A Little Wasatch Magic

I often ski alone. I try to grab a 45 minute skin and lap, or 4-5 runs early, late, or between meetings. This week has not been my usual experience, as I was invited to join a group of friends in Park City, Utah, USA for 6 days during the Sundance Film Festival.

So, in these days, there have been a fair amount of group ski time. Since snow is thin, we’ve stuck to lift served, inbounds, which is a terrific way to spend time with friends and form new relationships.

Still, I’ve spent a lot of this ski trip alone, as well. Between arrivals, departures, movies, and the inevitable parties (I managed to attend none), I spent plenty of time, on piste (or off, as the case may be) letting muscles, equipment, snow, and gravity work their particular form of magic, that is, telemark skiing.

I haven’t seen many tele skiers; I’ve been somewhat surprised. In the California Sierra mountains where I live, there are usually a few, sometimes, quite a few of us – I certainly don’t stick out. And, lucky for me, some of my friends are absolutely phenomenal skiers. I get to learn a lot, which I hope gets passed on through these posts?

Monday, I decided to explore Canyons area. It’s been six days, five areas: Brighton (allows uphill travel, so we skinned up), Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley. Yesterday, I went to Snowbird.

I was having some fun on a long groomer that’s got a single serious pitch. The snow has warmed up to whipped cream perfection. A bluebird day between 7200 and 9000 feet. And, as usual, I even made a few turns where I felt that glorious combination of edge, snow, and gravity that feels almost weightless.

I was stopping a lot, as my legs don’t often ski all day for 5 days straight. I was definitely feeling some serious muscle fatigue. As I stood mid-run, admiring the sheer, awesome view from the ridge I’d been skiing, another tele skier appeared on the lift above me.

Tele skiers don’t always acknowledge each other. But we typically do. I’d already noticed a certain clannishness of the free heel tribe here in Utah. I suspect that this may be due to our fewer numbers in this region? I haven’t seen very many tele skiers.

Is there a sense of belonging since it takes some tenacity to learn this thing called telemark skiing? I don’t really know. But regularly, an instructor, a patrol, or a lift operator has reached out to me here to make contact. Interesting.

I often respond to fellow and sister practitioners of the art with, “Hey, another member of skiing’s lunatic fringe?” Which is usually received with a sardonic smile, as telemark skiing seems to perhaps have been eclipsed by advances in alpine touring gear. There are not so many learners presently; is tele skiing a dying art? (hope not!)

The skier responded positively to my quip and we we went our separate ways, he up, me down.

A short while later, he caught up with me on the descent. He also wanted to make regular stops; his need mostly from altitude, mine from sore legs!

Within a few runs, we’d breached most of the taboo subjects, certainly religion and politics. If one wants company on the lift, these are dangerous areas, ahem. But, it turns out that my new friend and, I hope, a long term skiing companion, Ting, and I are very resonant in far more ways than telemark skiing.


That kind of resonance, a fascination with the techie aspects of skiing added to his being a truly fine skier with any technique, combined with a mutual pace, and a wonderful, exploratory mind for fine conversation on lift and hill is a rare gift to me. It just doesn’t happen that often. So, despite my screaming legs, I kept skiing; I was having just too much fun! Thanks, Ting, my new friend from Northwest Connecticut. A truly fine day, the memory to be savoured.



Do The Cat Prowl!

I know that it’s been almost 2 years since I posted. Actually, the one post I did try to write in the Fall of 2013 seems so out of date now, that I’ll have to reconsider how to get you the movies that Melissa, Jorge, and I made. But I digress…

At the Freeheel Festival at Bear Valley in March of 2014, instructor Ted (I don’t have his last name, sadly) had us concentrate on initiating each turn by consciously moving the front leg into the outside front of that boot. It’s a little hard to explain in words. Please bear with me, as this single exercise leads to a whole new universe in skiing smoothness.

Let me back up a little. As I’ve posted before, one way to get skis to move from old edge to new edge is to unweight the skis. While they are light, it’s easy to move both skis into a new turn. This is fundamental, old-style, parallel skiing.

