So you want to carve telemark turns through untracked powder, quite possibly in some remote backcountry bowl, huh?
The sane person might ask, “Whatever for?”
However, we’ll leave questions of sanity to the psychologists and proceed down my chosen slope. I’m here to tell you, there are turns after learning.
Up front, let me echo the obvious: I encourage you to take a lesson from a certified (PSIA or equivalent) telemark ski instructor. I have. There’s always something new to learn, something that takes my skiing up another notch.
And, if you don’t ski at all, I strongly suggest not trying to start with a telemark turn1. The telemark assumes quite a few learned skills on skis. There is a method that takes a beginner from the snowplow to a telemark. I’m not describing that method here, as I have no experience with it.
There are three techniques that, when put together in the following order will get you turning smoothly and in control:
- The monomark for turn initiation
- The up-shuffle to unweight, change edges, and shift lead ski
- The telemark garland to turn the skis
There are refinements to each of these steps. And likely, without additional skills, these three won’t get you down a 35º slope in tight control (though you may be able to muscle down with bigger, slidey turns?)
With which technique do you start? I suggest that you pick the skill that makes use of the skiing skills you already have. A strong parallel skier might be most comfortable with telemark garlands, while a skier who needs more help with initiating turns might want to start with the up-shuffle. Free-style skiers might prefer starting with the monomark? It doesn’t really matter, so long as you are more or less comfortable with each of these.
I would practice this (and have!) on a beginner slope that offers no challenge to your current skiing ability.
This turn is with the skis in a telemark position, but you don’t change lead skis while turning to each side. Pick a ski, right or left, with which to start. The monomark requires you to keep that same position and turn to each side. In one direction the front leg is downhill and the back leg is uphill. That’s the “normal” telemark turning side. Without changing leads, in a monomark turn, you shift to the other edge of the skis and turn such that the downhill ski will be the back ski and the uphill ski will be the front. This is a bit like an extreme parallel position.
There are several important skills taught through the monomark. First, it gives one confidence that the skis will turn on either edge. That alone is worth the practice, just in case you mess up your lead shift. It’s a confidence builder.
More importantly, the monomark teaches the body to let go of the end of the telemark turn and to start the next turn before changing leads. It’s a timing aid. A good telemark should release the last turn’s edges and begin to flatten the skis before changing lead skis. Doing so is a stronger turn initiation. Plus, as we’ll see from the up-shuffle and the garland, you will get a lot more turning power by making use of the lead change and garland. If you’ve shifted your back foot too far back early in the turn, a lot of the power and stability in the telemark is lost. Essentially, don’t shift your feet before unweighting. Never push the front foot forward right at the end of your last turn, i.e., as the start of your next turn.
Finally, the monomark helps balance and stability. It can’t be done if the skier’s too low, nor standing all the way up, e.g., with the center of gravity too high and knees no longer athletically bent.
Instead of “shuffle“, as I’ve heard teachers name this manouveur, I call it the “up-shuffle”.
That’s because even in well packed powder, there’s still must be a bit of release of the pressure (“weight”) in order that one’s skis flatten so that they will stop turning, allowing the skis to roll onto a different edge. And, heavier, deeper, slopped, chopped snow, requires more unweight in order to free the skis from the last edge so that they can be put into a new turn3. Think of this as a little hop motion. It’s not a jump.
The shuffle will happen fluidly and easily with two conditions:
- The skier’s weight is centered between the skis
- The shuffle is accomplished by letting the legs push up a little and then starting the shuffle while the skis are “light”, have no weight on them
To accomplish the lead change, one can move both feet at the same time. Or, the alternate style is to let the front foot drop backwards4.
Finding that place where one’s weight is between feet can be practiced off the snow. On snow or off, put one foot in front of the other, bend your knees into an athletic stance and move your torso forward and back. Like a telemark, your front foot must be flat, while the back heel is raised. Move your weight back and forth. Find the mid-point stance. That’s your telemark stance. That’s your shuffle stance.
Now push up a little to release your weight (not really a jump, a quick push upwards, a slight hop). As your weight comes off of your feet (unweighting), move your feet until they pass. Most likley, you’ll need to also let your knees collapse a little as you go up in order to overcome friction. This is true even on snow, much more true in socks on a slippery floor surface where there is more friction. Let your feet stay in contact with the surface, even when they are light and moving.
Try to be very conscious of both the release of your weight and its return. I feel this most in my feet, whether I feel like they are making contact with the surface on which I’m standing or not (momentarily). This weight release and return are very important for timing.
