’s what I love about tree skiing–you have to pay attention and what I love about MTB-ing, you have to pay attention. and even though I don’t climb, I’m guessing that’s what you love about rock climbing–the attention, the focus, the concentration on one activity, one moment of that activity and the ability to let everything fall away. with all of these things we do, the meditation is necessary–when you’re not paying attention, you crash, you slip, you fall.

    anyway, as always a good piece and I love to hear what others have to say. you got some smart friends!

  4. says: mtbsar

    As a mountainbiker, I love to climb! The long technical uphills are what I love. I love climbing Amasa Back, with all the technical ledges to climb. Don’t get me wrong, I love riding back down, but it’s not the same.

  5. says: Mad Dawg

    Is it possible to be just a hill person? I am always told I climb too fast, and that my runs involve too much vertical. Iv’e never minded the sketchy hike in to that perfect chute and long decent hikes make the PB&H taste that much better. With ski mountaineering and “death races/warrior dashes” increasing in popularity, is it acceptable to just be a lover of hills? Up or down, I am equally happy, especially if there is a cold brew at one end.

  6. says: Sean

    I think you have to break mountain biking into cross country (uphill sport) and downhill (obviously a downhill sport). I feel about mountain biking the way you feel about rock climbing, but you’ll never catch me at Whistler launching tabletops on A-Line and pounding Red Bull. Rather, I’ll be grinding my way up to a ridgeline in the granny gear. But I agree with Shelby: The ride back down, once EARNED, is the reward for all the hard work on the way up.

  7. says: Mike

    My favorite ski descents are my favorites because of rad climbs, not so much the downhill part. Downhill stuff is fun, but it’s hard to beat some good uphill mountain bike shredz.

  8. says: Shilpa

    I’ve had this same conversation many times – but categorized people as “with gravity” or “against gravity.” Thanks for posting this – definitely a fun read!

  9. says: Daniel

    I’m in with the other MTB commenters here and this has been a subject that gets debated more and more often around the MTB circles. As we see our sport progress and evolve the divide between the two is becoming more prominent. The number of riders, mainly new, but old riders as well who for personal reasons don’t get to ride (practice) as much as they would like, tend to gyrate towards the downhill end of the sport. The speed at which the new enduro race format is taking over the cross country popularity is a very blatant example. I for one am and always will be a cross country rider, I’m also very pro getting more people into the sport but these days I am met quite often with “that’s too haaaaaard!” when the idea of a cross country ride is brought up. Likewise more and more people that regularly ride give me the same types of excuses.
    Oh well, more empty miles of trails for me and the other XCr’s here-

  10. says: Steve

    I don’t know, I think I only know one person I’d consider being truly “uphill”, a true believer in the nobility of suffering and avoider of all out fun. I’d argue that even in climbing, a protectable, exposed 5.7 feels pretty downhill. And I’m not sure I’d ski the backcountry if the snow was tracked out breakable crust all the time, no matter how much I enjoy the up or the views. There’s gotta be a reward other than the satisfaction of physical exertion. I’d agree there really are two groups of people when it comes to the outdoor sports we love, but at the risk of soundin like a snob, I think it comes down more along the lines of active vs. passive participation.

  11. says: Derek

    You forgot a category. I am “bi-hill”. To go down one must go up…. or is it to go up one must go down?

  12. says: Ryan

    I totally agree with the idea that most people are one type or the other.

    There is that select few that kick ass at both. I seem to hear lots of Colorado and Utah stories that go something like “Yesterday, the weather was so perfect, we got to go skiing in the morning, paddling in the afternoon”. I’ve heard lots of variations, but usually, the people that are good at both seem to fit both in one day. Then there are the usual subjects: all of the guides I’ve met over the years do up and down equally well.

    Where do the even fewer number of people fit that love both and do both poorly?

  13. says: Jonathan

    It’s a question of Type I fun vs Type II. Downhill is almost guaranteed type I while uphill often involves a good amount of type II.

  14. says: Ed

    Great topic! I’d say I’m a uphill sort of cat. Love to climb, don’t mind biking and climbing, and I certainly love coring thermals while paragliding (us pilots hate to come down, usually…lol). Downhill generally hurts my knees (getting old) unless I’m down hilling on a bike or speedwinging. Speedwings are for sure a downhill thing, usually… Maybe it’s like a beer and wine comparison? Maybe I just like up more than down due to my old knees, hmm. Or maybe it’s a instant gratification kind of thing, hell who knows. What ever the case, definitely a uphiller over here, cheers!

