No, I’m not talking about skinning a wild animal for dinner. I’m talking about climbing up mountain slopes on skis. Often physically grueling and mentally challenging, I find this sport significantly resembles marathon training in terms of willpower, endurance and reward. Mostly, willpower. Perhaps this is because I am a beginner, and it will become insanely easy one day. Still, until that day gloriously arrives, I find myself appreciating the internal and external conflicts along the way just as much as the enlightenment at the summit, a journey that exemplifies the spiritual side of skinning.

Although much more scenic in the thick-forested backcountry than on the wide-open resort groomer, until I get avalanche certified, I’m a groomer skinner. On the upside though, I don’t need to worry about avalanches and my local mountain has a summit house where I can warm up in at the top once the season begins. I can dethaw my fingers and change out of my sweaty clothes into warmer layers instead of freezing in my sweaty layers on the trip down!

Still, I have a love/hate relationship with skinning. Some days, I’m psyched. Especially lately. However, it’s also pre-ski season and our local mountain hasn’t started running lifts yet, so it isn’t overcrowded with people watching me hyperventilate uphill. Last year, when I first started skinning and learned how much energy it takes to scale the mountain (and how out of shape I was), the dread would often begin in the parking lot. Before I even got out of the car, I already wished I had stayed home where I would be warm and cozy.

The first thirty minutes up our steep mountain are the most brutal and I often find myself making excuses to turn around during this time. Once I survive the public humiliation of physically dying under two chairlifts loaded with onlookers (who occasionally witness a slip and/or fall depending on conditions), I generally find that I have run out of excuses to turn around. I stop caring about what everyone thinks and the mind/body connection begins as I focus on breath and technique.

Throughout any remaining uphill challenges, the rollercoaster of my mind continues. Much like when I run, my body may be in strenuous movement but my mind is often elsewhere. It wanders into glorious daydreams when I find the right song or worse, it reimagines past real-life situations where I lacked a witty rebuttal or made a regretful decision. However, when I drift back to the present, I can focus on the surrounding beauty, my rhythm, and the sound of my skis on the snow. Last year I shook myself from an internal mental battle and found myself immersed in a magical low-hanging cloud. Nature’s beauty made my heart swell with gratitude.

Finally, the feeling of accomplishment at the top of the mountain is worth every second of struggle. The determination to not give up regardless of how grueling the conditions or how terrible I may have felt when I began is finally justified. When I take those final steps before peeling off my skins, I am smiling, rewarded, and eager to do it all again tomorrow.

I have learned through years of marathon training to now, skinning, that intense physically challenging activities are excellent exercises for my mind to overcome subconscious demons. Especially in things I don’t want to do, or don’t believe I can do. Willpower is something I have always battled. I have a lot of good intentions and ideas but at the end of the day, I often find myself wishing I had accomplished more. However, I have found that generating endorphins is my key to willpower, and to finding the goddess in me, against all the odds.

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