The real beauty of skiing is that it’s not only an exhilarating sport, but also a spiritual activity.
With the Winter Olympics in full swing you may be inspired to dust off those skis and get up on the mountains. Nothing quite beats the euphoria when you reach the top and look out at the blanket of freshly covered snow with skis at the ready. It’s as if you’re on top of the world, surrounded by majestic beauty, the biting fresh air, and feelings of joy — or trepidation — as you’re about to set off on a winding journey … which may or may not have a few bumps along the way. (Though you might like that sort of thing, you mogul-master, you.)
In fact, your journey down the slopes is similar to life’s journey, just compacted into a much shorter time frame: the path is not always clear, and you may get steered away from it; the trail could get icy, there are choices to make … but if you have faith in your God-given abilities, move at your own pace, and listen to the right advice you’ll reach the end in one piece — sometimes slightly out of breath with snow in your boots, but it’s so worth the ride!
1. Look for wider horizons
Avid skier Saint John Paul II was still skiing nine years into his papacy, hanging up his leather ski boots (yes, leather!) at the age of 66. The “Daredevil of the Tatras,” as he was affectionately known, confessed that his one luxury in life had been a “pair of Head Skis” — now secondary holy relics. His love of the mountains and the winter sport led to the annual John Paul II Cup taking place in Wisla, Poland, where Polish priests and Seminarians click on their skis, and take to the slopes in their cassocks to prepare for the big event (definitely worth watching on video!).
But why was he such a fan? Well his message at the XI World Youth Day might be an indicator: “The way Jesus shows you is not easy. Rather, it is like a path winding up a mountain. Do not lose heart! The steeper the road, the faster it rises towards ever wider horizons.” John Paul II was known for not taking the easy way up the mountain, choosing to climb up with his skis rather than take a ski lift. Perhaps this difficult journey up the mountain was his way of seeking his own wider horizons.
2. Remember how vast the world is
When you’re up at the top staring down at the slope in front of you (or the blanket of virgin snow for all you “off-piste” people), you can have that sensation of feeling oh so small. We’re little dots in the landscape and we’re reminded that our place on Earth is fleeting compared to the solid ancient mountains we’re skiing down—it can be a little overwhelming.
Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of this too when he addressed a group of instructors about the sport, saying that mountains are “an environment that in a special way makes us feel small, returns us to our true dimension as creatures, makes us capable of asking ourselves about the significance of creation, lifting our eyes to the top, opening ourselves up to the Creator.”
3. Remind yourself that you can overcome
Use this time to remember if you can put on your skis, tackle the slope ahead, and come out smiling, then this says something about you. Pope Benedict believed the sport championed “steadfastness in pursing aims, respect for the rules, tenacity in confronting and surmounting difficulties.” Just remember to have realistic aims: a novice skier should not be heading for black diamond runs on day two! There’s nothing wrong with staying steadfast to those glorious green circles and beautiful blue squares.
4. Focus on your virtues
When Pope Francis spoke to the Austrian Skiing Federation a few years ago he spoke of the “commitment, perseverance, determination, honesty, solidarity, and team spirit” the sport represents. These are all values that will help you on the slopes, and also in your daily life to be the person you want to be. Try taking one of these values per slope: on your first run, think of all the commitments in your life, not as burdens, but as pursuits and relationships you cherish. On your second run of the day, contemplate honesty, and so on. You’ll be surprised by how just a few runs this way can clear your head and fill your heart.
5. Respect your body
Speaking of honesty, let’s be real: If you are flying down trails, your body is exerting itself and is open to injury in a split-second — one slip up and your holiday could be over. Listen to your body, if it’s tired, take a hot chocolate break, or a few minutes at the top to admire the view.
As Pope Benedict said: “In all sporting activities, a person understands better that their body should not be considered an object … but that it allows them to express themselves and establish relations with others,” he adds. “In this way, the balance between the physical and spiritual dimensions leads one not to idolize the body but to respect it.”
6. Be mindful of others
Hardcore off-piste skier John Paul II, when still a cardinal, said: “It’s unbecoming for a cardinal to ski badly.” But maybe this rule applies to us all. When you and your mini-skiers are preparing to zoom down those slopes make sure you’ve taken the time (and the lessons) to do it right. Not only will this help keep you safe, it will help avoid causing accidents too. You’re not alone on that mountain and it’s important to always have fellow skiers in mind.
7. Breathe in the beauty
Finally, take the time to really see the beauty surrounding you, not just pass through it. Admire the views, the colors, rock formation, and remember that it is our job to “be messengers of safeguarding the environment and the beauty of God’s Creation,” as Pope Francis rightly reminds us.