Behold, The Active Times 50! These are the leaders—the alpha males and females—of the fields (and subcategories) we cover: Running, Triathlon, Snow Sports, Water Sports, Biking, Climbing and Adventure. Even though their skills and endeavors are as different and diverse as the natural world itself, we wanted to recognize them as a group. They are like-minded, individualistic, achievement-oriented athletes dedicated to sports that take years to master, and often dangerous natural challenges to navigate—big mountains, steep slopes, huge waves, wild water. As different as they are, they have a lot in common.
The fearless 50 were selected and ranked by criteria that included: competition success (if applicable); career body of work; athleticism; skill/difficulty; degree of risk; world records; popularity in social and other networks. While the sports themselves differ dramatically, we found that multiple criteria tended to level the playing field. For instance, while high-altitude mountaineers have few formal competitions, the risks they take are far greater than those in some competitive individual sports. In our rankings, both those factors—competition and risk—were included. Athletes were ranked by our editors and experts within their specialties: climbers by climbers, surfers by surfers, etc.
Of course, any ranking of this kind means that we compared apples and oranges…and peaches, plums and pears. And with so many sports, we had to be incredibly selective. Unless the athletes truly stood out among their peers, they'll have to wait 'til next year. But that's the beauty of it. Kelly Slater, Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White are all…incredible. Each one represents the pinnacle of a sport, and longstanding success in it. Who's best? The AT50 is our answer. Together they are a dream team of the best natural athletes in the world.