Except, in most snows, especially groomed runs, you don’t really have to unweight modern skis! (I knew this when I wrote those pages. But it’s hard for most skiers to trust gravity sufficiently. A little upwards motion makes initiating a turn easier). All one has to do is to move ones center of gravity across the skis into the new turn and presto, chango, your skis will roll into the next turn.

Next time you’re on a chairlift, watch people change edges. Some of the truly great skiers will seem to float from turn to turn with very little up and down movement, in what appears to be an extremely efficient dance down the hill – even steep slopes. At least some of them are rolling their skis into each new turn, as I describe, above.

Every one else will be moving their body upwards, or swinging their hips in a jerk, or, as many advancing intermediates do, swiveling their skis into the next turn with their feet. The swivel is especially prevalent amongst skiers who are “in the back seat”, that is, whose center of  gravity is too far back – they aren’t centered on their skis enough to get the skis to roll into the next turn.

OK, are you with me, so far? I said I’d explain the cat prowl, and I will. I promise.

If you didn’t know before, you now know that you can roll your skis into each turn simply by moving your center of gravity across the skis into the next turn. This is an advancing form of anticipation. Your thighs must follow your core, parallel to each other and point into the new turn.

Ted had us start our ski roll by moving not only across the skis (which is usually somewhat down hill), but also, a little forward, too.

For instance, when turning to the right and you want to go left, the exercise had us move our downhill leg both outwards and forwards. Imagine that motion to be towards about 10:30 on a clock face (assume that 12 is straight forward, 6, straight back, 3 directly to the inside, and 9, directly across the ski to the outside, at right angles to the direction the ski is going). To make this work, your other leg has to follow along, in parallel. Otherwise the skis will go in 2 separate directions.

Since I’ve started initiating my turns by skiing on what will be the new inside ski (which becomes the back ski, right?), I’ve had the nastiest problem. When the turn starts, my foot is flat on the ski. Good! Except, that foot has to wind up pressing with the ball of the foot. There’s this horrible moment when I can no longer have weight on it, to get from flat foot pressing on the ski, to ball of foot pressing on the ski. Ugh! This has been very disconcerting for me.

I thought, in my inexperience, that this is just something with which every telemark skier must cope. But it is NOT! Yippee.

The beauty of moving a little forward as well as across the skis in order to start a turn, is that I get onto the front of my foot at the very beginning of the turn. I can weight that inner ski from the very first moment of the turn right on through to the end without any hiccups. Do you see the power of moving just a little bit forward?

As I played with this addition to my turn initiation, I discovered that I can essentially “prowl” down a slope (even a fairly steep slope!) very efficiently, getting onto that new inner ski right away and continuing right through the turn to the end.

The sooner that ones skis are turning, the more control one has. One of the markers of great ski control is what is described as, “getting an early edge”. In telemark, this is achieved by using the new inner ski by itself while the new front ski is being moved forward so that it can be weighted and added to the turn.


To help visualize what’s going on, last May (2014), I stuck my phone in the snow with the video recording running. Then I hiked back up and cat prowled down to the phone.

prowl montage colourImage #1 shows me planting my pole for my new turn. I’m at the end of a right turn (as described, above). My pole plant guides my body towards that 10:30 spot on my downhill boot. #2 to shows me starting to move across my skis and a little bit forward. By #3, I think you can not only see that I’ve rolled my skis into the new turn, but it’s fairly obvious that I’m already on the front portion of my foot on the inside ski. My body comes across the skis and forward.

When I do this move, I actually concentrate on feeling for my new forefoot on the new inside ski. I don’t worry about clock positions, or anything complex like that. I’ve probably already drilled moving across the skis enough that I don’t really think about it. My other thigh follows the lead of the initiating one, as my legs work together. Again, I don’t think about this because it’s natural to me.

I move across and forward to reach for my new, inside forefoot. Image #4 I think clearly shows that I’m now skiing on the inside ski, using the front portion of my foot. You can probably see that the boot is canted a little bit upwards because I’m on my forefoot? I’m not really thinking much about the other ski at this point. Once I feel my inside ski edge, then I bring my other ski (the front ski) into play by moving it forward and then putting weight on it. In #4, my left leg is still a little behind my right. I don’t have any weight on it yet.

