Living the lift line: a phenomenological study of the lived experience of skiing

Clark, Kerensa
Smythe, Liz
Ferkins, Lesley
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Master of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This study considers and explores the lived experience of skiing through a phenomenological approach and seeks to gain a deeper understanding into the meaning skiing may hold in the lifeworlds of those who ski. Research pertaining specifically to this topic was notably lacking. Literature was drawn upon to inform this study from the outdoor recreation/education, leisure, adventure tourism and outdoor adventure genres. Such research highlighted the growing use of interpretive paradigms to elucidate lived experience in the area of sport and recreation, indicating perhaps a sway away from measuring aspects of experience, to seeking an understanding of the experiences themselves. This study therefore is situated appropriately amongst similar works that draw upon an interpretive approach.

Drawing on a purposive sample five participants were interviewed in unstructured in-depth interviews from which the data were thematically analysed using a hermeneutic reflective method. Such a method allows for a slow revealing of the nature of an experience (van Manen, 1990) but without ever allowing a definitive “truth” about the phenomenon to be proposed. This method is germane to elucidating lived experience, as no two human experiences are identical, thus highlighting the very personal and subjective nature of one’s lifeworld.

Significant revealing’s to emerge from this study were related to the nature of risk (and one’s comfort zone), freedom, solitude, skiing as restoration, embodiment and play; however ultimately it was revealed that skiing enables a towardness for those who ski. It was shown in the discussion, that skiers ski toward something else – perhaps risk, perhaps confidence, perhaps clarity or sense of self, possibly even a renewed sense of direction and purpose. Some skiers may ski towards perfection, whilst some may ski towards a “letting go” and a “trust”.

The towardness is in itself a transcendence of sorts as no skier is the same as when he or she first begins. Each participant in this study has been touched, changed or affected in some way by the place skiing holds in their lives. I propose that there exists a place for ski professionals (instructors, patrollers, managers) to consider the meaning of skiing in people’s lives and the significance it may hold for enhancing a skier’s lifeworld. Typically research in the area of skiing has focused on accident rates, satisfaction in ski areas (service orientated) and conflict between skiers and snowboarders. These types of studies overlook why skiers ski in the first place and possibly may benefit from gaining a deeper awareness of what draws people onto the wintery slopes to slide down on two precarious planks. Whilst this study seeks to unpack some of these reasons, it is merely scratching the surface of a deeply complex phenomenon, and I suggest further studies could engage in a deeper more prolific exploration of the themes that emerged.

Phenomenology , Skiing
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