God Almighty, you who gave us corporeal life and entrusted us with it, so we would honor and care for it, look out for the men and women who ski, may they maintain their health and use their free time wisely.
-Pope John Paul II
As an avid skier and a practicing Roman Catholic I can't let the passing of Pope John Paul II go by without some reflection and appreciation. The late Pope's social and humanitarian contributions are the stuff of Nobel prizes (possibly 2005?) and very likely future sainthood. His multilingual, globe trekking ways have redefined the role of the papacy in modern world culture while sustaining traditional religious beliefs. He is credited with a major assist in the termination of oppressive communistic regimes in Poland, Russia and throughout Eastern Europe. He is acknowledged as a world wide champion of human rights. His papal outreach to Jews and Muslims is unprecedented and his tenure as Pope has been marked by major bridge building between the world's great religions. Here's a CNN biography with an emphasis on his religious impact.
But did you know that as recently as March of 1994 he was an active skier? Not bad at age 73, but there is more to his skiing background. In his younger days this man was a seriously hardcore backcountry skier who regularly hiked for his turns in the area of Zakopane in the Tatra mountains of Poland. Here's a link to a long, funky Outside Magazine story on the Pope's early ski haunts: http://outside.away.com/outside/adventure/200201/200201fieldnotes.html
He was known to hike for hours for a quick 5 or 10 minute downhill plunge.
One of his favorite ski buddies was a boyhood friend and Jew, Jerzy Kluger. In the early 1980s the Pope quietly enlisted Mr. Kluger to serve as an informal intermediary between Israeli and Vatican officials in the sensitive negotiations that eventually led to formal diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel and a reconciliatory outreach from the Catholic Church to people of Jewish faith around the world. Here's an article on the Pope's Jewish ties: http://christianactionforisrael.org/antiholo/kluger.html
Rustic Zakopane was always the Pope's favorite place to ski. Until the early 1980s the athletic pontiff skied and hiked there as often as his schedule allowed. In the 1990s he returned to pay a nostalgic visit, saying Mass at the foot of a ski jump, with 32,000 area residents in attendance, all wearing their embroidered folk costumes. Here's a photo of the mountains around Zakopane, Poland: http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Europe/Poland/East/Malopolskie/Zakopane/photo85072.htm
In his early years as pope, he occasionally slipped away incognito from the Vatican to ski in the Apennines mountains of central Italy. The trips were kept hush-hush and he'd dress like a typical tourist/skier for a day of fun on the slopes. A story is told that on one such excursion an Italian boy recognized him and asked if he were the Pope. John Paul smiled, put his finger to his lips with a 'shhhhhh' and gave a blessing. The little boy kept the secret until he got home. If the Pope had gone skiing in Italy
as 'the pope', he would have been mobbed before ever getting near a ski lift. Here's a photo of the Pope in vintage ski garb: http://store1.yimg.com/I/romegiftshop_1836_3809230
Until hip and knee problems developed in his last decade and the onset of Parkinson's disease slowed him, John Paul would set out on long mountain excursions during summer vacations in the Alps. In winter he was also known to frequent the Rhaetian Alps along the Italian-Swiss border for longer ski trips. John Paul was skiing as recently as March 1994 at age 73. But on April 28, 1994 he slipped in his bathtub and broke his right thigh bone. After bone (femur) replacement surgery he was forced to give up skiing.
I've seen a set of his ski gear in the JPII Cultural Center in Wash DC. Can't remember brand of skis, but they were about 1990 vintage and were about 200cm, indicative of his throw-back kind of skiing skills.
Surely, someday Karol Wojtyla (aka Pope John Paul II), will be known as the patron saint of skiers. Given his inclusiveness with folks from all faiths and creeds, I bet he'll be looking out for snowboarders too.