By #5, I’m skiing on both skis, well into my turn. I added #6 because you can see me reaching for the next pole plant. Except, I didn’t make another turn. I stopped because I was right in front of my phone. I didn’t want to leave it there in Woodchuck Basin.

The entire sequence of turns can be seen here:

Telemark Cat Prowl @Woodchuck Basin

Cats prowl by moving their body forwards, shoulders hunched. I hope that my shoulders aren’t really hunched? But still, there’s a prowly quality that some observers have noticed in this style of skiing. There’s very little up and down motion. Instead, I propel my body downhill into each new turn. It’s very efficient.

Happy January. There’s not much snow left below 8,000 feet in my slice of the Sierra Nevada. I hope that it starts snowing again, soon.




It’s Spring Again, Where’s the Corn?

As I recall my skiing for the season, it hasn’t been all that grand a year. With a warmer air current causing a higher snow level that has persisted through the season, backcountry skiing has alternated between rain crust breaking through to sodden snow and wind chilled ice. Certainly nothing to write home about.

But there have been some bright spots along the way. I’ve had a couple of gorgeous days between 8 and 9000 feet playing on sun drenched slopes. In each month from December through March, there have been at least a couple of fabulous corn days.

For those readers outside California, corn snow under blue skies is one of our best-kept secrets. It’s a great reason to skin up a few thousand vertical feet for the exquisite pleasure of sliding down on a surface that makes the best resort grooming seem lacking.

Corn is as smooth as silk and easy to turn on. Alongside the fabled but all too rare powder days (especially in California with its heavy, wet, new snow: “Sierra cement”), corn ranks as one of our best attributes. And, it’s dependable. Give a snowpack a few strong melts and refreeze cycles and then some good sunshine and you get corn snow. Melt re-freeze cycles typify the California mountains.

A friend took shot some video of my turns above Bee Gulch, mid-March, 2013.

While I’m not particularly embarrassed about my turns in the video, they’re certainly not perfect. At some point, I want to post about the “telemark bob”; that little upper body movement up and across the skis to start the new turn. Hopefully in this video, you’ll see a little of me doing that?

But, to be honest, in this video, I am making a consistent mistake. I wonder if anyone can spot it? Ah, the delights of seeing what I’m actually doing as opposed to what I think I’m doing. Video; ya gotta love it.

I’m not sure how much more California Spring skiing there’s going to be? We have the strangest configuration of snow that I’ve ever seen. The south and westerly facing slopes even up to 10,000 feet are almost completely bare. While, at the same time, it looks like a decent, mid-spring snowpack on the north and easterly facing slopes. For instance, the view from the top of the ridge at Bear Valley has a clear view of Flatiron Peak. It’s black on one side and white on the other right to the very top. Very strange. Finding a way up to the North aspects may be tricky. And, I don’t know that these will last?

I was at Mt. Lassen 2 weekends ago. Below 7500 feet, the snow was so rain-sodden as to bury my inside ski, mid-telemark turn. But, on north aspects higher up, the corn was flawless at Noon. The thought of no late Spring, early Summer skiing adventures is sad. We’ll see.

Oh, and by the way, remember to put down your climbing wires before you try to turn. My first couple of turns after a 2 hour climb were pretty funny. “Why can’t I balance on these skis? What’s wrong with me?”

I hope that where ever you are, Spring skiing is great or Autumn is fast approaching.



Breaking Crust

Last sunday, I used my alpine touring (AT) set up.

I know, I know, “Not Telemarking, Brook?” Though we were on a quest for wind blown powder resting in the leeward trees, I knew that we were going to have to turn on iced sastrugi, refrozen hardpack, and breaking crust. (Notice, I did not write, “breakable”).

