What’s the big deal with changing leads for a telemark turn? You just push the new lead ski out in front and then start turning, right?
(or maybe, sort of “wrong”, kind’a maybe?)
Here’s an alternate reality: Start the turn, then let the feet change after the turn begins.
And then, there’s, “keep the feet moving dynamically throughout the turn”.
I have heard each of these explanations; I have tried them all. While each approach may work under some circumstances to produce a particular type of turn, none of these statements really matches my experience when my turns are “in the pocket”, really working well turn to turn, dynamic through different terrain and snow and through various radii.
Further, from my experimentation and experience, lead change timing is an important contributor to the kind of turn that is intended. It turns out that the lead change has a profound influence upon the remainder of the turn. And while I do find the lead change to be a dynamic process, it’s a lot more subtle than these pat maxims imply.
Let me walk through what I think is taking place in my common everyday, garden variety, fall-line, medium sized telemark turns. Then, I’ll note adjustments that I make to achieve other effects.
According to the skiers in Unparalled Production’s “Free Time“, the lead change happens while the skis are between turns, while they are “unweighted”, that is, not being actively pressured. In fact, I would argue that one cannot change lead skis gracefully unless the skis are unweighted, what I call the “up-shuffle”.
Under no circumstances are my feet “in continuous motion” front to back throughout the turn, as Urmas Franosch suggests in his teaching videos. There are periods of foot movement. And, there are periods of relatively stasis between my feet. Moving the feet or not is related to what is happening at that moment of the turn.
During the pressure part of the turn, there is often very little, if any, front to back movement. Naturally, during lead change, there’s supposed to be movement. But there are subtle movements between my feet in response to other factors. I think that these foot movement responses are also important. I’m not always thinking about my feet.
One of the most productive exercises for telemarkers is practicing the “up-shuffle“, practicing unweighting and shuffling the feet front to back, changing which ski is leading and which is following. This basic motion has to feel natural and easy. One of the mistakes that I see beginners make is attempting to change leads without accompanying this with a slight “up” motion. It’s simple physics: it’s easier to move something when we’re not standing on it! This is especially true if your not lunging down into what you’re standing on.
But herein also lies another trap. In skiing, we never want to lose our “skier’s” stance. Good skiers don’t stand up all the way, stiff kneed. They move from lower to higher within a range that keeps the skier’s knees flexible and hips loose, and the skier’s center of gravity lower than a standing position.
For telemarking, it’s the same, though for many of us, the stance is a little bit lower than for parallel skiing. And, of course, there’s the classic telemark argument about how low to go.
My comfort zone stance is from athletic to modestly low. Your mileage will likely differ. Just don’t stand up, legs straight and then expect your skiing to work. My advice would be to start with your knees at least somewhat athletically flexed and go down from there as needed. I like dry land work for getting a somatic feel for what’s right for one’s body. Bottom line: I can’t ski if my knees aren’t bent.
So, flexed into a telemark position, one comes up a little and at the same time (during the up motion) one changes lead ski. That’s the “up-shuffle”. In “Free Time” they highlight the connection between unweighting and lead change.
Just before the lead change, there’s a fore/back movement that happens organically. I haven’t read about this anywhere, so I’d like to explain it. One’s back foot naturally closes stance when edges are released after the pressure of the last turn. This is a very subtle discovery that I’ve made.
At the end of a turn, one’s feet are as far apart as they’re going to get at any point in the turn.
This may be due to executing a spreading turn. Or, the feet may move just a little more apart in response to extra back foot pressure having been applied at the turn finish. Either way, generally, the lowest a skier will go and the furthest apart the feet is at the end of a turn.
Then, the skier has to release the ski edges. This is usually done with a some upwards motion. Simply planting a pole will cause the body to move upwards at least a little (see picture 3, above). This is the “unweight” that we’re not supposed to talk about now that we have “carving” technique. But I don’t know how else to describe it.
Interestingly, I find that the very act of releasing edges will also cause my feet to move towards each other. There’s not much friction on skis at this point. In response, one’s legs move to a more neutral relationship. I think that this is both natural and advantageous – it’s the way it’s supposed to happen. Why no one else talks about this, I don’t know.
