Celebrating the spirit on skis

One of the most pleasant aspects of every holiday season is the goodwill fostered and the human warmth expressed. It seems to me that most people tolerate the commercialism so that they can relish what is called the “holiday spirit.” This holiday spirit comes alive in the home, workplace, and while out-and-about, with family, friends, co-workers, even random strangers.

It also comes alive in the mountains, as something magical can happen when people put on skis, boards, snowshoes or any other snow sliding device. There is a mixture of strong emotions, the feeling that all one’s senses are stretched and intensified by winter’s sights, sounds and smells.

Alpine skiing means more than just learning to maneuver down ski slopes of varying degrees of challenge. It means immersing oneself in winter and all its moods — sunshine, snowstorms, fog, wind, cold, even rain. Each adds an element to the drama of snowsports, from pastel mornings to fiery sunsets, from sparkling vistas to cloud-shrouded landscapes.

The beauty begins driving away from the city and gets better all the way to the resort. It gets stronger as one rides the lifts upwards, through delicate hemlocks or sturdy spruce, beside bare birch trees, over streams that run cold and quietly beneath winter’s crystal sculpture.

It continues with discovering the nuances and rhythm of each turn, grasping the freedom by controlling the components of the sport, the body, the equipment, the snow conditions, the terrain variations, all the special forces of Mother Nature.

Snowsports mean breathing air so clean it seems to sweep away problems. The body and brain feel stronger, healthier and happier. It means laughter over unexpected spills, shared with friends bundled up against the cold. It means meeting new challenges, big and small, a never-ending series of accomplishments. It means toasting the day’s adventure afterward, maybe in front of a fire or perhaps just in the car on the ride home.

The very essence of skiing is found in meeting these challenges, on each new day, with each new run down the mountain, at every new ski area. It could be mastering that first gentle run under the tutelage of an instructor, or standing atop a winter-white mountain the very first time. It could be finding that proper line through moguls you could hide behind, or cutting perfect tracks through the powder billowing up as cold smoke.

Skiers and riders are winter’s conquerors, and we are richer for having incorporated the spirit of skiing as an integral part of our lives. We recognize that the pursuit of snowsports results in playtime for adults, letting us be kids again for short periods of time.

Irrespective of individual religious beliefs, each of us feels more spiritually alive after a day skiing or snowboarding than we did before. The mountains become our cathedral, our place of spiritual renewal, that place where the magic of the holidays can be captured … over and over again, not just for a few weeks in December. It is there all through the year, all just an hour away.

John Naye is a Mercer Island resident and past president of the North American Snowsport Journalist Association. He can be contacted at

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