I’m confidant that I can parallel a jump turn hard enough into crust to cause a turn to develop. But I’m not confidant on how to smack the crust enough to break it with my  telemark turn. So, for safety’s sake, I elected to lock my heels down. Plus, my backcountry, telemark skis don’t hold an edge nearly as well as my front-side tele’s or my AT rig. The AT rig is, sadly, lighter than their telemark counterparts. I wanted to keep up with my fellow skiers. Lighter is always more energy efficient than heavier, yes?

Hence, my last minute decision to abandon my backcountry rig in favour of the AT gear. I’m thankful that I have choices.

On my second lap into Round Valley, I started to fall every couple of turns. “Am I that tired?” I even hit a tree (though with no consequences. I’m fine – not even a cut or scrape). Still, I soldiered down, laying a few series of linked S’s for my troubles. My friends took off up the hill, having waited for me. I put on my skins and started the climb out.

One of my skis immediately fell off. “OK, I know, I almost never ski this gear. I must have put it on wrong?” I’m not very skilled at getting the dynafit toes to click in.

My skill was not the problem. No matter what I did, try the other boot, manhandle the toe control, whatever, the binding toe was still loose on the boot. No forward, no backward, no up, no down. “Oh, no!”

I ended up boot packing all the way back up, carrying my skis (I wasn’t going to leave them behind!). In some places, waste deep powder. Generally, a 30° slope. That 800 feet was a very long climb, I can tell you.

Once back on the ridge, my party, wonderful (far more AT experienced) folks, played with the binding, knocking out ice, cranking on the toe control until it worked again. Is that normal?

I’m used to tele gear. If your boot goes in or the 3 pins click, you’re good to go, whatever happens. My friend, Robin teased me a few times, “If you’d had skied your tele gear, this wouldn’t have happened.” Yep.

Which brings me to the point. Do you know how to ski the kind of crust that isn’t strong enough to support turning skis, but which isn’t friable, doesn’t break easily, either? If you do, please comment here for our benefit or email me. I don’t know how do make that turn.

If I figure it out, I promise to post a description of whatever seems to work.



Better Balance

Better Balance

Since this season started, I’ve been struggling with getting into the “backseat”. That is, as I weight my back ski, I’ve had a tendency to use my upper body to put pressure on the back ski. Essentially, I start to lean back as the turn progresses. Bad.

In the telemark, a good upright upper body position, weight squarely between the feet, really helps. Watch great skiers. While the knees and ankles are working, and while angulated, even deeply angulated, the upper body seems to remain relatively still. In powder, this is particularly helpful.

Readers may remember that during my “lead change revolution” I had some trouble finding that front-to-back, balancing sweet spot? That issue came back with a vengeance at the beginning of the season and has been dogging me ever since.

After much telemark bliss while skiing snow fields last Spring, I’m fairly certain that I once again developed this issue because over the Summer, I’d been trying to get onto the ball of my foot rather than using my toes. Toes are not optimal. More foot, more control. And, control of the back ski is critical.

Two weeks ago, I stumbled upon a cure. Well, “stumbled” isn’t quite the word. “Danced”?

I started remaining a little higher after switching edges after initiating the new turn. Then, at some mysterious point when on the new edges, I’d sink into position. bingo, perfection.

Except, I wasn’t at all sure what I’d actually done?!?

Something having to do with up through edge change, then down to drive the turn through to completion. But what exactly? At the end of the day, I couldn’t say. Uh, oh…

On my next ski days, I had to deconstruct, then reconstruct my new technique so that I can repeat this magic every turn, every day.

What do I think I’m doing? I haven’t yet videoed this, so I could be mistaken. This description is from the inside out.

As described previously, the lead change is delayed until after the new inside ski has been edged. The new lead ski is brought forward and then weighted.

In order to initiate a turn, the body must move downhill. I use my pole plant for this. For telemark turns, I find that a definitive move of the hips downhill makes a better initiation.

In the movement downhill, I also release my edges, and thus, my angulation and knees. It looks like I move up. But that probably isn’t really true. I do come upwards a little bit. Standing is definitely counterproductive as the skis will float downhill gaining speed uncontrollably rather than rolling to the new edge.

