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Should Aging Pro Climbers Step Down?

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As the climbing community struggles to improve representation among sponsored athletes, it might be time for elder statespeople to leave professional climbing behind—or to consider new roles.

At the end of 2020, the legendary alpinist, mountain guide, and author Steve House ended all of his sponsorships: contracts with La Sportiva, Patagonia, Grivel, COROS, and Zeal Optics. Some of them had supported him for decades. It was easy money and a good and comfortable income. But an alpinist is nothing without ethics—without values. This move, House says, was a way of sticking to his.

“One of the biggest [reasons for leaving my sponsors] is I’m a 50-year-old white male. I just lived through 2020,” he explained over the phone in June 2021, referencing the year of economic upheaval, pandemic angst and loss, and racial reckoning in America. “I did what I was going to do with climbing. I had an incredible opportunity. I could still continue to be an ambassador for these brands, but frankly it did not seem appropriate given where we are as a culture, both in terms of diversity and opportunity for both more female athletes, but also for more athletes of color and more ethnic backgrounds.”

At the time, House was making money from his training website, Uphill Athlete, and from sales of his books, including the famed Training for the New Alpinism. But a good chunk of his income came from sponsorship checks.

“I’ll be honest—it’s hard to give up that much money. I didn’t have to work very hard for it, and my wife thought it was crazy initially,” he said. But ultimately, House did end his sponsorships, including a 20-year gig with La Sportiva and a 22-year relationship with Patagonia, and announced his decision publicly on Instagram in January 2021. In his mind, it was just the right thing to do….

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