I’ve been an alpine skier since middle childhood.
Lars Larson was one of my main early alpine teachers; he was a dear friend of my mother’s. Soon after I began to learn to ski, I remember Lars telemarking on the practice hill. Telemarking looked too hard. I couldn’t understand it. And, he was using his skis to go uphill!
My childhood experience of skiing definitely taught me to avoid any and all attempts to go up the hill on those clunky skis. Skis were made for going with gravity, not against it. “Lars is a crazy Norwegian”, I thought. But Lars said to me, “You will one day do this, too.” Uh, huh – more irrelevant opinions from the adults.
From then on as I grew up on skis, racing, playing, experimenting, I defined my self as “not cross country”. Sleek slalom turns; that’s what I aspired to.
As a young man, I fell in love with a ski goddess. She’d begun skiing at 3 years old; it was as natural to her as walking. She was (and probably still is?) the smoothest, most elegant woman skier I’ve ever seen. She was absolutely fearless. She took me down my first 40°+ slope. She encouraged me to ski the bumps, and she often gave pointers that took my skiing to the next level. For these, I will always be grateful.
And, to the point, she introduced me to skiing in the back country.
No groomed trails for her. For her the object of the free heel was the opportunity to be far out in the woods, perhaps even in wilderness in the Winter. Though I could barely kick and glide, I also fell madly in love with wintertime mountains.
But, there was something missing. There just had to be a way to ski down on those crazy skis just as gloriously as I could do lift-served.
Sure, I learned to parallel free heel. Once I got used to the leather boots (yeah, back then!) and the long, stiff, double-cambered skis, I could turn them: more skid than carve, but a turn is a turn, after all. And paralleling long, narrow back country skis really improves one’s alpine balance and feel for the ski. All good, but not good enough.
There were skiers out there having a blast on backcountry skis. I wanted in on the action!
So began my long strange telemark trip. (My sweetheart didn’t share my enthusiasm. Backcountry was for touring, alpine was for turning)
I never felt comfortable and confident with the earlier telemark turn: “put the skis into position and wait” one early video advised. Yes the skis would turn. But it didn’t feel dynamic and stable to me.
But I don’t give up easily, either.
Yes, I took the occaisional telemark lesson. And these helped me at least turn on modest slopes. But it was never solid and dependable in the way that I feel about skiing what I will call, “the modern telemark turn” today.
The advances in technique in the last 10-12 years are profound. (of course, the equipment has changed radically, as well). But 10 years to develop a technique that is essentially a somatic experience is a very short time. I don’t think we have a clear way of describing what’s going on, either between experts, nor to teach it through the various stages of expertise. And, as Biff Russell says, there are infinite variety of styles of the turn, different timings of each part of the turn can yield different results, all resulting in a competent, but differing turn. This variation complicates describing what we are doing.
I think it’s time for us telemarkers to discuss and refine the technical aspects of the turn. What are we really doing beyond the teaching maxims to “stay low” and “sit on the back ski”?
- Where is the body? (centered and relatively erect)
- When is the the lead change? (it depends on the intended turn**)
- When and how does the weight get transfered to skis? (it’s a process, just as in alpine skiing)
I hope that you’ll take some of the telemark trip with me?
Perhaps some of the techniques that I’ve found useful will help your skiing?
I intend in this blog to dispel some telemark “myths”. Some things that are said are just not true taken at face value, I find. And, I hope that some of my discoveries will make this mysterious beast we call “The Telemark” a bit easier to learn and easier to control. My vistas have certainly opened up in the back country. I hope yours do, too
**If you change lead skis quickly, try slowing the shift down and see what happens. One blog post will focus on lead changes