As soon as I feel my new edges on the snow, and particularly the new inside edge, I angulate into the new turn. But I wait to go into the lower, telemark position until my new lead foot is moving forward.

As the new lead foot gets close to my comfort stance, I lower into telemark position and begin to ride the carve. And carve this turn will.

When I want a quicker turn, I lower and weight both skis much more quickly. Voilà! Short swing teles.

This slight change seems some sort of magic. I’m not at all sure of the effects on the skis, but it all sure makes beautiful arcs that are efficient and very sweet to ride.

Let me know what you think.



First Turns: Of Powder and Crust and Corn

First Turns: Of Powder and Crust and Corn

I’ve gotten a few days of skiing since the beginning of November, mostly
kicking and gliding through the woods. But I have had a couple of
telemarking adventures mixed in with my cross-country outings. I did miss
the 1st turns in October; I was out of the country in the Tropics. Darn!

Still, I returned to another storm. On the 2nd Sunday in November, there
was just enough snow near my home at 5,000 feet to climb up the hill a
block from the house. I stopped to admire the post-storm views then slid
back down to the road again. With only 6-10 inches of snow cover, I dodged rocks
and logs. Still, turns are turns – first turns of the season. Yea!

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving I headed out for a dawn patrol
before work. The snow was older by then and had received some rain. How
bad could it be?

dawn patrol

Skinning up at 7:30AM, the crust was slick but seemed firm enough to
support a sliding turn; no worries about getting back down (so I thought
as I climbed). At about 8,000 feet on a shady North Westerly aspect, I stumbled
upon 200 yards of untrammeled powder. Wow! First powder turns of
the season. Woo, hoo. After a couple of rounds up then down, it was
time to head down for work.

That firm crust? Not firm enough! As a turn would develop, one ski would
break through and come to a complete stop. My other ski and body of course kept moving. Sitzmark! I must have fallen at least 6-7 times. Not So Fun. “OK”, I
thought, “back to traipsing through the woods on whatever snow remains”. I admit it publicly, I do not know how to ski breaking crust. (I’ll take suggestions…)

This last Friday I checked the avalanche report for the weekend (“low”). Southerly aspects
receiving mid-day sun were predicted to warm up enough to form corn. Corn?
Early December? Really?

This is California, folks. If there’s snow that gets rained upon (or other slush
forming conditions), followed by a hard refreeze, when that firm crust sits in the
famed California Sun, we get corn snow. So, yeah, the conditions made
perfect, mid-day corn, just like late Spring, only later in the day with no sun cups.

Saturday around 11AM, I went in search of the fabled California corn. I
found 3 glades, one below the other, softening to about 1-2 inches. I had so much
fun that I planned my Sunday around a mid-day return. The
second day, my older lines had softened enough to ignore. (no ruts)

glade 2

Oh, and can I still turn my skis after the Summer break? (telemark turns
being what this blog is supposed to be about)

Well, every turn wasn’t picture perfect, I’ll admit.

I’m working on getting onto the ball of the back foot instead of balancing on the joint
between toes and foot. This shift is causing some front-to-back balance

Irrespective of how the lead and edge change is accomplished, the upper
body stance must remain balanced between the feet in order to keep weight
on the back foot. Lean forward to create an instant “doggie leg”. If it’s
not one thing it’s another. Once I remembered to angulate rather than lean, my turns became more consistent.

But, hey, a turn is a turn is a turn; it’s still early in the season, right? Last year’s lead change magic is still magic, especially on perfect corn on a blue bird day, 8,000 feet up
in the Central Sierras.

Life is good. Happy telemarks (or whatever your backcountry turn of







What To Do During The Long Dry Summer?

What to do during the long, dry Summer?

Well, of course, there are all those wonderful Summer activities. Still, some of us just don’t know when to give up, yes? My last turns were taken June 23 on Hiram Peak. I picked my way down a 20 turn patch, twice, then walked down to catch 10 more on what remained on the steeper bit above Highland Lake. The end.

I’m sure I could have found more snow in California. I could have hiked all the way in to Leavitt Peak or up on Mt. Lassen. In August, I played the 4 & 20 Blackbird Festival in Weed, CA. As I passed Mt. Shasta, the leftover snow was calling, for sure. But I didn’t have skis with me, so, no turns.

