Kristen Ulmer hears it all the time.
"I go skiing because it's my church," she said. "I think that they think that in their minds, but is it really? Do they take a deep breath and really make it a holy moment?"
If they do not, then a thousand little details might distract them from that desired spiritual experience — the person who cut in front of them in line, a $10 cheeseburger, or a problem with equipment.
It's not that the slopes don't offer skiers spiritual edification. It's that some of us don't always know how to find that peace.
"It's not my job to change what their experience is," she said. "It's my job to get them to see what their experience is."
Ulmer offers skiers the chance to find that ability within themselves through her "Ski to Live" clinics. She just finished a clinic for 30 skiers at Snowbird last weekend, and this weekend she'll offer a clinic at Deer Valley. Friday night offers an introduction to the process, and on Saturday and Sunday she takes skiers out on the slopes where she takes them "on this wild journey through different forms of consciousness. We have a lot of fun. We learn a lot about ourselves. It winds up being a really intense experience for most people."
The cost of this weekend's clinic is $510, and there are still spots available. Skiers can sign up at www.kristenulmer.com.
Ulmer finds three reasons people generally come to the clinics.
"They want to improve their skiing and they know technical lessons can only take them so far," she said. ""They want to improve their lives by expanding their level of consciousness. And the third reason to enhance the freedom or escape found in skiing."
Ulmer finds many people are hoping to find a way to better deal with fear.
"Skiing invokes a lot of fear," she said. "People often say they want to try and come to terms with fear, be more fearless, get rid of fear. I show people how to embrace the fear, not let go of it. ... It's not our pain that is the problem, it's our resistance to the pain that's our problem."
Ulmer understands fear well. She is a former U.S. Mogul team skier, after which she spent much of her time extreme skiing for sport and for cameras. She was voted for 12 straight years the best big mountain (extreme) skier, an honor voted on by her peers and industry media.
She didn't push the envelope; she burst through it. She jumped off cliffs for cameras and traversed trails where, her Web site says, you fall, you die.
Then in 2003, her life changed directions completely.
"I felt like I had learned nothing from the sport of skiing," she said. "I wanted to figure out how it had enhanced my life. I don't believe you learn from experience; I believe that you learn from reflecting on that experience."
After studying with Zen Master Genpo Roshi (who created Big Mind in 1999), the two of them began the Ski to Live clinics. Two years ago, Ulmer began to fly solo and has now branched out into clinics of all types and works with athletes from all sports. She lists those clinics and a host of other opportunities on her Web site.
For Ulmer, helping athletes, even recreational athletes, become more conscious and aware has become more than a job.
"Skiing is not my passion," she said. "My work is my passion. ... It has transformed who I am so dramatically. When you're a professional athlete, you tend to be very self-focused, you kind of have to be in order to be really good at what you do. Now I am more focused on raising the level of consciousness in the world. ... It has helped me evolve to be a better person."
Most athletes — even us weekend warriors — have experienced being "in the zone."
"When people have a very connected moment in their sport, it's often called the 'zone,' " Ulmer said. "It's that moment where you're absolutely connected to the sport, where you don't exist anymore, you're just connected to the collective. It's a very magical place."
Understanding that experience, and embracing that experience, is something Ulmer helps athletes do through the sports they love.
"For many people, it's the only glimpse they have of that in their lifetimes," she said. "Yet it's the least discussed, the least understood. ... You have to have the guts to put it out there and keep it out there."
And finally, just understanding oneself in the context of physical movement will lead to a richer spiritual life.
"If we don't have any conscious awareness about what we're experience, over time, it just becomes an escape," she said.
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