Ski To Live


This is going to be a bit of a rambling post, as I'm still having a bit of a hard time wrapping my mind around just what I experienced this past weekend in Kristen Ulmer's Ski to Live clinic.

For those of you unfamiliar with Kristen, she's a former pro skier who used to huck herself off cliffs for a living. Then she decided that wasn't a career she could sustain for a lifetime and wanted to find out more about herself, and that's when she found zen. Since then, she's tried to bring some of the principles of zen and personal awareness to the sport of skiing, as there's only so much technical instruction can do for you if your mind isn't open to learning.

About 3 years ago, OUTSIDE Magazine wrote that Kristen had one of 35 "Dream Jobs," and I did a little profile on her. I've always had it in the back of my mind that someday I would take the actual clinic, to see if it could help me get over some of those mental blocks that always have affected me in sports.

I tend to get very emotional on the soccer field/ski slope/skeleton track, and the main emotion is typically anger at myself for making mistakes, or at others for taking away my focus - obviously, that's not a healthy way to "play." So I wanted to see if there was something in this clinic that would bring joy to my skiing, instead of the fear and anger that I've been skiing with.

So it was with some trepidation, and a lot of optimism that I walked into the house on Thursday night to start this journey.

Now, I could turn this into a long story, with lots of details on what we did over the next three days, but perhaps a single example will suffice. When we started skiing on Friday morning, our first run sent us onto a mogul run. I hate moguls. I don't ski them well, constantly shooting off the tops and catching unwanted air. That's exactly what happened this time too. I popped off my ski in one crash, slid across the hill in another. It wasn't pretty.

The next day, after we finished our morning session with Kristen and our ski instructor, I headed off on my own to the moguls, happily making some nice, controlled turns down the hill.

What happened? Well, thanks to Kristen on the hill and Genpo Roshi's "Big Mind, Big Heart" session the night before, I saw that what I was searching for on the hill was not my own level of skiing, but that of everyone else I saw. I wanted to ski like my friends and co-workers who make it look so effortless out there on the hill, when what I should have been doing was be happy with myself. Accept that how I ski is how I ski, and that there's nothing wrong with that.

The great goal of zen practice is to get people to realize that they are "One" - all parts of the universe, as well as all parts of themself - anger, joy, doubt, trust. It seems like a simple concept, but so many people try to deny the "bad voices" in their lives, which only makes them stronger in the long run. Discovering that, was the proverbial lightbulb going off above my head. Once I accepted that my fear of looking like an idiot to everyone else was a valid fear, but that in the long run, it wasn't very helpful, BAM! the turns just started happening.

Some of you reading this may be shaking your heads right now, saying "that's just too simple. Why do people spend decades studying zen in order to reach that enlightened state?" Well, you're right. This awareness is just the first step for me. There are a whole lot more things in my life that could probably be addressed beyond an inability to make turns in the bumps. Whether I'm going to follow up on this new knowledge is part of the whole process, but, boy, my eyes are wide open right now to a whole new world of possibilities.

I'm in the process of editing a piece on the clinic right now, but it's going to take a while to get done, particularly as I'm feeling so emotionally invested in the story.

If you ski at any level, and have ever wondered what holds you back, this is the clinic for you.