Spiritual Advice for Skiers - Ski Mag

Spiritual Advice for Skiers

Can Asian wisdom save us from gaperdom?
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I want to vomit when words like “grace” or “effortlessness” or “Zen” get attached to skiing. To me, the sport should rely on words like “unweighting” and “foot quickness” and “Keep your hands in front, dipshit.”

Lately, though, I’ve been perusing three New Agey books that recommend mind over matter. There’s

The Centered Skier

, which says “you can claim the energy in your fear—and turn it into a positive power.” And there’s

Skiing From the Inside

, which tells skiers to “look into their own inner processes” to “achieve the mental and physical harmony essential for successful skiing.” Finally,

Skiing Zen

offers “a tapestry of thought about sports and awareness.”

Sounds “spiritual.” According to these books, you can ski like a centered, gazing-out-of-a-third-eye yogi if you follow a few simple rules:

LIVE IN THE MOMENT:

According to

The Centered Skier

, “This turn, this one, is the only turn that exists. It is here. It is

now

. The last turn, that one, however recent, is

then

. It is a

memory

. The next turn, that one, however imminent, is

then

. It is an

expectation

.” This is the book’s way of telling us that apprehension over past or future turns is counterproductive.

Reality:

Letting go of the past makes a certain sense. But the last time I failed to fret the next turn, I smacked my knee into an aspen. Trees have a way of “being here now” that can really hurt a Zen master.

HEED ASIAN WISDOM:

The New Agey ski books quote Asian teachings like “If you get it 80 percent correct, that means you are also 20 percent wrong.”

Reality:

As a friend of mine who lives in Colorado’s Front Range says, “People stampede toward the East looking for answers because the East has good tea and stretchy yoga things.” That may suit Buddhists in New Age strongholds like the People’s Republic of Boulder, but it’s not enough for cynical skiers like me. And when it comes to skiing, follow the Austrians, not the Asians. I followed the Asians once—a Japanese group on a Whistler heli-ski outing. And I didn’t see much enlightenment. Instead, I saw a whole lot of falling, which led to undeserved hysterical laughter and drawn-out photo sessions that shortened my day by a couple heli-ski runs. Those Japanese guys deserved to hear the best Asian wisdom I ever received: “You will soon meet with ingratitude.” (Yes, this came from a fortune cookie.)

CHANGE YOUR VOCABULARY:

Skiing From the Inside

actually recommends skiers tell themselves Stuart Smalley–like affirmations such as “I am relaxed, alert, and centered over my skis. I trust my body to coordinate smooth, flowing movements and remain balanced.” It goes on to say the “language we habitually use is a powerful influence” and recommends changing words we apply to the mountain. For instance, use “challenging” instead of “difficult,” and “opportunity” instead of “problem.”

Reality:

A couple seasons ago at Sun Valley, I came over a ridge to find friends waiting in a group midslope. I saw an “opportunity” to rip a huge hockey turn and spray them with snow. I stomped into the turn, forgetting that my right knee was experiencing heinous meniscus issues at the time. The knee buckled, I crumpled to the ground in a screaming heap, and the searing pain became a “challenge.” My spray barely dusted my laughing “friends.” And rehabbing my knee was a “pain in the ass.”

LISTEN TO BIG NAMES:

Skiing From the Inside

was written by Sarah Ferguson—not the Duchess of York but the 1978 British freestyle champion of the same name. The big name in

Skiing Zen

is Yuichiro Miura, who famously described himself as “The Man Who Skied Down Everest.” The book discusses him at length and considers Miura a sensei for doing tai chi exercises on a chairlift. As for

The Centered Skier

, its big name is O.J. Simpson. It teaches students a maneuver called “the O.J. Move.”

Reality:

Those big names are questionable at best. As Eddie the Eagle reminds us, being the best British anything at skiing doesn’t mean a shilling’s worth of haggis. And anyone who saw the

The Man Who Skied Down Everest

knows Miura as The Man Who Fell Down Everest. As for O.J., I know what you’re thinking: that the O.J. Move entails damn near decapitating two people. Or searching in vain for “the real killers.” But

The Centered Skier

was written in 1977, when O.J. was a running back, not a felon. The O.J. Move merely refers to keeping the head and neck loose and responsive. And free of knife wounds.

DISREGARD IRONY:

These books could help anyone who needs to read 690 total pages on how to stop thinking.

Reality:

I might be too jaded and Western to really take much from these books’ lessons. But, pragmatically, they can help. Though all three are paperbacks, they do have nice, stiff spines. They make great wax scrapers.

- SKIING MAGAZINE, JANUARY 2009

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