Breathe in the winter

In All Forms, Skiing is a Sport of the Lungs.

Mention Eldora’s Nordic trails to anyone who has skied on them and you will get the same reaction—they go straight uphill. This is true and it’s exactly why I like skate skiing at my local hill so much. These trails get your heart rate up from the first few pole plants and they don’t let up from there. And over the past few years of collective grief and challenge, I have learned to love the relentless beauty of skiing here (especially on Friday mornings when my wife and I make it our ritual to head up together). The rough effort of simply breathing, of pushing off to glide uphill, the pounding of my heart in my ribs, that sharp bite of cold air in open lungs—it all makes me feel fully alive and connected to the best part of myself. This is the draw of any cardio sport. Your initial concerted effort turns into a rhythm and the joy of deep breathing fueling the blood and big muscles of your legs in a silence only interrupted by the squawks of a Canada jay.

This breath-focused movement is a welcome medicine against the crush of this world, of public news of wars and politicians sowing discord, of our private pains, loss, loneliness, and financial uncertainty. Out here, we can exist in our purest form—if only for the time it takes us to drive out of cell range. After enduring a mass shooting and an apocalyptic wildfire fueled by jet force winds here in Boulder, the chance to really inhale and exhale refocuses us back on the things within our control.

But it’s not just skate skiing that allows us to really breathe. (I confess I am a dork of a Nordic skier. I’m a technical mess in my form and I don’t wear tights and a pom-pom hat—or, wait, does that make me less of a dork?) Skiing in all its forms is a sport of the lungs. Uphill skiing—at Eldora, and A-Basin, and Winter Park, and most resorts these days—is where the sport is finding new energy and new adherents.

Skiing uphill breaks the sport down to a more physical and pure level. You follow the skin track up the mountain; you breathe as you try to keep the pace. Your body fills with oxygen and the rush of endorphins. Then you dip into your skills box to navigate your way down the mountain—edging on groomers, dodging through trees, splashing into untouched stashes. Even if you are a mediocre downhill skier, you can enjoy the full spectrum of the skin-up/ski-down experience.

Oddly, the sport is evolving back to its primal roots. Skiing should be a multiskill sport, encompassing the ability to maneuver anywhere on the mountain on those two sticks. While there are few greater joys than clicking into big, aggressive frontside or powder skis—that’s just one way to ski.

And don’t think that locked-down alpine skiing (and snowboarding for that matter) is not a sport of the lungs either. It’s all about flow—and that derives from breath, deep and sweeping. Fight through a tough bump line and you breathe like a sprinter, anaerobically, each exhale releasing a powerful twitch of muscle. Breathe better, fuller, deeper, and you will ski better. I guarantee it.

And finally—and most importantly—skiing and snowboarding give us the experience of inhaling the air of the mountains, of the woods. Up here is free from the claustrophobia, not just of human concerns and neuroses, but also of human exhaust. Like clean water, clean air purifies us. I feel most alive up above 10,000 feet where it takes more work to respire. And I feel a clarity huffing hard in a stand of Douglas fir–that sweet aroma in my lungs, tasting like rejuvenation.

Cover Photo: Fred Marmsater Courtesy Dynafit

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