  15. says: scoTt

    I am encouraged to see so many other “uphill” people. I love long technical MTB climbs, Alpine and rock climbs, just hiking to the top even on non technical terrain. Most people I know it is the destination more than the climb/hike/ride.

    I am headed south (today!) to go on my first ever ski tour in the Allgäuer Alpen. I am looking forward to the challenge and the feeling of being a total beginner.

  16. says: Alison

    I’m uphill. I think of it in terms of control over my body, and it’s speed.

    Uphill I pick the pace, downhill I can’t control the pace.

  17. says: Ed

    Ah side hilling, there’s times to side hill then not to side hill, that is sometimes the question, lol. I certainly don’t mind a bit of side hilling when the circumstances call for it. My view is strictly from a paragliding perspective…2 cents.

  18. says: T J

    This is exactly how I have felt for years – I am totally an uphill person and have had a hard time explaining this to snowboarding friends… Thank you Brendan for putting this into words. I wasn’t sure if there were any others out there. I am married to a downhill woman witch has even made it harder (picture her blasting by on a bike taunting, “watch out Sally!”). I even like to drive my car uphill better than downhill, maybe i need a support group…

  19. says: Ben

    Funny which categories you lumped the sports into. I go mountain biking when I want an endorphin hit and climbing when I am looking for fun.
    I’ve never really had that “vision goes funny, spit tastes like metal” feeling when doing technical climbing, maybe I’m doing it wrong 🙂
    Either way I don’t think I could pick one side because life without either doesn’t sound great.

  20. The fundamental problem with “two types of people” type arguments is when a third type rudely visits. There are definitely level people, those who are neither uphill nor down. I often think that, without them, uphillers (me included) and downhillers would be knocked off kilter.

  21. says: Aaron F

    I think it’s a 60/40 split with me. 60% down & 40% up. I believe you should earn every downhill you take on a mountain bike, but I love going fast as hell on my motorcycle and bicycles. So??????

  22. says: Blair

    I love that someone else noticed this distinction! My sports are mountain biking, whitewater kayaking and skiing. I really like the idea of climbing, enjoy it enough when I go out, but it is always missing something that prevents me from fully committing. I only recently discovered whitewater paddling. I think out of all of the “downhill” activities this is the one that gives me the biggest sense of thrill and warrants the greatest respect. It scares the piss out of me every time I go out, and I think that’s why I keep coming back to it.

  23. says: Dusty

    In your descriptions of uphill and downhill people when not outside I realized that I do all the uphill and downhill. I love skiing, but I find it really disappointing to ski on a resort because the downhill isn’t as sweet without the uphill. Same goes for mountain biking. On top of that I love sea kayaking which doesn’t involve an hills. I do think it is an interesting idea though of how people like to recreate.

  24. says: Melissa

    Re: “Ueli Steck: Uphill.”

    I disagree… I think Ueli is a downhill person who happens to be going uphill.

  25. says: Ashley

    So, I’m thinking you definitely left out an in between category, or grouping if you will. I recently stumbled upon your writing while reading “The Everyman’s Cerro Torre” short story in The Clymbs stories section, which brought me here tonight. Your writing/story telling style is very relatable and I have enjoyed everything I have read thus far! However, I cannot say I fit your categories, but I enjoy placing friends/family into them! Now back to that in between area that I am pretty sure you forget to mention. If I had to choose a “label” for those of us that have a harder time fitting into a one or the other, I would call us the dreamers. I love being outdoors!!! Your adventures definitely require more precision and skill level than my own, but my adventures are unplanned and involve risks, rewards, and excitement that I cannot attain indoors. My favorite outdoor activity is backpacking! Knowing that I am carrying all I need on my back for however many days/weeks to survive out in the mountains and that I can go as far as my body takes me, is exciting! Even more memorable are the most amazing star gazing spots I stumble upon, the interesting people I meet outdoors, watching my 8 year old son (he is equally introverted as myself) come alive while hiking up a mountain with his own pack, carrying the simplest of necessities, because our comfort comes from the places where we get to be ourselves and away from society. Along with dreamers, we could be the “along for the ride” group:). I may not be an uphill or a downhill person really, but I do enjoy memories from both uphill experiences and downhill experiences! I do enjoy the stories of those that push themselves to be a one or the other and find myself wondering which grouping I would most likely fit into. Thanks for your entertaining and well written stories!

  26. says: adley

    This is super rad and explains so much. Now I can finally articulate myself to people, “I am an uphill person.”

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