Still, my Spring adventures did reward me with more information about the technical changes that I started working through at the Bear Valley Telemark Festival at the end of March. After the perfect corn snow starts to wither under the intensifying sun, sun cups  develop. It can be challenging to ski well developed sun cups.

sun cups

Well developed sun cups

Even if the snow is relatively soft, the skis bounce around on the edges of the cups. If the cups are big enough, my skis have even bounced from cup edge to edge. I have found it especially difficult to get from one turn to the next. My skis will bounce around, getting knocked so that each ski is going in a different direction. And these effects are most especially pronounced between turns, that delicate moment when the skis are light and being rolled from one edge to the next. Those dips in the snow will throw my skis around, willy nilly.

In the past, I’ve passed on skiing well cupped snow (as in the image, above). But not any more! Victory! Success! Free heel fun!

If you’ve been following my telemark turn lead change adventure, you’ll understand that dramatic changes have occurred in my telemark skiing since I started this blog. I’m chronicling my journey, here. Readers get my discoveries once I have come to understand them enough to explain.

I continued exploring my new lead change technique from mid-April through my last turns towards the end of June. I skied every weekend at least one day. During those runs, I ran into Spring snow conditions from frozen solid to mush, smooth to crumbly to (ugh!) well cupped. And here’s what I discovered.

An old trick becomes new again.

In modern skiing on shaped skis, telemark or parallel, all one need do to shift from one turn to the next is to roll the skis onto the new edge. This is ever more efficient than the old days with longer, straighter skis. In those days, it was “down-up-down”, with strong emphasis on the unweighting of the skis. Those straighter puppies would hook if you didn’t move them while they were really light.

Today, such gymnastics aren’t necessary so long as the snow is relatively consistent or well groomed. If a skier, expecially at speed, reaches down hill to start the turn and let’s his/her body follow, the skis will roll over to a new edge. The trick is to get into the angulated form (the ‘C’) as soon as the skis are on the new edge. Voilà, new turn starts, no big unweight required.

That said, there are conditions that benefit from unweighting and even turning the skis while light. Watch great skiers. The do come up between turns, at least a little bit.

And that’s what I added to defeat those sun cups baking into the California late Spring snow fields: a big unweight. My working theory is that the force of coming back down hard on my edge right at the start of the turn pushes into the snow with enough force such that the cups uneveness doesn’t have a chance to work the skis. And then, since I’m on edge right from the start of the turn (no sliding), I cut right through. It’s a theory. More importantly, it works.

telemark lead change

Sequence demonstrates starting turn with inner ski

  1.  I’m edging strongly to finish my turn. At the same time, I reach downhill with my pole to start the next.
  2. I allow the pole to bring my body up and off my skis while also projecting me a bit downhill towards my next turn. This is something I learned when I was a kid in alpine racing. You pass your pole and that automatically begins to raise the body off the skis.
  3. My skis are flat; I’m already starting to roll into the next turn. Note that my back ski from the last turn is still in back; While my stance has collapsed, I haven’t really begun to change lead skis. And also note how erect I am.
  4. The new turn is begun. You can see that I’ve edged the new inside ski quite a bit. I’m already starting to angulate into the new turn though I haven’t reached the fall line yet (the camera is directly downhill from me). Interestingly, my outside ski, still trailing, is still flat on the snow and going in a different direction. But since I have all my weight focused onto the inner ski, this “mistake” doesn’t actually cause any problems. That inside ski is already turning hard. The outside is just along for the ride at this moment.
  5. Both skis are now on edge and parallel. The outside ski has moved forward just a bit; it’s in motion. My body is angulated into the new turn. And, I’m finally in the fall line.
  6. You can see a plume from the inner ski. But there isn’t one from the outer (now, lead) ski. That’s because that outer ski still doesn’t have a lot of weight on it; it’s just beginning to come into play. Finally, I begin to get the magic of telemark: both skis working for me.
  7. And, I’m just about at the end of the turn. Both skis are turning, both are edged. I’m reaching out to start the next turn.

