The study surveyed the participation in outdoor sports among people in the United States from the age of 6 to 24. Only running, bicycling, camping and fishing were ranked above hiking. Skiing and surfing, sports often perceived as hip young people's sports, rank far below hiking in terms of participation.
Accesibility to recreation resouces has a lot do do with what's popular in the study, but what is surprising about the youth's top five is that four of them, including hiking, can have difficult, strenuous elements requiring mental tenacity that we usually associate with older athletes.
It also suggests that it’s not just the youth whose tendencies in outdoor sports reveals some exciting trends, namely that more peaople are getting outside to play. The total number of participants in outdoor sports in the United States grew from 134 to 138 million between 2006 and 2010 - that's a million new participants each year.
Another revealing aspect of the study is the relative equality of outdoor sport across the income spectrum. When broken down into 5 household income categories ranging from $25,000 to over $100,000, the fraction of participation is not dramatically different.
Essentially, the study says that getting outside, even for a simple hike in the woods or a run on a trail is good for people of all ages and every year more people are figuring this out. A survey of people’s enjoyment while heli-hiking with CMH would likely reveal the same thing: Young hikers enjoy the experience as much or more than anyone.
During a CMH Family Adventure, a common pattern emerges that shows how of the young hiker’s enthusiasm grows with participation.
On the first day, the younger hikers in the group are excited about the helicopter, but tend to be generally more ambivalent about the hiking. The pilot answers questions like:
“Can I ride in the front?”
“How fast does it go?”
“What does this do?”
But everything changes after a day of hiking across thick, spongy alpine tundra, glissading on pristine snowfields under the crystal-clear alpine sun, watching marmots sunning themselves on a boulder, and feeling the euphoria that exercise in the mountains tends to inspire.
At breakfast the second day, the conversation tends to include not only the lofty experience of riding in the helicopter, but also revolves around the anticipation of what the day's hiking may bring. The guides answer questions that reveal the change in the young people’s motivation for being there:
“Will we hike by a glacier again today?”
“Can we slide on the snow again?”
“Do you think we'll get to see a bear?”
This transition suggests that hiking, be it heli-hiking or otherwise, needs to be experienced before it will reveal its secrets. Like life, hiking is not a spectator sport. But once we try it, hiking takes on surprising qualities. It becomes a meditation as well as a work out, a bonding experience for a group as well as an empowering experience for an individual, and both a grounding and life-changing experience.