Venture Out, Winter

Getting Into the Flow: Skiing and Water

Dedicated skiers and snowboarders know that our time on the slopes goes beyond the pure rush of floating on fresh powder or cruising crisp corduroy. We know that there are profound moments of challenge, transformation, awareness, and appreciation. If you ask one of us to describe the joy of our first smoothly-connected turns or our first time taking in the vast views at the top of the Panoramic Express, we’ll undoubtedly describe a deeply personal and transformative experience. But often we forget to take a moment to stop and appreciate what nature provides in order to fuel these experiences.

“Water is fuel, not only for these deeply transformative experiences with skiing, but for everything in life.”

In speaking with Indigenous pro skier and ambassador for Natives Outdoors, Connor Ryan, Húŋkpapȟa Lakȟóta, it’s easy to realize just how lucky we are to be able to connect with an essential resource through skiing. Connor highlights a perspective that many of us might overlook—our relationship to water.

“Something that’s sacred isn’t necessarily something that’s this mysterious, hard to understand spiritual concept. The idea of something being sacred is really rooted in the fact that it’s essential to life and is a priority.”

“Whether I’m at the kitchen sink or I’m on the mountain, understanding what it’s like to be without water is such a serious thing. And it’s something that’s missing in ways from our standard, Western kind of view of the world where you’d take that for granted—always be able to flip on a faucet. We need it all the same, no matter whether we understand the relationship of what brought the water to us or not. That water (from the faucet) is still water from the snow.”

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Did you know that 80% of Colorado’s water supply originates as snowpack?1 Did you also know that the Colorado River’s flow has declined by about 20% over the last century?2 In the west, we’re all too familiar with the lack of water, and yet it is still easy to take it for granted every day. Water use and conservation is a hot topic these days, and ensuring future powder days will depend on what we do going forward.

So where do we start? If you ask Connor, we can begin by changing our relationship with water.

I started looking at water as more of a conscious entity, a thing that I’m related to. Through skiing then I was able to find a way to give gratitude to that. I’m not just experiencing nature. Nature is experiencing me being there at the same time.

By examining our own relationship with water, we can form a greater appreciation for it. “At Winter Park, that water flows out and goes to the Colorado river and that feeds cities thousands of miles away. That water is going to be in relationship and make people and plants and animals all along that way live, and it needs to be appreciated in some form. We don’t really have a cultural context in Western culture to appreciate water like that. And so for me, that’s really what it became; just being connected in that way of feeling like I’m drinking this snow that I just was skiing on.

I think sometimes with the way we are presented with the idea of nature, we forget that we are nature.” 

As skiers and riders, we should to be as grateful for our water as we are for our powder days, because they really are one in the same.

Skiing and biking and recreation gives us an easier access point to understand our larger ecological impacts as people. Sometimes we get told the story of what skiing is without remembering the actual importance of the place where our sport happens. Driving over Berthoud pass on the way to get to Winter Park you cross that line right on the continental divide and there’s a sign there and it tells you the water on this side goes to the Atlantic, the water on this side goes to the Pacific. We’re at kind of our own little center of the world, in a way. Everything that flows out from there is going to be in forests and plains and deserts, and cities.”

Connor sums it up effortlessly, “As that snow pack stacks up, that’s a guarantee that life gets to go on.”

So go ahead, take a few moments on your favorite run to take in the views, contemplate, and appreciate the life-giving resource we’re able to enjoy in such a unique way.

When we can unite around the things that we love and have bigger impacts than we can just as individuals… that’s the real power of it. I think that should be the seed of something that’s a cultural shift, where if we have these common priorities like, we love snow, we love skiing and riding, and have this understanding of what it is that we’re really connecting to out here, then how do we, as a group, protect our values? And that’s something that fires me up all the time.

Want to know more? Consider getting involved with an organization like Protect Our Winters. Or, visit the Headwaters Center River Journey exhibit to learn more about where the snowpack from Winter Park goes.

Read more about the Native American history of Winter Park and learn about the meaning of the Trail Names in Eagle Wind.

  • 1 https://www.northernwater.org/in-the-community/water-facts#:~:text=An%20estimated%2080%20percent%20of,Slope%20of%20the%20Rocky%20Mountains. 
  • 2 https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/27/weather/lake-mead-colorado-river-shortage/index.html 

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