VAIL, Colorado - It takes eight minutes for Mark DelVecchio to ski Vail Mountain top to bottom, and he's lunging the whole time.
DelVecchio has been telemark skiing for four years, freeing his heels after 20 years of alpine skiing. He teles on the Vail Ski Patrol and is a personal trainer at the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa.
Learning to telemark may be easier if you are an alpine skier, but DelVecchio said the skills for the sports do vary.
"I think it's a good transition to go from one to the other," he said. "But I don't necessarily think being a good alpine skier is going to make you a good tele skier, and vice versa."
DelVecchio said that although there are similarities in the ski methods - both on snow, both on skis, both require wearing uncomfortable boots - the motions that you do during telemarking require different muscle isolation and strength-building in different areas.
"You are trying to work one leg at a time, as opposed to two," he said. "In telemarking we are always down in a lunge and there is always more pressure on one leg than the other. In alpine skiing, you are more often balanced on both legs at once."
It's the added challenge and skill development of the growing sport that seems to lead its devout following.
"Telemark skiing re-opens the way you look at the whole mountain," said Sean Glackin, owner of Alpine Quest Sports in Edwards. "It makes skiing the mountain fresh again for those just getting into the sport. It is a new challenge and a ton of fun, and it's a great workout too."
Glackin said that the transition to telemarking from alpine skiing can be pretty seamless.
"When you are coming from an alpine skiing background the learning curve is pretty quick," he said. "It's the same edge, it is just learning to manipulate it differently."
Alpine Quest has everything you will need to get set-up for tele skiing: over a dozen different models of tele boots, a variety of tele skis and bindings, knee pads, adjustable poles and backcountry equipment. The store offers a large selection of skis and boots in the demo program, and has half price rentals on "Tele Tuesdays." You can also apply three demo days towards your purchase price so that you can try gear before you buy.
Glackin emphasizes that the most important part of getting your gear is making sure you have a boot that has a good fit. Your foot should not be able to move around in your boot while skiing. Alpine Quest can help you size and mount your gear correctly, and can even do custom feet molds for your boots.
Take a lesson
Once you have your gear, you will probably want to take a lesson to help you get started. The Beaver Creek Nordic Center offers telemark equipment rentals, and has a beginner lesson every "Tele Tuesday" from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and an all-ability full day telemark workshop from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. on scheduled weekend days throughout the winter. Pre-registration for workshops is recommended. Visit the Nordic Center page on the Beaver Creek website for more information.
When you're learning and practicing your tele turns, expect to work your leg muscles - a lot.
"You will definitely feel a much greater quad burn during your skiing session since you are constantly lunging down the mountain," DelVecchio said, and recommends building up your strength with a training program before even getting up on the bunny hill.
DelVecchio designed an eight-minute workout to reflect a tele trip down Vail Mountain. You can do the sequence at home or in a gym, and relies on moving and supporting your body weight to build your strength.
"From this eight minutes, you will get to know the endurance required to tele ski from the top of the mountain to the bottom," he said. "This sequence will demonstrate how you will progressively work the leg, core and stabilizer muscles in telemarking."
DelVecchio's Descent: 8-minute tele workout
Vail Mountain top-to-bottom route - top of Chair 4 to Vail Village: Ramshorn-Mid-Vail-Upper Lionsway-Avanti-Cross Cut-Bear Tree-Vail Village.
30 seconds: Lateral skaters (Top of Chair 4 to Top of Ramshorn)
120 seconds: Alternating body weight lunges (Top of Ramshorn to 2032)
30 seconds: Alternating jump lunges (2032 to Mid Vail)
60 seconds: Jump rope (Mid-Vail to Upper Lionsway)
30 seconds: Alternating lateral lunge touchdowns (Upper Lionsway to Avanti)
60 seconds: Alternating body weight lunges (Avanti)
30 seconds: Jump lunge (Avanti-bottom of Chair 2)
30 seconds: Alternating lateral lunge touchdowns (Bottom of Chair 2-Cross Cut)
60 seconds: Alternating body weight lunges (Cross to the bottom of Bear Tree)
30 seconds: Sprint Run (Bottom of Bear Tree to Vail Village)
Contact Vail Cascade personal trainer Mark DelVecchio at email@example.com.