By Drew Pogge
Dave is killing it. He's laying deep into each turn, blowing fresh snow over his head like a pro, and grinning like a shot fox. As he stops next to me, swirling crystals hang suspended for hundreds of feet upslope, and snow is caked into every seam and fold of his jacket and pants. His eyes are wide and wild, and he seems at a loss for words. I understand--I feel it, too. Pure, unadulterated happiness.
Watching Dave ski felt amazing, almost better than my own deep turns moments before. It's not that I was imagining myself in his place. It's not that I was proud of the way he wrung every ounce of value from the mountain. It's not envy, or relief, or anticipation. It's something else entirely.
The best explanation I've found is called mudita, a Pali and Sanskrit word that has no direct English translation. Buddhists believe mudita is one of the four immeasurable virtues, derived from taking pleasure in another person's joy, without self-interest.
I spend a lot of time watching people ski--it's part of any backcountry ski guide's job. We're almost always eyes-on, and for good reason. We watch carefully for threats to safety, to assess ability and fatigue, and to manage group movement. You can learn an awful lot about a person or group just from the way they move.
But watching people ski provides greater value than just the information we can gather. For me, it creates a connection that's hard to explain. Watching people ski makes me deeply happy--in some circumstances more than making the turns themselves. That's how I felt watching Dave enjoy one of the best powder days of his life. It's absolutely the best part of my job, and I've come to believe this is the ultimate gift of our sport: happiness by proxy.
The best explanation I've found is called mudita, a Pali and Sanskrit word that has no direct English translation. Buddhists believe mudita is one of the four immeasurable virtues, derived from taking pleasure in another person's joy, without self-interest. It's kind of a reverse schadenfreude--a positive, sympathetic delight, or vicarious happiness. For skiers, it might simply be described as an appreciative joy for the face shots of others. Now, I'm not Buddhist, and my understanding of mudita is probably oversimplified, but the idea makes sense. If you've ever watched someone skiing and unconsciously matched them grin for grin and hoot for hoot, you've experienced the same, infectious happiness that wells up from within. Mudita.
Meditation aside, skiing may be the perfect medium for cultivating happiness--empathetic or otherwise. Skiers seek joy at every turn (literally), and tend to do so socially. So, go skiing. Watch one another. Be happy for your friends, and feel happy because of them. It doesn't get any better than that.
Drew Pogge is a writer and editor based in Bozeman, Montana. He is also the owner and a guide for Big Sky Backcountry Guides and Bell Lake Yurt.