I know a lot of parents who telemark — sometimes. Many of them took up tele when their kids were small and just learning to ski. The idea was that learning tele would make it more fun to hang out on the bunny slopes. And it was. Then the kids progressed on their alpine gear much more quickly than the parents progressed on tele. So that started a switch between tele and alpine gear and the tele skills never really progressed.
The Need to Commit
That’s the position I find myself in. I need to commit. I am a semi-solid intermediate on my tele skis and while I love skiing them, my family complains that I’m too slow. Until I can talk my kids into tele, I’m the family lone ranger. Thank goodness for friends.
In December I took a tele lesson at Alta which made me want to improve my free heel skills. Aside from what I learned from Laura (which was a lot), I asked two of the best teleskiers I know, Kate Belknap-Bruchak and Scotty McGee, for their advice.
Both Kate and Scotty are PSIA Level III Telemark Instructors. Kate is the Director of the Ski and Ride School at Powderhorn Mountain Resort. Scotty is a member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) Nordic Team meaning he is one of the best of the best. You can find him at Jackson Hole. Here’s what they shared with me.
Both Kate and Scotty recommend lessons. Most resorts have telemark instructors who are only too happy to share their love of this discipline. Telemark and alpine skiing are more different than many of us think, utilizing different technique, skills and muscles. As Kate puts it, “So much of what we do in teleing is counterintuitive to an alpine skier’s perspective that if you get good instruction right off the bat then there are no bad habits to break later.” Having developed some bad habits that Laura, my Alta instructor, had to work with me on, I know that Kate is right.
Better than one lesson, however, is a clinic, or a camp. Many resorts have annual telefests, which are great one-day events where you can learn a lot. But if you’re like me and you have trouble committing, a camp, such as Jackson Hole’s Steep and Deep, will get you out on the teleskis for several days, not just one.
Make An Investment
In addition to investing your time in learning to telemark, Scotty recommends investing in your gear. If you put some money into your gear, chances are you’re going to use it more and you’ll have more fun. Good boots are going to cost you, but are critical to maximizing your fun (just as in Alpine).
As for bindings, Scotty recommends “active” bindings with lift (such as HammerHeads or Axl from 22 Designs). A bit of lift is good for leverage and cutting down on resistance where the binding hangs over the edge. “Active” means that the cable pivot location and spring tension are enough to help you bend your boot and help keep the ball of your foot in contact with the ski. Proper balance on the ball of the back foot is a challenge for new teleskiers. These bindings can help.
In addition, Scotty suggests tuning and waxing your tele skis for the conditions. Good edges will ensure you have more fun, and will ski safer too. “Tele is so much harder on slow skis,” adds Scotty.
Parallel When You Need To, But Don’t Parallel When You Want to Tele
This sounds a bit confusing, but it actually makes good sense.”You want to avoid reverting mid-turn from tele to alpine. If you are on terrain where you can’t finish the telemark turn, don’t even try to tele there,” recommends Scotty. Why? Because you’ll be reinforcing an old movement pattern rather than learning a new pattern. Tele on lower angled terrain where you can finish your telemark turns well.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make alpine turns on tele skis. Just don’t mix it up from tele to alpine in the middle of a turn.
So Why Tele?
If you’re going to improve at telemark skiing, it will take commitment and investment of your time and money. I started teleing because I thought it looked “cool,” and it was something I’d always wanted to try. Other skiers cite things such as “freedom” and “mobility.” In the end, I think for most people, tele is a new challenge, and another way to have fun on snow. I’ve written before that learning new skills (specifically telemark skiing) is empowering. I still think that. Now, I just have to commit.
In addition to being a member of the PSIA/AASI Nordic Team, Scotty McGee is the author of the forthcoming Basic Illustrated Guide to Cross Country Skiing soon to be published by Falcon Guides.
© 2012, braveskimom. All rights reserved. Any use or publication of content, including photos, requires express permission.