Better Harmony Through Skiing

First Tracks

AFTER INJURING HIS ANKLE IN 1986, martial arts instructor Ichin Shen, now 58, developed a style of skiing that uses tai chi movements to minimize strain on the body. He has taught “tai chi skiing” in South Lake Tahoe, California, since 1998. Skiing correspondent Kimberly Lisagor recently caught up with him.

Skiing: What exactly is tai chi skiing?
Ichin: Tai chi is, roughly speaking, harmonizing the yin and yang. The gravity is yin, the skier is yang. If the skier can match the force of gravity, he is tai chi skiing.

Skiing: So it’s about balance. How’s that different from regular skiing?
Ichin: The tai chi movement is different-like water flowing down the hill. And we ski without poles. Even though I got a wrenched ankle, I still wanted to ski. (Skiing made me) bump up and down, like a hopping motion. Pole planting is not a good idea because pole planting made me hop-hop.

Skiing: Does skiing without poles have any other advantages?
Ichin: Without poles you’ve got free hands. I can do the expressions. Every form has a name: Cloud Hand. Wild Horse Parts Its Mane. That one I use for long carving turns.

Skiing: Is it hard to find other tai chi skiers to practice with?
Ichin: My wife and I usually ski together. We ski really close, like birds.

Skiing: Do you think you can attain enlightenment through skiing?
Ichin: That’s the ultimate goal. As we experience gravity directly, we will have reached the state of oneness with the universe. But most of the time I ski Heavenly.