I’ve watched Aaron Perlman ski a flat runout shuffling over and over again. It is great practice for the lead change. In fact, it is the lead change (only without the rest of the turn). After starting the turn with a monomark, one up-shuffles. As the lead changes, the skis will come down onto the new edge, hopefully with the new back foot having just passed the front foot and no more!
Telemark garlands5 build skills for turning the skis. To create a telemark garland, Aaron Perlman talks about dropping the back foot backwards, moon walk style. It’s a bit counter-intuitive. This form of the technique will deliver a strong garland.
However, Allen & Mikes Really Cool Telemark Tips book encourages the skier to “spread peanut butter”. I take this to mean using both feet to push away from each other and into the snow. Doing so delivers turning power from both skis at once, doubling the turning power of the garland.
In order to do a series of garlands the following must be true:
- start from a standard traverse position
- In order to get both skis onto edge, you must angulate. This is often described as “making a ‘C’ with your body”. Any traverse will always require a little angulation
- Both skis must be on edge, the same edge, the edge of the traverse
To execute the garland, the skier either pushes the back foot back (on edge!), or push both feet away from each other (on edge). This will cause the skis to bite into the snow and turn into the hill.
Garlands are practiced in a series along a traverse, all in the same direction of turn, one after another. After garlanding, the skis are allowed to come back to the traverse. Then another garland is executed. Switch sides going back across the slope. Practice until garlands become easy and natural to both sides. (Take two asprins and call me in the morning)
Okay, you’ve practiced your monomarks to both sides, you’ve up-shuffled along the flats, and you’ve garlanded until you are confident that you can turn your skis to each side. How do you put these together into a series of turns?
Here’s how I learned to link turns and how I practice.
- I start from a traverse in telemark position
- I check that I’m prepared and that I start from a strong telemark position:
- I centre my weight
- I make sure that my posture is relatively straight
- I make sure that I’m angulated (the ‘C’)
- I have a feeling of weight on my back ski
Now, I’m ready for my first turn.
- I plant my pole both in front and slightly down hill6. As I start to pass my pole, this will cause my skis to begin to release their edges quite naturally without my thinking about it. If your interested, this is called “anticipation“
- I start a monomark into the new turn to flatten my skis. I have not changed lead skis yet
- When I feel the skis begin to slide, when gravity starts to pull on my skis, I unweight by beginning my lead-change up-shuffle. As my weight comes back down onto my skis, my feet will be in motion, hopefully just passing (but don’t worry about this at first)
- I roll both skis onto the new turn edge while they’re still light, before my weight is fully onto the skis and before I intentionally start to weight or pressure the skis, the “arc” of the skis that will make them turn.
- I garland into my telemark postion, causing the skis to turn into the new direction.
At this point, on a modest slope, I may be ready for my next turn. That’s all there is. I start the process anew.
However, (and I’ll make a post about the details of this), if I want the turn to continue, I begin to apply more weight to the back ski. This is what is described as “sitting on the back ski”. Weighting is definitely a process. I don’t want to slam onto the back ski; I want to smoothly apply pressure to it. My front ski is already pressured; I don’t worry about it.
Likely, the above series of steps will be sufficient to get you started telemarking and even get you down fairly steep blue to low black runs in control.
I hope this helps you learn quickly and easily?
- I suppose that an unusually coordinated athlete might be able to put on a pair of telemark skis and just naturally “get it”. My guess is that this is extremely rare. More than once, the odd alpine skiing Ski Patroller has teased me that “the telemark is too hard”. Let me suggest that if you intend to try telemarking with no previous skiing experience, at least use releasable bindings. I’d hate to hear of someone who read this article then destroyed a knee trying to learn.
- This should work for anyone who is at least an intermediate skier and who is adequately coordinated and reasanobly in shape.
- I know it’s no longer fashionable to talk about unweighting. But I defy you to find a great skier on a steep slope, or in powder, or in heavy snow who doesn’t unweight her/his skis.
- I think that time and weight position are lost in the “drop the front foot back” technique. This technique takes longer. And, since only an unweighted, more or less flat ski can slide easily, this means that the skier must put all her/his weight on one ski while the shift is taking place. Doing so cause the weight to move from center to forward as the unweighted ski is moving backward. I prefer staying in the centre and using both feet. I’ll say more about this in a post about lead changes.
- I could not find an existing video of telemark garlands. I’ll try to make one during the Winter
- This will naturally increase my angulation if I plant the pole correctly. That is, not by swinging my arm, but keeping the arm relatively stable and using my body to bring the pole forward and downhill