Elliott, N.  (2003)  'Working Papers. The Spirituality of Snowboarding: A Research Project', Working Paper No. 8, available from http://www.lhds.uce.ac.uk/research/pdfs/Paper%208.pdf

[A useful discussion of both spirituality and snowboarding from this ordained priest and snowboarder].

Religion and spirituality has changed in postmodernism. Culture has become secularised in terms of falls in church attendance, but interest in  'spirituality'seems to be widespread and growing  [the 'secularisation/sacralisation' couplet]. Snowboarding in particular seems to involve  'soul riding'which is worth investigating. A suitably postmodern research style is adopted:  'both playful and serious... a mixture of incredulity, amusement, and a frequent "oh, cool" from those who hear about it... both a delight and a danger as I strive to preserve academic rigour amongst the reflexivity of dealing with subjects I love' [nb no page numbers in this electronic copy].

Snowboarding has grown, and moved from a  'underground, rebellious youth image' to become Olympic sport, although it still retains notions of being a lifestyle and featuring the  'soul rider', seeking peace, solitude and escape. Since relatively moderate levels of technique required  'soul riding is both aspirational and achievable'. Does the term  'soul' imply spirituality, or is it just  'a media construct intended to sell more product'?

Snowboarding itself is a postmodern sport -- it is recent, a feature of affluent societies, global and a  'lifestyle' sport --  'a term interpreted by the sports industry as a sport which will sell a range of lifestyle products... to non-participants as well as participants, on the basis that the sport is  "cool"'. Participants are not too keen on multinational sports companies, however, buying their gear from smaller companies, and developing a  'non competitive ethos': some snowboarders deliberately do not compete in the Olympics. There is still an element of a sub culture involved.

One problem of researching this kind of spirituality is that there is no explicit ritual and language --  'it is a spirituality without a language to communicate and define its experiences... spiritual experience may be mentioned, but cannot be discussed because there are no words with which to do so'. The relativism of modern culture prevents any orthodoxy --'No priest is necessary to validate the experience... they validate it for themselves'. No long-term commitment is required, nor are non-believers excluded. It is still possible that the whole issue is really a  'marketing ploy' but even here, there is some notion of aspiration towards 'soul'  [in other words, the consumers themselves might be using these profane products for spiritual ends after all].

This particular study would follow a sociology of religion perspective. Participant-observation would still find it difficult to uncover  'the riders' perception of the activity... rather than the activity itself'. To get at these perceptions, semi structured interviews seemed more promising. Media coverage could also be investigated.

Spirituality can take the form of 'New Age' beliefs, but there is also a possible  '"civil religion" or  "secular spirituality" with which those of any faith can engage in times of communal crisis' [there is a reference to Richards et al, editors of a book on Princess Diana!]. There are traditional definitions --  'references to experiences of a narrowly defined God or Gods... [but now in addition]... any experience of ultimate reality, godhead or transcendence...  "wholeness of life", or one's meaning or purpose in life... [a stance which is] ... essentially personal  and concerned with one's values'. Various professions, including medicine and education, are trying to respond and incorporate notions of spirituality into their practices. Punters often refer to a personal 'quest', believing  'that there is  "something there"', but not knowing what it is.

'Initial research has suggested that ... [soul riding might involve]... awareness of mortality and dealing with all facing the prospect of death; themes of freedom and escape from normal life; experiences of transcendence and detachment including  "out of the body"  experiences; renewed sense is of community, senses of identity and significant; the discovery of meaning in/or  life; a closeness to when awareness of nature; a commitment to a set of ethics; finally, a rediscovery of playing'.

Apparently there are also studies of the spirituality of clubbing, music, rock climbing and new age -- one reference is Sheldrake 1999 in Thatcher, A  (ed.)  (1999)  Spirituality and the Curriculum, Cassell!