‘Life is a journey. Meditation ends it.’
1200, 800, 1700, 1800, 2000m. I have been skiing five days in a row now (and eight days out of the last ten). Actually when I say ‚skiing‘, I mean ski touring, or back country skiing, which means that the uphill parts are achieved by ‚skinning’ up. The figures at the beginning of the paragraph represent the daily elevation gains of these five consecutive days. Fitness has come quickly. I have never before done 2000m of vertical elevation in one day. Now I happened to do them on the fifth day of consecutive ski touring, after already having completed considerable elevation gains on the two days before. We actually could have done another 500m lap if it had not been for the fading of the daylight and the monotony of repeating the same ascent for the 10th time in three days.
Ski touring in the Kootenays differs from the back home in some important aspects:
- First of all, each and every time we had all the mountain to ourselves(!). This means that a) uphill, you have to break trail frequently and b) downhill, the only party to track out the powder is your own.
- Second, reaching a peak is not so important. Our Canadian friends look for good downhill runs, they hardly care about reaching mountain tops. Many ridges we ski off have no name and forget about the summit crosses you find in the Alps.
- Third, most of the times, there is a rather long access of poorly skiable road. Canadians love to use snowmobiles to shorten the approach time spent on this. I am not so convinced of their usefulness: On day two it took as longer to by snowmobile than it took me on day three when I skinned. The snow mobile had gotten stuck in the deep snow four times, and each time, three of us had to dig it out with our avalanche shovels.
Only then comes the actual ski hill. Once you get there, you go up and down in laps as long as you please and your legs last. Doing multiple ascents has both advantages and disadvantages: Every hour or two of hiking, you get five to ten minutes of downhill skiing excitement in between. This really matters: Often you are so stoked after a run that you alter your previous decision of ending the day ‚after this run‘. But it also means that you need to take your skins off and put them back on more often. Not only does this cost time, it also requires you to handle your skins with a much greater deal of care, if you want them to keep sticking to your skis properly.
If you ski(n) every day, everything developes into a routine: You get up, do your hygiene and have breakfast (lots of it), you prepare your skis, you hike up. You ski and hike three laps. When it starts to get dark, you go down the mountain. You get back to the cabin, relight the fire, change cloths. Eat. Cook. Eat some more. Eat some more again. You go to bed. Repeat. Routine, together with the huge amount if time spent hiking up the mountain (as well as the absence of mobile reception and other forms of internet access) actually give you a chance to calm your mind, to quiet the voice of your own thoughts in your head down a bit. I have collected a few pieces of advice for anybody who whishes to follow this trail:
Early season advice for the ski meditation adept
- Contrary to those concerned mostly with general safety, my advice is actually to go ski touring by yourself sometimes. It will allow you to find your own rythm, go faster or slower as your body demands. You can find out when and how often you need to eat or drink. By the fourth day, I knew exactly what amount of food and liquid to pack to get precisely to the end of the day. If you don’t want to go by yourself, pretend you do it: hike ahead of or trail the others. Let them go by you if they are faster. Why all this? In order for you to be able to
- Become aware of the voice in your head. Your mind produces an endless stream of inner chit chat – your thoughts! Let them become loud. Hear them. But don’t listen. These are just your thoughts. They are not the reality. The reality is the mountain under your feet, the cold air around you, the sweat on your front and now
- Concentrate on your deep (and probably accelerated) breath. That is something you can focus on. Feel the airstream enter and exit your mouth and nose, feel it go up and down your lungs. As you concentrate more and more on this, the voice in your head will become weaker and weaker. Your thoughts will vanish… for a moment or two. Then you will again think about what you will eat when you get back to the cabin, how great that gopro video will hopefully look or how you need to remember to make that dentist appointment… or any other more or less serious worries and hopes you usually keep yourself busy with. There is only one remedy:
- Repeat. Don’t give up. Return to your breath. Fortunately,
- There is a short cut. You get to the top of the run, you pack away your skins, take a sip of tea, buckle your boots. Ahead of you is a steep powder run. You want to go fast, you dont want to stop, you want to go down in one flowing motion. You are a anxious now. Because the voice in your head is on a rapid fire: ‘It’s steep! You could release an avalanche! You don’t know this run! You could end up on a huge cliff! And what about the tree holes? And why the hell have you still not bought a helmet?!’ But once you go, maybe after taking a deep breath, all of a sudden the thoughts are all gone. Silence. Your attention is now fully centered in this present, very demanding moment as you fly down between the trees, trying not to hit one while not losing control of your skis or your balance. You have now officially reached a state of Satori. For a brief moment, you are enlightened. Until you have to stop at one point. Every run ends or maybe it just takes you to a point of hesitation.
- Enjoy the glimpse of enlightenment you have just been granted an smile. Then, return to your breath. There is another hike waiting for you. Eat that granola bar, but than forget about it. And about that facebook post you are planning to make about this run, too.
- Mangia, Madonna santissima, mangia!! If you want to do this again the next day, eat. And forget about low carb: You need to fill your body up with carbohydrates as much as you can. Eat pasta, rice, potatos like there was no tomorrow. I guarantee, you will remember the day of ski touring after the night you only had meat and veggies for a long time.
And don’t forget to fill yourself up properly for breakfast too. You need the fuel. Especially if you want to practice emptiness of mind, not emptiness of stomach.