Monday, September 29, 2014

Backcountry Skiing, Guides and Yoga

Backcountry skiing is one of my favorite activities. Rather than riding ski lifts to the mountaintops, backcountry skiers get to the tops of the mountains under their own power. It’s said that backcountry skiers earn their turns, and I’ve certainly found that the pleasures of untracked snow are even greater when I’ve broken a sweat to get there.

Over the years, I’ve daydreamed about doing longer and more remote backcountry tours, and inevitably come to the conclusion that a guide would be essential. The threat of avalanche is a constant companion, as is the very real possibility of getting turned around in whiteout conditions. As I consider the need for a guide, I’ve further reflected on the attributes I’d look for in a guide.

Firstly, I’d like a mountain guide to be a proficient skier. Should anything go awry, the guide would need to ski in whatever conditions were present, and perhaps across the steepest and gnarliest terrain. Expert skiing skills would be essential.

I’d also prefer that a guide had years of experience leading similar trips. When things go awry, experience really counts. Rather than having to figure out what to do on-the-fly, the most experienced guides call upon their reservoir of experience to skillfully navigate difficult situations. While participating in similar trips seems like a good prerequisite, I’d also want to make sure the guide had actually led many trips like the one I was considering.

I’d also like a guide to be an expert in the mechanics of snow and avalanches. Having taken rudimentary training in avalanche safety, I’m more appreciative of the vast knowledge that underlies avalanche safety and prevention. I’d look for a guide that understood the physics of snow’s crystalline structure, and not just follow the guide who waved their hand toward skier-filled slopes and proclaimed that my teacher told me this one is safe, and that that one isn’t. I’d want to make sure the guide really understood the mechanics of the snow, and didn’t just repeat second-hand information they’d heard from others.

I’d also look for a mountain guide that had good people skills. I think we’ve all met experts who struggled to relay their expertise to others, and also worked with teachers with a real knack for bringing out the best in their students. Hiring a guide seems like a good way to enhance the richness of the backcountry experience, and a good guide with finely tuned people skills seems like the glue that could help bring a group of people together.

As I reflected on my criteria for a mountain guide, I realized these are nearly the same attributes I look for in yoga teachers, and in particular, in a yoga teacher training program.

While yoga practitioners rarely perish in avalanches at the yoga studio, they are embarking on a path that works deeply with body and mind. In the potential for positive transformation, there is the ever-present possibility that we let go of constrictive elements of ourselves that we identify as me. In this calibrated dying process, there’s the very real chance that we’ll encounter situations as stressful as an avalanche-prone ski slope, or the possibility that a classmate encounters a difficult situation that requires the experienced guidance of someone who’s traversed the same territory countless times.

In reflecting on the backcountry ski trip I hope to take in January, I am reminded of the multiple Alignment Yoga Advanced Studies program that will also be starting early in 2015. Mound Street Yoga Center is Madison’s original yoga center, and Alignment Yoga was Madison’s first Yoga Alliance approved Yoga Teacher Training program.

We have the skills and experience to help students’ yogic journeys. Where would you like to go?


Steve said...
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Scott Anderson said...

Here's a recent article on backcountry skiing.