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Mindfulness in the Mountains

By Louise Hudson

What’s the magic formula for clearing cranial clutter, fighting fear, balancing breathing, fostering focus and having more fun while skiing? One answer is mountain mindfulness. And the mindful wintersports trend, which has been exploding across Europe for the past decade, is now infiltrating Canadian ski areas.

At Blue Mountain, Mindful Mondays have proved so popular with the High Park Ski Club over the past few seasons that organizer Peg McPhedran has added a Wednesday program (https://hpsc.ca/Skiing-with-Mindfulness). And this winter, Emily Gaus has launched Mindful Snowboarding there, too. “Applying mindfulness concepts to my riding has certainly helped. Frequently – in life on and off the mountain – I’ll get too in my head,” says Emily. “My mindfulness practice, which can be as simple as just focusing on the breath for a few moments before starting a run, is a good way to get out of my head and into my body.” Applying this technique to her teaching, Gaus regularly reminds her students to breathe properly, particularly when attempting new tricks or challenging runs.

Zen and the Art of Mountain Maintenance (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/zen-and-the-art-of-mountain-maintenance-tickets-40847460855) is a brand new daylong program at Mont-Tremblant, where local leadership coach and level 2 ski instructor, Caroline Thibaudeau is training skiers in overcoming terrain anxiety by creating a mind-body connection. “The magic about mindful skiing is that you learn to take fear as your lover, positively orientating your energy in the direction of your next turn, the next moment and the next hill,” she says. At classes based at the Westin Hotel and on the surrounding slopes, her students are gaining a deeper understanding of what is challenging them, increasing stability and well-being, and developing techniques for self-mastery. “Ever since I became a certified Leadership Coach with the International Coach Federation, I have been juxtaposing mindfulness approaches in my ski teaching. However, this is the first year that I will be offering a comprehensive program as the demand now supports such an offering and I am getting requests,” Thibaudeau explains. “So far, more women than men have sought out mindful skiing – typically in their 40s, especially women who are in very demanding roles such as acting – yes, I had a client who still is a Hollywood star – and medicine, neurosurgery in particular.”

In Golden, BC, mindfulness is intrinsic to a cross country ski retreat (http://retreatgolden.com/winter) run by Magi Scallion, blending the concepts of meditation and yoga with skiing. “Cross country skiing is a technique-oriented sport and it can often be difficult for skiers to sync all of their body parts into a cohesive rhythm,” says Elora Braden, retreat photographer. “We use the yoga and meditation to help people relax, prepare them mentally and physically for the day of skiing and also give them practical breath work that they can apply when they might be feeling overworked on the ski trails.” Braden says that meditation helps get ski sessions off on the right foot: “It can be difficult to be present and remember to breathe when your arms and legs are moving in different directions and your lungs feel like they will explode out of your body. When I start my day with meditation, I can often keep everything in unison.”

Having suffered a life-threatening brain injury while trying to outdo Shawn White in 2009, Olympic snowboarder, Kevin Pearce now promotes mindful snowboarding. As part of #MindfulMarch last year, he toured in an Airstream re-invented as a meditation room ending up at Whistler. Sponsored by Lululemon, he is a motivational speaker for Love Your Brain (http://www.loveyourbrain.com/news/2016/2/10/mindfulmarch).

The mountain mindfulness momentum also extends to Lake Louise where Tracey Delfs runs a program from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (https://www.lakelouisewellness.com/lake-louise-wellness-retreats). While this year’s retreats focus on mindfulness in sports in general, Delfs is planning to add specific mindful skiing programs in the future. “Having had the opportunity to work with Canada’s National Alpine, Freestyle and Biathlon ski teams I have seen firsthand how an athlete’s mental state has such a big impact on their performance,” says Delfs. “Many of the best ski instructors in Canada are now integrating mindfulness and meditation into their training programs. Whether it’s a weekend warrior or an Olympian incorporating mindfulness and meditation practices into their training program, it will make a big difference not only in improving performance, but also their level of enjoyment of skiing/snowboarding.”

Yoga – sometimes even practised on snow – is also trending at ski resorts. For example, Fernie hosts a Wednesday Vinyasa class and Saturday Ski/Snowboard Stretch & Warm Up at Lizard Creek Lodge (https://skifernie.com/purchase/yoga/). And Sunshine Village is offering free ROXY yoga sessions this March – https://www.skibanff.com/play/events-calendar/roxy-yoga-sessions-mar-16. Also in March, Mindful Nutrition and Retreats is running a six-day yoga and ski holiday at Big White (https://www.bookyogaretreats.com/mindful-nutrition-and-retreats)

Of course, techie equipment is never far behind when new trends emerge. Smith has developed cognitive-training smart sunglasses for the slopes which, combined with the Focus app, claim to induce a heightened sense of self-awareness, increased focus and lower stress (www.smithoptics.com/lowdown).

Visit www.onetwoski.blogspot.com for more stories by Louise Hudson.