Studies are showing that the link between vitamin D and happiness is stronger than we ever thought, but you don’t need science to tell you how sublime it is to feel the sun on your skin in the middle of winter. If a fifteen-minute walk outside provides enough vitamin D to boost your mood, imagine the effect an entire day on the slopes has on your psyche! It doesn’t even have to be bluebird: even on a completely overcast day, a sufficient amount of vitamin D is hitting that important receptor behind your eyes. To take full effect, remove your goggles when you’re on the chair lift and really let the light in.
Physical activity is one of the most important aspects in kicking depression, but it can also be the most difficult. Cold weather and lack of daylight can sap the drive to exercise right out of you you. Luckily, skiing is the kind of workout that doesn’t feel like work. For a cardiovascular workout that can’t be beat, try skate skiing, cross country skiing or touring. If you are die-hard downhill, jump on some extra challenging terrain to get your heart pumping and flood your brain with blues-bashing hormones like adrenaline and oxycodone.
The most important elements in vanquishing depression are connectivity and social connection. Skiing with a friend or a small group is ideal, but even skiing alone can be a positive and highly social experience. Make five minute conversations with the other skiers on the chair lift (take out your ear buds first, it’s good manners. At least one.) The resort is a great place to make easy connections, as people are generally in a great mood, and you always have at least one thing in common. For bonus feel good points, spend a day teaching a friend who is new to the sport. They’ll be so grateful, and the proven satisfaction that comes with reaching out and acts of kindness will power you through until spring.
It’s difficult for the brain to think and feel at the same time. This is why it’s hard to think coherently when you’re in great pain, and why sinking into a hot bath can quiet and sooth an overactive mind. Skiing is one of the most sensationally rich sports out there. The combination of exercise, cold air, warm sun, and wind picking up as you gather speed can put you into a state of ‘flow‘. Flow, sometimes called ‘the secret of happiness - is the term for the trance you experience when you’re so completely consumed by an activity you barely notice the time passing. Boost your mood even farther by taking a minute or so for a quick meditation – focus on the sound of your skis through snow, the temperature of the air and the smell of the trees. Allow yourself to become completely immersed (while still being aware of the reckless riders and zig-zagging newbies.)
Curiosity is the antidote to anxiety, and anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Studies have shown that people who deploy curiosity in their daily lives by continuing to learn new things consistently rate themselves higher on authentic happiness tests. Skiing is an ideal sport in this arena because there is always something new to learn. You can always push yourself with more challenging runs, or give the terrain park a spin. Touring, heli-skiing, ski patrol, wilderness medicine, ski racing and avalanche awareness are all different avenues to pursue if you’re feeling stagnant.