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Changing it up

Shauna Farnell

Anyone who spends multiple days within gliding distance of a world-class ski resort in the winter should make a point of trying other methods of getting down the mountain.

That’s the realization I came to a few years ago, having finally become completely comfortable on a snowboard (that is to say, completely comfortable going down any possible ski run a mountain has to offer, not, I repeat, NOT that I’m comfortable trying to launch off the massive park jumps such as those found on Vail’s Golden Peak). With snowboarding the strongest discipline in my repertoire, and alpine skiing comfortable in an old-hat kind of way, telemarking was the next obvious hurdle.

Animosity between riders who choose one set of boards over another as a means to get down the mountain is behind us. No more “snowboarders scrape all the snow off the mountain,” or “skiers mess up the steeps by cutting huge moguls,” or “tele skiers …” uh, “tele skiers …” Hmm… maybe telemark skiers are completely harmless. OK, got one. How about “tele skiers make the rest of us look like wimps.”

A big reason why this silly rivalry is disappearing, and most ski areas in the U.S. embrace all forms of downhill snow sports (save Mad River Glen in Vermont, Taos, New Mexico, and Alta and Deer Valley, Utah, which still ban snowboarders from their mountains), is because of the multitude of winter enthusiasts wanting to learn the tricks of a new trade. Vail and Beaver Creek are no exceptions to the freedom-of-choice spirit.

With the two mountains offering so many options in cruisers, steeps, bumps, trees, terrain park features (for people who are into that kind of thing), clinics and lessons, there’s no reason why everyone who enjoys one type of snow sport shouldn’t try another.

It might be an argument on par with having many wonderful restaurants in close proximity, but always going to the same one because you know you like it and will always be satisfied. If you’re a solid proponent of said one-restaurant argument, you should continue to pay attention, because there are ways you can enjoy your one comfortable place even more, and with greater zeal.

I first tried snowboarding around age 11, when there weren’t many options to choose from and boards were generally heavy and shaped like pointy torpedoes. I made the mistake of wearing jeans with the knees cut out (This was a pretty hot look in 1988), not realizing how often I’d be on my knees. Or butt. Needless to say, there are now ample suppliers of useful instruction on how such habits can be avoided, and a small child no longer has to rent a 168-centimeter board. Having learned in such a way, the latest gear in all of its weight-specific, gender-specific, flex-specific, ability-specific intricacies amounts to more luxury than I could ever hope for. And such advances in technology are found across the board, or, shall we say, boards. Gone are the days of leather tele boots, shaped skis have evolved into something along the lines of rocket science, and skis, like snowboards, are manufactured specifically on different types of riding, be it powder, bumps, steeps, park or carving on cruisers.

So lack of adequate equipment is no excuse not to try something new. Here are a few things to think about when adding another downhill discipline onto your winter repertoire.

Stepping from boards to board

Coming from a ski background, the hardest thing to get used to on a snowboard is your sense of gravity and the fall line. In order to get accustomed to the sideways stance, and the necessary motions needed to stop and turn, putting the board sideways and getting acquainted with your edges is the first requirement. After placing the board perpendicular to the fall line, ease down the hill.

This is what some skiers ” maybe even you ” have referred to when accusing snowboarders of scraping the snow off the mountain. You’ll have a new appreciation for the temporary necessity for such a motion once you actually do it. From here, with the board perpendicular to the mountain, try putting weight on one foot and then the other to get familiar with how that affects speed. When getting to the point of linking turns, pretend you’re a snake and that your front shoulder is always leading the way and pointing where you want to go. Snakes don’t spin.

And then there were two

There’s something that just seems terrifying for a snowboarder who gets on skis for the first time and is accelerating when his or her hips are facing front (a stance which previously to snowboarders meant stopping or slowing down on their heel edge). Getting familiar with evenly weighting both skis, the snowplow/pizza method of speed control could become your best friend. The hockey stop will become useful for those who pick up too much speed, but beware of too much lean on the edges during a sudden stop, it could mean a fall.

Those poles might feel like useless barbecue tools at first. The first couple of trips down the hill, there’s no clear target or purpose for them, so you wait around until something feels ready and give the ground a poke. Instead of this, just get into the habit from your first trip down on skis of planting each pole before making a turn around it and it will become more meaningful from there.

Freeing your heels

Whether one is coming from an alpine skiing background or snowboarding, going down a slope on telemark skis with your heels detached from the boards just doesn’t feel very secure the first time around. Unless one has a Nordic skiing background, the automatic tendency will be to go straight into the snowplow to slow down and clamp one’s heels back down on the ski, lifting them after a turn is already made, providing a momentary illusion of making a proper tele turn. Wrong. Alpine skiers already know how to evenly weight their skis, but now they must become accustomed to the habit of sliding the inside ski back when making a turn.

Bending the knees takes on new meaning when it comes to teleing, and keeping one’s weight centered on the skis rather than tipping too far forward ” a mistake new tele skiers will quickly find often results in a face plant ” or too far back, which makes it near impossible to control the skis, is essential. Keeping the hands up for pole planting on turns will help with this balance. The best piece of tele advice is this: Pretend you’re a boxer, keeping both hands in front of your face and exaggerating the knee bend on turns.

For snowboarders, somehow making turns on tele skis may seem a bit closer to home than doing so on alpine skis. Perhaps this is because the boots are more flexible and comfortable, and teleskiing requires a person to be more cognizant of the fall line. The weight in the toes is also more familiar to snowboarders gone tele than to alpine skiers gone tele.

Learn something new

Ski and snowboard schools at Vail and Beaver Creek offer specialized lessons for all levels of skiers, snowboarders and tele skiers. Outside of signing up for a lesson, the best way to begin on new boards is to make friends with someone proficient in the discipline you are trying to learn. It’s amazing how far a few tips can go when someone is watching you, especially someone who is familiar with your style in your own proficient discipline. They can tell you what translates into the new discipline and what doesn’t.

Also keep an eye out for on-mountain group activities and clinics. Beaver Creek offers Tele Tuesdays, where all levels of tele skiers meet on Tuesday morning and form groups depending on their ability levels. Success is always better when it’s shared.

Vail, Colorado


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