I’ll note that there’s one huge mistake in this sequence. I’m going to have to break my habit of skiing on my back foot’s toes. “On the ball of the back foot, the ball”. Next year! Watch this space.

Here’s the sequence of turns as I made them:

Lead Change on Sun Cups Turn Sequence



Yikes! Avalanche

Saturday morning, April 21, 2012, I was skiing in Woodchuck Basin.

At about 10:30, I heard a great roar. I looked around and saw that some large snow blocks (“rollers”) had fallen off of the rocks at the top of the ridge. This avalanche was naturally triggered.

I had passed below that spot 15 minutes previous. For safety, I had gone down and considerbly out of the way as I passed that point. The avalanche prediction for the day was “considerable” for steep aspects receiving a lot of sun. Exactly where this snow let go. A picture is here.

Clearly, this a reminder that backcountry skiing has its dangers.

Just above 8,000 feet, there was some decent corn at 10AM. But 400 feet down, it was deep mush.

Thank you to the Sierra Avalanche Center for their daily advisory. Following the advisory probably kept me out of danger. If you ski in the Sierra’s, may I suggest that you donate? I have.



More Lead Changes

OK, readers may grow weary of my lead change rants. I apologize before hand.

But let me ask you all this:

If you can ride your edges through a turn, and pressure your back ski, what else is difficult in the turn?

I think that it’s the lead change. And my new lead change continues to amaze. I’m carving very early in the turn, which means skiing more in the fall line. I haven’t yet found a snow condition in which this lead change fails: hard pack to slush.

As I wrote in the last post, I was having trouble with being too far back.

I think that a lead change where one starts the turn on the outside edge of what will be the new back ski (currently as the turn starts, the front ski) probably predisposes to back seat turning.

Why? Because as the turn starts, one is balanced on one ski. The whole turn can be completed  without ever weighting the new front ski. When one moves that lead ski to the  front,  there’s no absolute need to move the weight forward onto both skis. It takes my body awareness and practice to adjust to this.

Here’s what I’ve discovered to smooth the process out.

The pole plant to going to take the upper body (and hopefully, the hips?) downhill to smoothly change edges. The skier is now balancing on one ski, which is already turning on its outside edge.

If I quickly move into an angulated position for the new turn, I’m balanced. Now I can slowly or quickly (as desired) bring in the lead ski. Both skis are now turning. And it’s easier to move my body forward to center between skis and weight both of them.

So, here’s the process:

  • The standard move downhill, as in any good modern parallel turn
  • Fluidly and rapidly move to the new angulated position (the “C” position)
  • Balance is stable and prepared.
  • The new lead ski is easily moved forward.

There’s less urge to continue in the back seat because I angulate over the back ski until I have a front ski, and the angulation just continues on to include both skis.

Like magic. I’m having fun.

There’s still snow in California. I had great Spring corn last Saturday. A Spring storm is on its way this week. Maybe powder this weekend?



Lead Change Revolution!

The Telemark Festival. Which one? The festival hosted at Bear Valley, put on by Mountain Adventure Seminars.

At the festival it was Friday with the “Pauls”. Maybe I should say “Saint Pauls”? (with all due respect to reverence of canonized Saints). These two amazing skiers and great instructors have revolutionized my lead change.

Yes folks, I survived the dual Paul onslaught; I’m living proof that your muscles can make it through countless one legged ski drills (where’s the ibuprofen?).

Profound, guys. Profound.

I’ve written a lot (too much?) about the telemark lead change. I believe what I’ve written still has a place. What I was doing delivers workable telemark turn initiation; what I’ve written seems fairly easy to understand. I might still turn this way from time to time?

But I’ve become a believer in 6 hours. Wow!

Here’s what I learned at the Telemark Festival 2012  (among so many other things, stay tuned!).

First, remember that the downhill (lead) ski at the end of a turn will be the back ski of the next turn. Also, for a moment consider telemark edges: the lead ski is on its inside edge. The back ski is on its outside edge. One of the more difficult telemark skills is typically learning to deliver sufficient pressure to the back, outside edge ski.

