Snow Skiing: Green Light on the Black Run

From: Ken in CO

Dear Rabbi,

I am an avid ski-buff gone religious. Is there any reason according to Judaism not to go snow skiing?

Dear Ken,

There’s nothing wrong with snow skiing per se. It’s good exercise, invigorating, and is practiced in a natural setting that inspires awe of G‑d. But there are some spiritual moguls that need to be negotiated before getting the green light on the black run.

First, of course, you may not ski on Shabbat. In so far as doing so may involve travel, paying money, having people do work for you, carrying in the public domain, and simply not being in the spirit of the day of rest, skiing on Shabbat is a non-starter. Even without skiing, if you are in a ski area over Shabbat, you must be able to properly honor and observe the Sabbath with Shabbat prayer and meals.

Second, even on weekdays, a Jewish man is required to pray three times a day – morning, afternoon and night – with a minyan, for services which sometimes require a Torah scroll. Some resorts have enough observant guests to make a minyan, do your research. If praying with a minyan and having a Torah scroll is not possible, you should speak to a local Orthodox rabbi. Of course, access to kosher food is a must.

Third, you may not do anything reckless or eminently dangerous on the slopes that might endanger you or others. A Jew is commanded to guard his health and avoid injuring others, within normal bounds. Recreational sports are permitted even though injuries may occur, as long as reasonable caution is taken. This includes abiding by the safety rules of the ski area.

Fourth, you must avoid situations that may be spiritually dangerous as well. On warm days, scantily clad wildlife may be spotted on the slopes, as well as the many ski bunnies that inhabit the area in general. You must be careful to keep your eyes on the trail, and not pursue any forbidden curves that might lead you off the safe path. A snuggly ski lift chair for two is also a potential pitfall if you’re skiing alone. Buddy up with bucks, not does.

Last, you’ll have to dig in your poles and avoid going down the slippery slope of the ski culture nightlife. The bars, the parties, the hot tubs and the socializing in general don’t pull the tow in Judaism and are off limit trails for the Jewish skier.

If you can safely avoid these obstacles and no-ski zones, you can put on your spiritual ski pass and get on the lift.

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