The time spent in quiet reflection while riding uphill on a chairlift is incredibly valuable time. All the while, you and your thoughts are ascending upwards into the blue sky. I was at a party recently and had a fascinating discussion with a learned man of philosophy. I mentioned Buddhism and he revealed to me a concept from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
"Practice means that everything you do, you act from blue sky mind. You don't run off with your delusions when they arise. Seeing them as clouds, you begin to understand that which stays and that which goes. This blue sky mind observes all of these passing conditions and sees them all clearly, but it isn't any one of those states itself . . .blue sky mind, this unstainable consciousness, Buddha nature. (from: http://www.shambhala.org/teachers/vctr/bluepancake.html)
Buddhism and skiing have many parallel views of direct experience. A chairlift ride is a perfect opportunity for meditation and the environment. The mountain ridges with their blowing, drifting snow set against the deep blue sky seem to allow for deep, soul satisfying thoughts. But first, you must get out there. Is there a reason to go skiing today? Yes, the sun is out. Yeah, it’s raining and snowing at the top. Yeah, you have the day off!
On another day of lift serviced alpine skiing, I find that everything is so utterly transitory. Blue skies were gone. Grey skies and the flat light made the skiing disorienting. Climbing and descending the whales on Stein’s Run offered numerous 45-degree pitches with turns into soft snow. At some point my skiing completely fell apart and I could not understand why — except that my vision was routinely reduced to near zero from the snowmaking that plastered to my goggles.
I thought that I would be rightly occupied when I brought sharp slalom race skis to the hill in anticipation of glare ice. I was ready, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to ski . . . ice. The Austrians that used to run the ski school at Sugarbush must have been impressed with the quality of the ice that was found here. Ice . . . the surface that is found on the frightening European downhills like the Hahnenkahm that is running this week. The “Streif” is the track for the Hannenkahm and this track includes many gradients over 51 degrees with a maximum gradient of 85 degrees . . .all of this is typically run on glare ice. As of this writing, local skier Ryan Cochran Siegle from Cochran’s in Richmond, VT, has the fastest time in downhill training!
Bleak. Looking out of any window and the snowpack would lead one to believe that the skiing is bleak. But direct experience has been otherwise. There was powder skiing on the solstice, spring skiing in January and marvelous skiing on many days this season. Experiencing the conditions is much more informative than asking after them. In this regard, we appeal to facts directly and not to hazy ideas about them. Translation: go skiing. Why? Because it is enjoyed by illustrious people who are rightly viewing things as they are. To have a right view, it is necessary to have a continuous contemplation and direct experience.
Chairlifts are also ideal opportunities for socializing. I have learned a lot while riding on chairlifts. Once from a petroleum engineer who told me that synthetic oil is just better oil — more of the wax has been removed. Other times I have ridden with doctors, lawyers, psychologists, ski bums, ski racers; professional and otherwise and all manner of parents and kids. One local high schooler happened onto our chair, and I am curious about the digital generation. I asked after her schooling and the reading of textbooks, books, and the use of computers. She listens to music using Spotify . . .they have every song in the known universe; however, this young woman of, say 16 years, did not know of Bob Dylan.
All the data in the world is of no use if we have not wisdom. On another lift we picked up a skier riding the singles lane whose name was Chat GPT. I asked: “Where should I be and when this winter in order to ski the deepest and lightest snow”? The reply: “I can’t say for sure, but it’s someplace west of Vermont.” We continued upwards and I asked this deep well of knowledge “If we invested the global military spending into the research and deployment of photovoltaics, how close could we get to eliminating fossil fuels and the wars that are related to obtaining those resources? Chat was overwhelmed at the time, so I’ll have to pose that question again. I’m sure that he will return with ever greater capacity. (Global military spending: $2.1 trillion annually, in 2021. The U.S. leading the world at $801 billion, followed by China at $293 billion).