The past year has been a game-changer for adventure sports across the spectrum, due in no small part to their incredible athletes. From a rock-climbing prodigy changing the conversation about women in the sport to a headline-nabbing surfer who made the World Tour a top international topic, here are the six athletes we can’t wait to see more of in 2016.

Mick Fanning

athletes 2016

Mick Fanning faced enough triumph and tragedy to last a lifetime in a single year. Photo: Corey Wilson/SURFING

Mick Fanning has faced more triumph and tragedy in a single year than most people will encounter in a lifetime. First he made international headlines after fighting off an attacking shark on live TV; Mick Fanning became a household name and the attention drew more eyes to the competitive surf season than ever before.

For a stretch, he held the No. 1 world ranking. He surfed with a teenage cancer patient and earned the title of GQ Australia’s Sportsman of the Year.

Then, on the deciding day of the 2015 World Title, Fanning woke to the news that his older brother had passed away in his sleep. We’re looking forward to seeing Fanning come back from a tumultuous year and once again push toward his fourth world title.

Ashima Shiraishi

athletes 2016

Ashima Shiraishi is a member of The North Face’s global athlete team. Photo: Courtesy of Big Up Productions

At just 14 years old, Ashima Shiraishi is one of the best rock climbers in the world — male or female. Last year, the sport’s favorite prodigy became the youngest climber of either sex, and the first female, to complete one of the most technically difficult routes in the world, Spain’s “Open Your Mind Direct.”

Before that, Shiraishi won the American Bouldering Series Youth National Championship ever year from 2010 to 2014, and nabbed the top spot in the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) World Youth Championships for athletes 13 to 19, in both lead climbing and bouldering. She was named one of TIME’s 30 Most Influential Teens of 2015, and we can’t wait to see what she conquers next.

Rob Krar

athletes 2016

Pharmacist Rob Krar after the Leadville 100. Photo: Matt Trappe

When we say The North Face athlete Rob Krar blew onto the competitive ultrarunning scene, we mean he came in with a gale-force gust. He clocked in with incredible finish times in two of the world’s most prestigious races: The Western States Endurance Run and the Leadville Trail 100, where his 16-hour, 9-minute, 32-second time is the second-fastest on record.

What’s truly impressive is that when the night pharmacist entered the Western States race, it was the farthest he’d ever run — by at least 50 miles. He came in second, just 4 minutes and 38 seconds behind two-time winner Timothy Olsen.

This guy likes to come out of nowhere, but now that we’ve spotted him, our eyes will be firmly fixed on his race bib in 2016.

Mikaela Shiffrin

athletes 2016

Mikaela Shiffrin is one young and gutsy skier. Photo: Mark Epstein

When Mikaela Shiffrin was 18, she became the youngest skier in history to win an Olympic gold medal in slalom. With her second consecutive World Cup slalom title already under her belt, she was instantly one of skiing’s brightest stars, sitting comfortably in the limelight beside Lindsey Vonn.

However, Shiffrin suffered a knee injury last month while freeskiing in Sweden, forcing her to the sidelines and taking her out of World Cup competition. (Teammate Vonn nabbed her fourth straight World Cup win shortly after.)

We hope Shiffrin makes a speedy recovery so she can continue taking the world by storm in 2016.

Conrad Anker


Anker’s story is the anchor of the climbing documentary “Meru.” Photo: Kade Krichko

While one star-studded, Hollywood-size budget mountaineering film, Everest, thundered onto movie-theater screens across the country, there was another gaining steam with mainstream audiences: Meru. The climbing documentary from husband-and-wife duo Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi follows Chin, Renan Ozturk and Conrad Anker as they attempt to ascend the 21,000-foot Meru Central — a route many believed to be unclimbable.

The film is about climbing, yes, but even more so it’s about Anker, a mountaineer who’s experienced the wildest highs and lows in life. Anker lost his climbing partner Alex Lowe in an avalanche, later marrying his widow and adopting his three children. In 2016, Anker is set to star in National Parks Adventure, a 3D IMAX film celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Sasha DiGiulian

athletes 2016

Powerhouse Sasha DiGiulian is setting records and taking names. Photo: Courtesy of Sasha DiGiulian

Though small in stature (she measures in at 5 feet, 2 inches, and 105 pounds), Sasha DiGiulian has mega-sized talent. The three-time U.S. National Champion is the first North American woman to climb a route rated 5.14d, the hardest sport climb known to be completed by a woman.

This year, alongside Carlo Traversi, she also became the first American woman to free-climb Switzerland’s Magic Mushroom on the Eiger’s North Face. The three-day, 20-pitch climb was rated 5.13a, and DiGiulian wrote on her Facebook page, “I’ve never tried harder on anything in my life. I am wrecked and can’t believe it’s real.”

We want to see her accomplish even more to push women’s climbing to the next level — after a much-deserved break, of course.

Brolin Mawejje

athletes 2016

Brolin Mawejje is training for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Photo: Jon Chandeler/”Far from Home”

In a story that sounds resonant of the unlikely formation of the 1988 Olympic Jamaican bobsled team, immortalized in the movie Cool Runnings, Brolin Mawejje hopes to become the first and only Olympic snowboarder from Uganda — even though he hails from a country with no snow.

The 20-year-old pre-med student — who dealt with bullying and depression after moving to the U.S. — was adopted by the Hessler family when he was a young teen and moved with them to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he picked up snowboarding. His story will debut at the Santa Barbara Film Fest on Feb. 2 in the film Far from Home, and we’ll be rooting for him as continues to train for the 2018 Winter Olympic games.

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