That is, when I release my edges, my feet naturally move towards each other. I believe, (but don’t know for certain) that my back foot releases to a more neutral stance. I don’t have to think about this movement; it’s not intentional. The movement just happens as a response to releasing the muscles. This makes the up shuffle easier to execute. One’s feet have moved to a more neutral relationship. From this neutral stance, it doesn’t take much effort to move the feet past each other. I want to stress that in my opinion the lead change phase takes place only until the feet just pass. Whether one moves fully into the next telemark position depends upon what kind of turn is intended.
Aaron Perlman from the Northstar telemark school is a proponent of dropping what will be the back foot backwards, a sort of “moon-walk” approach. I did it that way for a while. But I feel it has no advantages, as long as one isn’t trying to push the front foot forward into a static, old-school telemark position. As long as the feet are dynamic, I think both feet can move.
If I want to use a spreading technique (as in a garland), moving both feet in opposite directions gives me a lot more power than just moving the back foot. Plus, moving both feet, it’s easier for me to keep my weight centered. I think that centered weight is key to a strong telemark. When I only move the next back foot, I have a tendency to balance on the front foot during a portion of the movement. That means skiing on one ski for a while, which I find is less stable; balancing on one ski loses one of the main advantages of the telemark turn: skiing on both skis’ edges at the same time.
What’s the timing of the lead change?
For a series of short turns straight down the fall line, my lead change timing happens gradually after the finish of the last turn. The lead change happens while the skis are light and moving towards or crossing the fall line. I try for the smoothest, most graceful transitions from one part of the turn to the next. I up shuffle rather slowly, letting gravity and the forces that were built up in my body through the last turn power my skis towards the next. While these forces are acting on me, I change my lead ski. All of this happens during this light, unweighted moment.
After my feet have changed position, I feel for the new edge to begin to arc in the snow. By the point where I feel my new edge make contact, I will be more or less in my new telemark position. If my feet aren’t far enough apart for me to get some weight onto my back foot, then I do a little “spreading of peanut butter” to open my feet up. Then I begin the process of edging and pressuring through to the finish of the turn. The whole thing happens as a slow motion dance, even though the turns are short and actually happening rather quickly. It’s almost as though I’ve slowed time down. There’s a natural rhythm that I fall into.
For long, cruising carved turns, I like to get the lead change over early so that I’m in my next telemark position from where I can get the skis on edge as soon as possible and pressure them steadily through the arc of the turn. I use almost the same timing as old-school telemark. I release my edges with a pole plant, up-shuffle quickly, and then settle into the new turn. Through this whole process, I will have not yet gone into the fall line. The lead change will occur right out of the finish of the last turn. I’m already edged and pressuring my new turn while still in the the arc of the last turn. By the time I hit the fall line again, I’m well into my new turn. In these long turns, my lead change happens very early, at the very beginning of the turn; it happens very quickly in order to maximize the amount of time I’m on edge and making an arc.
There’s one more lead change timing that I use. When I’m in snow about which I’m unsure, when I’m testing the slope, where the snow is harder, or where I want more precision in my turn initiation, I increase the delay before the lead change. I consciously begin my turn with a pronounced monomark. Remembering what I wrote above, that my feet will have returned to a more neutral position organically, I let the skis start sliding into the new arc and the new edge while still leaving my feet unchanged.
I find that there are a couple of advantages to this timing:
- increased early edge control
- more movement for a spreading turn
Starting the turn from the old telemark position will knock me on my rear in deep, heavier snow. For one thing, turning with the skis in a monomark presents a lot of extra ski length to power through heavy snow. With the skis offset in a telemark position, the ski edge being initiated into the new turn is a lot longer than the length of one ski alone. And, this position isn’t as stable while the skis are light. If one of my skis gets pushed out of parallel while it’s light and slipping into the new turn, I suddenly have my skis going in 2 directions. Yikes!
So I use this technique when on harder or very packed snow only. Still, delaying the lead change does have its uses.