One day skiing at Arapahoe Basin in Colorado, Ben, Tom, Paul, and I were the first four people at the North Pole gate when the patrol dropped the rope. We didn’t want the voracious ant line of powder-hungry skiers and boarders to beat us to the goods, so we started booting as quickly as possible and set a stout pace, strung out along the ridge, Ben and Tom out in front, me just behind them, and Paul a few minutes farther back.

By the time Paul rounded the last curve toward the saddle, I was already on top, kicking the snow off my boot soles, and stepping into my bindings.

“Hey, Paul…you just got chicked,” Ben said gleefully.

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Paul grunted unhappily in my direction, mumbled, “Yeah, guess I did,” and dropped his skis and started to click in. I shrugged, feeling a little apologetic. “Hey, I was excited,” I said, as if to justify booting faster than a boy.

“Getting chicked” – that’s what my guy friends call it when a girl “beats” them at something. It’s funny…sort of. In the outdoor world where so many dudes are post-post-feminists, where they wear kilts and are all for equal pay and supported Hillary for president, it still stings them when a woman does something better.

Why is this even still a thing? Maybe it’s because physically men have a head start, with more muscle mass and a higher concentration of the kinds of hormones that act like anabolic steroids. They should be able to top out first. But it’s not that simple. Our sports require a mix of skill and power, finesse and speed. Most of the time you need both. And sometimes, women are just damn strong.

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I’ve found there are different kinds of chickings. There’s harder-faster-stronger, where all that matters is speed, and then there’s the kind that involves actually being good at something other than going fast. From what I’ve witnessed, the first one bruises more egos. I’ve seen plenty of guys try to put the hammer down when a woman passes them on a ride. Maybe getting dropped by a girl triggers something deep in their brain stem that suggests inadequacy, that the odds are now lower of passing along their DNA – a kind of existential reproductive crisis. More likely, they’re just responding to the social norms that reinforce the idea that guys should be categorically stronger (see princess movies, anything from Disney, most rom-coms).

But that sells us short. And by “us” I don’t mean only people of the female gender, I mean all of us. Say your girlfriend rides faster than you, or climbs 5.13 and you do not. There are two worthy reactions: You can find pleasure and satisfaction in being associated with that level of radness or you can see it as an opportunity to work at getting better. Or you can do both.

So why did I feel the need to apologize that morning? Archaic cultural norms, probably. The truth is, I wasn’t sorry. I work hard to be a strong, accomplished athlete. By that point in the season I had kicked thousands of bootpack steps. I was trying to hike fast, and I earned those third turns.

Next time, no apologies.

Photo by Steve Casimiro

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