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Zen and the art of skiing
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Getting ready to enjoy another season of skiing involves preparing not only physically but mentally.

That's the philosophy of Kristen Ulmer, a Zen instructor, former top extreme skier and member of the U.S. Ski Team's moguls squad. Her strategy is as much about the mental aspects of skiing as the physical.

"If you ask professional athletes, sports are zero percent mental," she said. "There is no thought. Being in the zone is nothingness. It is nonthinking. How do you teach that to somebody? Getting into the zone is not something you can affect, teach or learn. It's just a shift that happens in an instant."

Ulmer is considered an American pioneer of the extreme points revolution. Her exploits - not only as an extreme skier but as someone who tried such pursuits as ice climbing, paragliding, adventure cycling and kiteboarding - earned her the vote in Women's Sport and

Fitness Magazine as the most extreme female athlete in North America.

Ulmer said that if you can do just one thing to prepare physically for the ski season, take a yoga class.

"You can get flexible before ski season or stretch every muscle with the first big wreck of the season," she said. "It's your choice."

According to her biography, Ulmer's emphasis on using Zen to introduce the mental, spiritual and religious aspects of winter sports began in 2003 when she partnered with Zen master Genpo Roshi, who created Big Mind to help students learn about Zen principles in a few hours.

Ulmer used this partnership to develop a way to tie ancient wisdom not only to skiing but to other sports, as well as business and personal lives.

"The best explanation of Zen I've heard, though, is that while religions are studies of what the great masters taught . . . Zen is actually trying to feel what the Buddha felt, feel what Jesus felt, feel what [Muhammad] felt, feel what the trees feel," Ulmer wrote in a recent blog post. "So, in many ways, my philosophy is not my philosophy at all . . . it's the embracing of everyone's philosophy. And at the clinic or in private session, we don't study anything, we practice experientially."

She obviously finds great satisfaction in these clinics.

"I'm proud of my ski career, and jumping off 70-foot cliffs was exciting, but nearly as exciting as helping people access something they already know, what they're capable of not just as athletes or businessmen and women, but as human beings," she wrote.

Here are Ulmer's top 10 tips to prepare mentally and physically for the upcoming ski season:

The physical

1. Strengthen quads by cycling, doing squats and weight training.

2. Strengthen hamstrings with weight machines in the gym. This will counteract the quads and help avoid blowing out a knee when skiing.

3. Mountain bike downhill: This strengthens the legs and quads but also helps improve hand-eye coordination, reaction time and the need to look ahead that is required in skiing.

4. Plyometrics: The more common form of this exercise style is box jumps in which you jump up and down on top of a box. These explosive movements build fast twitch muscles and help build balance.

5. Ski fitness: Take an aerobics class for skiers, which is more concentrated on the lower body.

6. Yoga: If you only have time for one thing, make it yoga. It's a more balanced workout that develops strong muscles, good balance, flexibility and a good mind-body connection.

7. Strengthen your core: This is especially important for a healthy back. Use weight machines and focus on your abs.

8. Strengthen your back: Your core, back, hamstring and quads must balance each other out, meaning the back has to be strong. Use weight machines for back strength.

9. Stretching: There is debate about whether to stretch before or after skiing. Both is better. Five minutes of stretching before and after skiing is a nice gift to your body.

10. Skate skiing or in-line skating: This "on the ground" dry training helps with balance and coordination and is most like skiing. It's great for your hips and butt and adds to overall power.

The mental

1. Breathing: Take three deep breaths with your eyes closed before every run. This will help you shift mentally.

2. Consciousness: Recognize when you are stressed, anxious or feel fear in the moment. By being aware of these emotions, a skier has won half the battle.

3. Practice: It takes mental practice to become a great skier. Attend a spiritual workshop or seminar, meditate about the sport, or write a journal about it.

4. Ritual: Find a comfortable ritual to do before skiing. Suggestions include clanging your poles together, deep breathing, taking a moment to look at the mountains before the first run, putting ski boots on the same way every time, or adjusting your goggles.

5. Deal with anxiety and fear: Recognize that skiing is a scary sport. Remember that fear is your friend because it keeps you safe and is a natural part of the sport. The trick is to turn fear into love. Do this by embracing the fear, acknowledging it, and then thanking it and going skiing.

6. Motivation: Many great skiers use the sport to express anger or social fears. Let your anger or insecurities, things that society might label as "bad," turn into motivators and make your skiing a radical form of self expression.

7. Simplicity: The more simple your thoughts, the better. Find a simple word such as "yes," "reaching" or "now" and repeat it while heading down the mountain. This will help you shift and stay shifted.

8. Lose the self: Great athletes say they completely lose a feeling of self when they get into a zone. Go skiing to lose your mind, lose the self, and wipe the chalkboard clean.

9. Let yourself be present: Forget the past and future madness. There is only now. Look at the rocks, the trees and the mountain in this moment and thank them for what they have given you.

10. Have a sense of humor: Nobody cares whether you skied well or not. Laugh at yourself for caring so much and just go ahead and finally ski underneath the lift and, what the heck, try to impress people.

Get ready for the ski season with Kristen Ulmer's Ski to Live Clinics

This ski season, Kristen Ulmer will offer three Ski to Live Clinics, a combination of ski and Zen clinics. She bills them as "a profound and powerful exploration of different levels of consciousness as accessed through the sports of skiing and snowboarding." They are Jan. 29-Feb. 1 at Snowbird; Feb. 26-March 1 at The Canyons; and April 2-5 at Alta. For more information, visit http://www.kristenulmer.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.kristenulmer.com.

We know you just can't wait for that first blanket of Utah powder. But while you're waiting, here are some expert tips to get your body in shape so you'll hit the snow skiing
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