Part one of our two part series with Mark Abma
If you’ve ever seen one of Mark Abma’s segments for Matchstick Productions, you already know that there’s nothing the soft-spoken Canadian can’t do on skis (side note: yep, HANAH now ships to Canada!). If you haven’t, what the heck have you been doing with your time? Go check out ALL IN, Ruin and Rose, or Drop Everything right now, and be prepared to be blown away.
As well as being known as one of the most talented and nicest guys on the big mountain scene, Mark pursues wholeness away from the powder in a unique way. From tending his organic garden to soaking in his backyard cold pool and wood-fired hot tub to Wim Hof breath work, Mark has achieved a rare kind of equilibrium in his life. In this first of a two-part interview, we caught up with him to talk about an epic winter season, the importance of eating and drinking clean, and his never-failing optimism.
What does mastery mean to you?
Mastery is being able to control your body and your mind to fulfill your highest purpose. I think an essential part of becoming a master of your craft is being able to listen to your inner self. When I’m in the mountains, I’m pushing myself physically and mentally and have to make a lot of important decisions quickly. Some of them are life or death. So I have to listen to my intuition to figure out what line I should be skiing because it’s calling me. It should feel good in the moment, not because I have a camera on me. And when I have a bad feeling, I need to distinguish between the times that it’s just fear talking, and when I really should pull back. Ultimately, I want to do this for as long as I can, so I need to keep learning to listen to myself better.
Outside of its proximity to big snow, what do you like most about living where you do?
Nutrition is very important to me, so I like being surrounded by organic farms. I moved to Whistler in 1998, then was in Squamish for a while, and have been in my home in Pemberton for about 10 years now. The valley was founded on potatoes and still provides seed versions to Idaho. But now there’s this new generation of farmers who are coming through and expanding their crop diversity. So now we’ve got a wide range of root vegetables, melons, peppers, green tomatoes, and much more. It’s a protected valley that can provide so many wonderful fruits and vegetables, and everything’s organic. These young farmers are doing new things on the business side, whether it’s supplying local restaurants, improving our farmers’ markets, or delivering food boxes. So we have this abundance of fresh food that I’ve never seen anywhere else. I’m also fortunate to have a creek in my back yard that I can collect water from. Pure water is a true fountain of youth and staying hydrated is very important.
How do you supplement the produce from nearby farms with what you grow in your own garden?
I just got back from my fourth trip in a row to find my housemate putting in a lot of new starters. We have a greenhouse to protect the plants from winter, and now that spring is here, we’ve got all kinds of things on the go. As soon as we’ve tilled the soil, we’ll be moving more plants out into the garden. During the winter I don’t want to be that guy who’s making things difficult on whoever’s going shopping or cooking that night, so I try to just go with whatever everyone else wants. I eat a lot of sandwiches and wraps, and have a few beers, which feels great after a long, hard day on the mountain. But when spring comes around, I try to be a bit more deliberate and cut out some of the gluten. I’ll stop drinking for a while, and take a break from coffee as it can mess with my adrenals. Right now, I’ve mostly got fruit and vegetables in the fridge and am only eating protein a few times a week. It’s just about hitting a reset button and getting back to being whole.
What else does that transition from winter to spring involve?
I had a great winter season with a lot of wonderful experiences. Some were with people I’ve known for a long time, and I made some new friends, too. This past couple of months, there were four trips in a row here in British Columbia. The first was a winter camping trip, the next was exploring a region of the Cascades down where it comes into BC over the US border. Then I went on a heli-skiing trip for two weeks, before finishing up a couple of hours north of where I live. The last two trips were touch-and-go because there wasn’t a lot of snowfall because of this high-pressure system that moved in, but I decided to just go for it. Sometimes you can have egos making things complicated but luckily, I was with like-minded people and the camaraderie made it a beautiful thing.
My body came out mostly feeling great, but at this time of year I always find I’m struggling with adrenal fatigue. One of the main symptoms is brain fog. I used to just push through it and found myself going in circles, but now I’m more aware of my body and what it needs. So I take my time unpacking my truck and putting all the gear back in its place before I start fresh. I put myself in a lot of high-stress situations in winter and I’ve learned to better handle the tiredness of body and mind that results.
This past couple of years, I’ve started giving myself the time to rest that I need. I’ll sleep as long and as late as possible the next few weeks. Instead of drinking coffee – which I drank a lot of this winter and loved – I’m putting dandelion powder in hot water with HANAH products in the morning. I’m taking HANAH Turmeric+ to help my sore back and knees, HANAH ONE for overall wellbeing, and HANAH Ashwagandha+ to get my adrenals back to normal. Now that I better understand how my mind and body are at this time of year, I’m trying to be gentler on myself and feel like a lot of people need to do the same. They’re suffering from adrenal fatigue because of societal, work, and family stressors and it’s not talked about enough.
What role does gratitude play for you?
Being grateful is extremely important. When I’m standing on top of a big line and am scared, I ask for clarity, safety, and strength. Then I’ll thank whoever or whatever it is out there for bringing me down safely. I put my life on the line sometimes and it’s important to realize the opportunity I had when I make it through. I have to remind myself that I’m not really in control and there are other forces steering me in those moments. I also try to be thankful for everyday things like food, the people around me, and my surroundings. That puts me in a positive state of mind. I’m a big believer in manifestation, and if you want to create something meaningful you have to be positive. I’m definitely a “the glass is half full” person.
Why did you spend so much time restoring a friend’s old Sno-Cat?
It helped that I’d already converted my truck to run on vegetable oil a few years ago. I collect it from the back of restaurants, take it to my house to clean it, and then use it for fuel because it’s better for the environment. The Sno-Cat was my next passion project. My friend’s Dad bought it in 1972 and used it for a few years, but then it broke down and just sat there for 20-something years. I initially thought I’d get it going again in a week, but it ended up taking 35 days. I’d work on it when I had breaks from filming. We tend to get rid of things so quickly nowadays, so I appreciate the idea of making something old new again. It’s a cool vehicle to drive around in, but the smile it puts on my friend’s Dad’s face is even more special. I’ve seen it bring a tear to his eye as well, because it means so much to him to be able to take family and friends skiing in this thing he thought would never even run again. Soon after I’d finished, we put a rooftop tent on it, drove over the pass, and went out in our touring gear. Then we camped overnight and continued on to the next stop in the morning. It was wonderful.
You just mentioned having a camera filming you. How do you balance the needs of your sponsors with your desire to be private and enjoy things for their own sake?
It’s getting more and more challenging. I like getting to places where there’s no WiFi so I have no choice but to unplug. Our devices are becoming an increasingly big part of our lives and I enjoy having times when I’m not attached to them. It’s so easy to get pulled into that online world when you click or swipe. I try to use my phone with intention as a tool that gives me an opportunity to share my story and my life with people, rather than just mindlessly getting sucked in.
Check back for part two of our series soon!