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Transform your skiing experience with mindfulness

Teachers at resorts such as B.C.’s Kicking Horse, above, encourage skiers to release outside concerns, immersing themselves in their day on slopes or cross-country trails.

Antoine Caron Cabana/Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Clear the head, eradicate fears, control breathing, increase focus and maximize the physical and scenic experience – a new drug? No, it's mindful skiing, the latest instruction tool for winter sports.

Before spreading to North America, the mindful momentum started in Europe with programs such as "Mastery Spirit" at Val d'Isère, ski therapy in Les Arcs and mindful skiing weekends at Grand Massif.

In Canada, Vipassana meditation practitioner Rupert Arnett says his skiing experience has gone from radical to radiant via mindfulness. "Rather than bombing down the hill at Lake Louise, Sunshine or Kicking Horse, now – with no sense of clutter inside me – I'm able to focus patiently on each run, allowing me more enjoyment and peace," says Arnett, a volunteer at Vipassana Alberta and B.C.

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At Banff's Juniper Hotel, near Mount Norquay, Yulia Sauter has been running ski workshops combining "Mind With Matter."

"Meditation reduces stress and anxiety," says Sauter, whose next course runs Feb. 2-5. "We feel more relaxed and present if we cultivate a regular meditation practice, and therefore can enjoy whatever we do more fully." Other benefits include improved cardiovascular performance, heightened concentration – and even après-ski: "Meditation supports self-awareness, acceptance and compassion, which can help connect deeper with others – even when socializing on the ski hill."

Sauter's snowshoeing segment is at Sunshine Village, where Kendra Scurfield has long been practising meditation. "Mindfulness is something I see on the mountain," says Scurfield, daughter of Sunshine's "first family." "For many of my peers, skiing or snowboarding is a form of meditation."

Also in Alberta, Tracey Delfs runs mindfulness meditation retreats at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (March 23-25, April 6-8). Delfs brings experience working with Canadian ski teams to the events, emphasizing composed concentration. "It is often what athletes refer to as 'the flow state,'" Delfs explains. Teaching at Lake Louise, Fernie, Kicking Horse, Sunshine Village and Revelstoke, she encourages skiers to release outside concerns, immersing themselves in their day on slopes or cross-country trails. "Also, bringing more mindfulness into skiing/snowboarding allows people to be more in tune with their bodies: Knowing when they are getting tired and need to take a break can help with preventing injuries," Delfs says.

At Kicking Horse, mindfulness is becoming an everyday word. "It's part of CASI/CSIA professional development and is flowing down to the guest," says instructor Toby Barrett, referring to the Canadian ski and snowboard instructors' associations. "This is especially relevant with our Big Mountain Clinics and Rippin' Betties Clinics, as students are taught how to observe terrain and conditions and visualize themselves skiing or riding down before actually doing it."

Former physiotherapist Bridget Hemsted promotes mindful skiing at Fernie, using five words for self-composure: breathe, calm, centre, root, energize. This helps with speed control, skiing trees, conquering steeps and overcoming fear of heights.

For Christina Lustenberger, mindfulness is all about staying hyperalert in Revelstoke's backcountry terrain. The pro athlete, ski-touring guide coaches groups in mountain appreciation and visualization. Her message to tourers: "Be mindful of where you are, where you want to go and the steps it will take to get you there."

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The High Park Ski Club in Toronto ran a series of Mindfulness Mondays at Ontario's Blue Mountain last season. And in response to recent mindfulness momentum at Mont-Tremblant in Quebec, leadership coach Caroline Thibaudeau is launching "Zen and the Art of Mountain Maintenance" this winter. During five sessions in January and February, she will train skiers in creating a mind-body connection to circumvent terrain anxiety. "The magic about mindful skiing is that you learn to take fear as your lover," she says.

Around the United States, mindful ski instruction is being spearheaded by top athletes. Jillian Vogtli, two-time Olympian, is a Ski With a Champion ambassador at Utah's Deer Valley. Using techniques from her career as a wellness coach to get clients to ditch daily distractions and breathe deeply, she promotes laughter on the slopes.

Several ski VIPs are managing mountains with mindfulness. Northstar's vice-president and general manager, Nadia Guerriero, leads the California resort through the lens of mindfulness, working on new wellness-based experiences for 2017-18.

Connie Kemmerer, Jackson Hole owner, brought Vipassana teacher John Travis to the Wyoming resort in 2014 to teach instructors about mindfulness. "I was part of the mindful camp, experimenting with and discovering what is mindful instruction," the resort's Anna Cole says. "Now, quite a few instructors practise it on the slopes – allowing people to be in the moment, feeling comfortable on the slopes, letting go, skiing from the belly, skiing from the knees and focusing on different parts of the body to make those turns."

Telluride, Colo., instructor Steve Hindman is integrating it into his teaching with a view to launching specialty camps combining life coaching, physical conditioning and on-hill ski improvement. Also at Telluride, private lesson specialist Andre Koslowski practises what he preaches: "If we are both mindful and present together, we will not just be more connected to our own selves but also to each other, being able to build a trusting, joyful and successful teacher-student relationship."

Elsewhere in the American West, mindfulness mavens can do morning mountaintop yoga at Aspen; snowshoeing with paddle-board yoga at Park City; Nordic skiing with yoga at Crested Butte; daily morning meditation at Sundance; and Mindset Training camps at Alta.

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