The oldest snow sport is rooted in utility. Like many inventions, skiing was birthed out of necessity as our primitive ancestors searched for a way to navigate snow efficiently. First was cross country skiing, then came downhill, and eventually, the evolution of snow sports would look as diverse as other kingdoms. As a German Shepherd can be traced back to a wolf, so could slalom snowboarding trace its way to skiing. Similarly, as a Pit Bull shares DNA with Yorkies, all snow sports and their summer counterparts have something in common: pleasure.
When our ancestors uttered the phrase “we couldn’t live without skiing” between bites of woolly mammoth, it was far more literal than when we say it now, between sips of whiskey from High West Distillery and Saloon. It doesn’t matter if your ideal winter is made up of mellow turns with frequent lodge stops and you counterbalance with summers spent on the golf course, or if you bomb down double blacks on a board then do the same on a bike when the snow melts. Even those who earn their turns through hours of skinning uphill will receive a downhill pleasure payoff when the skins come off. Skiing started as a lifeline and transformed into an act of leisure. Its birth and evolution make complete logical sense. Here’s something that doesn’t: rock climbing.
Rock climbing is the act/art of vertically scaling rock (while there may be some down or side climbing, most often the start is at the bottom of the route and the goal is above). There is no downhill after reaching the top. No weightless sensation from hovering through light powder. Quite the opposite in fact as you feel every extra calorie you consumed on the tips of your fingers. There is physical straining from pushing your muscle fibers to their limits begging them for “just one more hold!”. There is mental anguish from looking at the same rock face for the 100th time, hoping you’ve solved the puzzle only to fall for the 100th time. There is a lot of skin and blood left behind and there is a fair share of suffering and swearing. This begs an obvious question: what on earth possessed the pioneers of the sport to climb?
While many of our primitive predecessors may have partaken in the gravity-defying dance, climbing that most resembles what we do today dates back to 1786 with the historic first ascent of Mont Blanc. Rock climbing was a byproduct of mountaineering. While mountaineering might be described as a necessity on a spiritual level, it is now and always has been the search of challenge for challenge’s sake. Think of the answer Mallory gave in response to the question of why he climbed Mount Everest; “Because it’s there.”
Similar to the family tree of snow sports, climbing has a diverse lineage of its own with seven different disciplines:
I can’t answer for everyone, but I can speak to why I’ve tied my rope and stomach in knots for over ten years now. Climbing is a perfect balance of mental and physical difficulty. Rock faces are chess boards that I contort my body through. Studies have shown in order for most humans to stick to something it has to be challenging enough to be stimulating but easy enough to see improvement. If something is too easy we grow bored, too hard and we grow discouraged. Climbing is always offering new challenges as what is possible is constantly expanding. It’s an addiction all too easy to get roped into.
Disclaimer: Climbing is inherently dangerous and comes with risks of injury.
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