Spirituality of snowboarding

Many people find that snowboarding is an experience fraught with spiritual significance–and with good reason. There is spiritual significance both in where snowboarding takes place, and in the personal growth that can occur through it. This page offers a few different thoughts from differing perspective.

The Bible, Old Testament and New Testament

Some very significant events in the history of both Jewish and Christian teaching occurred in mountains or, in some cases, hills.

  1. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son on a mountain (Genesis 22).
  2. On Mt. Horeb, God commissions Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to the promised land (Genesis 3). Moses later leads the people back to Mt. Horeb, where God lays out the Ten Commandments and other laws in a covenant (Genesis 19 through 24 and beyond).
  3. God tells Moses that it is time for him to die, and that he needs to climb a mountain from which he will see the promised land. Moses does so, and then he dies.  (Numbers 27).
  4. Solomon builds a temple to God on Mt. Moriah (2 Chronicles 3)
  5. As part of his temptations, Jesus is taken to the top of a mountain, from which he views the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4).
  6. Jesus lays out his interpretation of the law in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 through 7).
  7. The transfiguration of Jesus occurs on a mountain (Matthew 17).
  8. Jesus gives his final instructions to his disciples from a mountain (Matthew 28) and then ascends from there into heaven (Acts 1).
  9. In the last book of the Bible, John recounts his vision of a new heaven and a new earth. God takes him to a high mountain to view it all (Revelation 21).

The Bible also recounts mountains as a place where God lives, and where people can commune with him.

  1. During the days before and after the giving of the Ten Commandments, God lives at the top of the mountain, and only a few people are allowed to walk up it. (Deuteronomy 5).
  2. Moses stayed with God on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights (Deuteronomy 9).
  3. In his final words to the people of Israel, Moses says that God came to them from the mountains (Deuteronomy 33).
  4. The Lord tells Elijah to take refuge in his presence, on Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19).
  5. David says that when he calls out to God, God answers from his mountain. (Psalm 3).
  6. Isaiah says that in the last days people will go to the mountain of the Lord, to learn his ways. (Isaiah 2).
  7. The prophet also says that the one who announces good news from God should do so from a high mountain (Isaiah 40).
  8. Jesus often went up on a mountain to pray (Mark 6) or spend time with his followers (Mark 3).

According to the Biblical record, Israelites were not the only ancient people who used  “high places” for worship. The Lord told Jews (Deuteronomy 9) to destroy the places of worship used by the people of Canaan–places that are “on the high mountains.” (Deuteronomy 12). The practices of the non-Israelite nations show that the spiritual activeness of mountains crosses cultural and religious lines.

In Christian circles, a “mountaintop experience” often means a time of special communion with God. Many mountain resorts accommodate that desire by offering a place and location for Sunday worship events. That’s all good, and if you indulge in that occasionally, good for you. After all, you can worship God on a Sunday morning in pews with 2 inch-thick padding. You can also worship on a Thursday night sitting on a living couch in someone’s living room, singing in a rented warehouse on a Saturday night, or standing in the mountains on a Sunday afternoon.

But it’s not a substitute for a regular participation with an ongoing community. Dealing with people on a regular basis, both inside and outside the faith, is essential to the spiritual journey since that is one place where the “rubber meets the road.”

Snowboarding and yoga

A special thanks goes to Jacqui Davis, of Montreal, Quebec, who wrote the following essay for this site:

Snowboarding & Yoga: “The Scientific Art of Remembering Our True Nature”

I grew up in a flat part of Canada, a punk kid from the north end suburbs of Toronto. I was a tomboy and an athlete, a six-year-old skate Betty. I ran track, cross country, rode my bike like a maniac, but my exposure to alpine sports was limited to school trips to the nearest “mountain.”

Downhill skiing was not for me, I decided this early on, but I was infatuated with the idea of snowboarding and convinced that on first try I would be great at it.

A born adrenaline seeker, I saw snowboarding (freeriding especially) as a flawless synthesis of athletic ability and artistic expression, fast and smooth like flying. It was thrilling and beautiful to watch and I wanted to experience it firsthand. In my mid-20s I moved from Ontario to Montreal, Quebec and fell hard for a local boy who had been part of the sport since its early stages. I asked (begged) him to teach me how. First time out my knees swelled up to double their size from the repeated impact of falling. The next day I was stiff to the point that I could just manage the stairs of our walk-up apartment. It did not go the way that I’d hoped for, but I had the resolve to keep at it.

