X-Games Redux

Is it Round 89? Or 86? Who’s keeping track anymore now that I’m only writing the “TNB eBlast” once a month? Screw it.

The important thing for you to know is to check out the byline of the eBlasts because the odds that I wrote what you are reading are the same as John McCain dying before 2016. Not even pre-historic turtles in decorated suits can outrun the one in four mortality odds of an old man with a jaw goiter who recently received the crushing news that no one likes him. There comes a moment in everyone’s life when it’s about time to start wrapping things up.

I only mention this because some people have written in, half confused, half aroused, that the eBlast tone isn’t nearly as cannibalistic or whorish as they have come to expect. This is bad for some, good for most, and great for Me, who now has more time to play Wii, sculpt my body hair, and train hard so that I can actually keep up with my girlfriend this year on the rocks.

With that little detail out of the way, I am very excited to move on to the bigger and better topic of this TNB eBlast: Competitions.

Last weekend was the X-Games, a wild carnival of stupid human tricks that I always carp about because it’s more popular, but actually less cool in my opinion, than climbing.

Well, with a free pass from OR, I peeped the X-Games and was completely astonished to discover how wrong I was. This only happens once or so a year, and I’m very happy to have gotten it out of my system before Valentine’s Day.

On Friday night, I watched the X-Games on a flat-screen TV in an upper-end American bistro. I sipped my Maker’s Mark Manhattan, and watched the women’s super-pipe. It was immensely enjoyable to watch smoking hot snowboarders like Gretchen Bleiler crater into the lip of the pipe and slide down to its nadir in painful despair. Even all the turtle-necked boomers in the restaurant stopped gnawing on their pureed soups to croon “Oooohs” and “Ahhhs” as if they were rednecks at a NASCAR rally.

By Saturday night, I avoided the bourgeois trenches of American bistros and rode the vomit comet (bus) up to Aspen to mingle with a distinctly younger crowd that, judging only by its apparel, skis, snowboards and is into things like, well, attending the X-Games. We saw Shaun White on a massive television screen that’s two times larger than the claustrophobic space I rent. Then, we went to see Pennywise, and listened to about 1,000 rich-kid pussies sing along with the punk rock anthem, “Fuck the auth-or-ity! Fuck the auth-or-ity!”

What do the X-Games have to do with skiing or snowboarding or mountain culture in general? Absolutely nothing, and no one cares whatsoever. There’s music, a distinct culture, and lots of booze and tits. That’s the only thing that matters—not who won what, or what medals some loser skier received. The truth of it is that people remember Gretchen Bleiler eating shit, and how high they got before the concert.

I often wonder if climbing competitions try to take themselves too seriously for the sake of being seen as something legitimate by other climbers, who take themselves even more seriously. It’s hard to compete with the stunning sight of someone shooting up out of a half-pipe, 30 feet into the air while wildly spinning 1280 degrees, and by comparison, climbing competitions can be boring, especially once you step out of the tiny space of a climbing gym and into a wide-open public setting. But I’ve been thinking about it recently, and there is one thing that I would change about climbing competitions.

First, scratch everything and start over. Make a climbing competition a totally different sport—a wild and rude bastard child of the sport we all know and love. Let the apple fall mighty far from the tree and become it’s own strange twisted thing.

My idea of what this might look like is this:

Picture a 100-foot overhanging wall that is 10 “lanes” wide. Each lane has the exact same route set on it. Ten climbers line up at the bottom, and go head to head to reach the top of the climb.

This isn’t speed climbing, per se. The routes will be of moderate difficulty (5.13a or so)—ideally so difficult that climbers will have to pause on resting holds and figure out sequences, but they will still be able to cruise it quickly.

My sense is that most comps are currently too abstract, demanding too much memory and understanding of its spectators. People are generally stupid, and they want their entertainment to be mindless and themselves to be smashed.

In my scenario, the comp is a race (who doesn’t understand that?), but a difficulty race. If you see the climber who’s in the lead in lane 4 fall 60 feet up the wall, then you know that’s where the crux is … When the next climber reaches that high point and triumphantly makes it through, it’s immediately obvious that he is better than the loser at the end of the rope in lane 4.

Now, get Pennywise, or Method Man, to play at the base of the wall while the competition is going on. People may even stop inebriating themselves for one moment to look up and actually give a shit about what’s going on! And if they don’t, it won’t matter in the slightest because the next morning, when they pull the pasted sheet away from their swollen face, they will remember that climbing comps are fun.