May 15, 2016

Social Media and Sponsored Athletes

Though I started climbing and guiding in the Sierra in 2009, it took another year for me to begin sampling our famous couloirs. In the fall of 2010 I saw the Reel Rock Film Tour and was really delighted with the movie The Swiss Machine. One of the final scenes features aerial footage of Ueli Steck motoring up one of the last sections of the North Face of The Eiger while the song "Welcome Home Son" plays. It's cool cinematography paired really well with music for an inspiring movie moment.

I downloaded the song. Less than a week later I climbed the North Couloir of North Peak. I had never climbed the route before and there was a chance I might be guiding it in the near future. I'm not proud to admit it, but during the more fun bits of climbing on the route I had the song on repeat on my iPod. In the moment I was Ueli, moving freely and efficiently.

Recently, a friend called my attention to an article on Outside Online entitled, "Is Social Media Screwing Over Explorers?" The article talks about the fact that some outdoor brands are dropping their sponsored athletes for less skilled but more social-media-savvy representatives who "tell stories that resonate with the average user". It makes a lot of sense, if the point of sponsoring people is to spread the word about the brand and it's products, to throw money and product at the story tellers who will do that best.

I hope we don't stop getting stories from top climbers and skiers. I love reading these stories and think that there will always be a place for them. Stories of pedestrian "adventure" just don't inspire me in the same way. Think about your favorite adventure tale, it's probably not about something that you or I could do right now.

Leading athletes are pushing the limits of our pursuits. Though the story tellers produce content that I enjoy consuming, they are not moving our "sports" forward. I want top athletes to have support from companies I patronize so that they can continue to do what they do. What they do benefits me.

Epics from athletes at the top of their game inspire me to work harder when I'm training and show me what's possible when I'm on the climb. In a way reading stories, seeing photos, and viewing video of these top practitioners helps make us all better. You can't see it in the Swiss Machine, but when Ueli is charging up those slopes he's dragging all of us behind him.

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