My boyfriend’s family had a cabin in northern Vermont and on weekends we would head for the Green Mountains at the first sign of snow. As he disappeared into the trees and fresh powder I would stay on the same beginner run for hours — up the chair, down the hill, repeat — trying blindly, and failing, to achieve that seamless flow of the perfect carve.

Those first few seasons of snowboarding I was a mess of equal parts determination, anxiety, and humiliation. I took a few lessons and could make my way down the hill without falling, but I had so many things running through my head, and in every direction – physical cues I’d learned from instructors, tips from friends, things I’d read online, all overshadowed by a fear of injury and an intense frustration over being a perpetual “beginner.”

It was while navigating this beginner run that I started considering the idea of a connection between snowboarding and yoga. Attempting to clear my head and shake my demons, I thought about pranayama – the foundation of yoga – a consistent and steady focus on the breath, which animates the body but also quiets the mind. It was with this shift in mindset that my snowboarding took a turn towards something great (and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it sooner).

I’d started a regular yoga practice a few years before I first strapped my feet to a snowboard. I was living in Kingston, Ontario (also flat) and my life was pandemonium. A friend introduced me to yoga in response to my otherwise adrenaline-fueled distractions, and I was a quick disciple.

At first I only understood yoga in the physical sense. It offered a systematic means of improving flexibility, agility, and balance, as well as building the strength and stamina I needed for my other activities. The people were good-natured, the studio was peaceful, the music sounded nice. The further I went into my own yoga practice, the more I understood its full purpose – something I’d read described as “the scientific art of remembering our true nature.” Whatever chaos of the day enveloped me, it dissolved from the moment I stepped onto my mat.

Yoga, through pranayama (the control of the breath), through pratyahara (the control of the senses), and through asanas (a series of postures, some of which mimic the physical actions of snowboarding in a very real sense), puts us in tune with every cell of our being, on a physical, but also a metaphysical level. It has an innate ability to create peace and balance in all aspects of this life. Once I figured out that I could apply the same principles of yoga to “remembering my true nature” in snowboarding, things took on a new shape, and I started to progress in the sport.

Now I’m 42 and a “gray on a tray.” With full-time work, part-time yoga teaching, two beautiful Betties of my own to care for, and a list of other things too long to list, time for snowboarding is fleeting. On that rare morning when the snow is good and my time is my own, I grab my Jones Twin Sister (a 40th birthday gift to myself) and drive the hour and a bit from Montreal to that same mountain I first tumbled down on a rented snowboard fifteen years ago. But this time – thanks in no small part my belief in yoga and how it can tune the senses and open the universe in infinite ways – I’m flying, and it’s bliss.

Still other voices

Here’s a selection of what other people have told us about the intersection of spirituality and snowboarding.

Rojo” wrote this on our bulletin board:

As for the spiritual side, I think that there are times when everything seems to come together, when you seem to be able to do no wrong. The equipment is dialed in perfectly for the environment, your body synchronized with your mind, something clicks, all of your senses sharpen at once, and the world slows down.

You don’t think, you do.

You become a part of whatever you are doing and wherever you are. You seem to know what is happening and what will happen beforehand.

And then it is gone.

And for years you try to reach the same plane with limited success until one day, unannounced and unexpected you are once again a part of some greater whole.

I think this is the soul of the sport, or more accurately, the action.

For Rojo and many others, snowboarding is “a dance between you and mother nature.” In other words, it speaks to the human desire for something transcendent.

For “wrathful deity,” snowboarding gave him a more balanced life.

When I first started it was quite the challenge to get up early, get the kids going, lunches made, gear in the car, creep up the hill, falling down all day, creep down the hill … dead tired and swelling … then gear unloaded and drying out, everybody cleaned up and then dinner.

But the challenging pilgrimage to the holy land became a ritual. I re-discovered myself, it has sparked a passion to keep healthy and fit; that there is more to life than working and career. Its been one of the best things for relationships with the kids and wife (though she doesn’t go she likes the time by herself and has resolved that its much better activity than alot of activities that an old man could be doing with a midlife crisis).

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