After starting with a monomark (nothing revolutonary about that), continue downhill to change edges, concentrating on the downhill ski as it begins to swing towards the fall line. As soon as possible, the skier edges and then pressures the new inside ski (what had been the downhill ski); the new turn is started on the outside edge of the new inside ski. This ski is going to wind up as the back ski. The new lead ski has not yet been brought into play. The new outside ski is just following along during turn initiation and edge change.

Gently, bring the new lead ski forward while continuing to turn on the inside, back ski. As the lead ski comes forward, begin to pressure it, adding that front ski’s inside edge to the turn. As your telemark stance is approached, pressure can be distributed as appropriate for conditions.

One of the Pauls described this as having the outside ski describe an arc around the inside. Initiate the turn with the inside, back ski. The outside ski moves around the pivot of the inside ski.

Yes, I just did write: “bring your lead ski forward”. I have watched and wondered how truly great tele skiers seem to be doing exactly what I was told NOT TO DO: push the lead ski forward?!?


Not really. There is a major difference here. This is not a lunge then turn. Nor is it a quick shuffle while off edge (diving for the fall line).

Most of us shuffle, perhaps with a little twist across the fall line to get onto the new edge and into the new arc. After starting from a mono-mark, we shuffle and twist, setting our skis onto their new edges. It works.

What I was taught through a full day’s progression of exercises was to roll onto my outside edge at the very beginning of the turn. In my (limited) experience (I’m still very much practicing. I’m no expert), the new back ski is pressured throughout the turn, start-to-finish. One brings the outside (lead) ski into the turn along the way, completing the turn on both skis, as in any telemark. In other words, one is in a controlled turn just at or right after the moment of initiation. I can get onto a turning edge a split second after moving my body downhill in a classic monomark.

One of Paul Parker’s advanced tips from Free Heel Skiing is to “steer with the rear ski.” He describes this as concentrating on the rear ski as the initiator and steering mechanism for a turn. I’ve been trying that with some success. After my lesson, I think that he is actually describing this same thing: starting the turn from the back ski, as I learned last Friday.

Sunday, I was in backcountry powder all day. Did this lead change strategy work effectively? You bet. Saturday afternoon, I grabbed some sun-warmed, off-piste slush. Did the lead change work? Yum! Sweet arcs slashing right through the heavy, deep corn.

I know that I have a lot to learn. I’m getting thrown into the “back seat” occaissionally. Another teacher noted that I’m not consistently in the fall line and am no longer angulating consistently. Yep, this change has messed everything up. Learning! Two steps forward, one step back.

I’ll have to groove this until I no longer need think about it. Can you say, “exercises on the beginner slope”?

What remaining place does “Taming The Wild Lead Change” have? I’m currently considering some of the reasons that this early inside ski edge and pressure is not taught to beginners. Perhaps it is not taught because a skier is ready if she/he is:

  • fairly competent at making a monomark
  • capable of skiing on one ski
  • capable of pressuring the inside ski consistently and strongly
  • comfortable with turning on the outside edge alone
  • very comfortable starting turns with a downhill shift of weight

These tend to be advancing skills. Hence, typical lessons don’t include much about this lead change strategy (that I’ve heard?).

Plus, since so very many skiers are still attempting telemarks with an old-fashioned move, “push the new front ski forward, then turn on the front ski”, much current teaching language and practice is focused on discouraging the lunge into “position” before initiating a turn. Any lead change strategy that begins with a monomark is likely to be more stable and dynamic than the old way. Learning to change edges by leaning downhill moves most skiers towards a better turn. That’s not bad.

Given the limits of what a person can learn easily, perhaps most of us mere mortals have to wait until we can thrash our way down the steeps before we can elegantly glide, as Paul Peterson does?

When asked by Paul Petersen, “What do you want from today?” I answered, “to get on my edge early in my turn.” Mission accomplished! Thank you, “Saints” Paul I & II.

Thank you for riding along with my telemark journey. I’ll post tidbits as I learn them.