Go tele it on the mountain
Vail, CO Colorado
BEAVER CREEK ” For two winters, I’d been fascinated.
I always looked when I saw them coming. And how couldn’t I? The are so aesthetically alluring. They flowed down the hill, moving like a familiar song.
Each time I rode up a ski lift and saw someone swooshing down on a pair of telemark skis, I wanted to be them.
So finally, after enough watching, I decided to strap on some teles and free my heel.
On Saturday, I headed up to Beaver Creek’s Nordic Center for a full-day group clinic.
Like a handful of others there, my telemark experience consisted of watching others ski. I didn’t know how to initiate a turn, let alone slip my boot in the binding.
After a brief orientation of the equipment and some walking around in the skis, we headed up to Flat Tops.
Telemark skiing requires a bit of patience, especially if you already know how to ski (or think you do).
You won’t be laying down perfect turns on your first few runs. You likely won’t be doing it by lunch. But there’s a certain point when you start to get it.
The turns feel good. Yes, turns, not just a turn. It feels right, and you immediately know.
But from the time you attempt your first turn and end up falling or keeping your heel glued down, to when you start swishing back and forth, you need to put yourself on the line a little bit.
For skiers and snowboarders, the transition to tele makes for a different balancing act. In alpine skiing, you can get away with putting significantly less weight on your inside foot when making a turn. And in snowboarding, you move the weight from your toes to your heels.
The key to solid telemarking is keeping between 40 percent to 60 percent of your weight on either foot. You don’t want to be totally shifting weight from one leg to another. Even weight distribution sounds like a simple enough principle, at least when your legs are in line with your shoulders. What made the tele turn challenging is that you have to keep your legs staggered.
Initially, I pulled my inside leg back about a foot and a half, but I would let it creep back to almost even with my outside turning foot. And when I finally did keep the one foot staggered, I had trouble keeping enough weight on the inside foot.
Soon enough, however, through some helpful drills and great coaching, I found the tele turn.
It’s OK to fall back to alpine. My instructor mentioned there’s no shame in leaving your heel down and taking a few alpine turns when you get tired. And it doesn’t take much to switch back to alpine either, which is always a blessing for cat tracks. For beginner snowboarders, cat tracks can be a nightmare, but on tele skis, even the novice can safely negotiate the flats.
When I decided to try my hand at snowboarding last year, I thought it would be a good idea to spend a day trying to figure it out for myself. I came away from the mountain with a bad case of shaken-baby syndrome and almost no desire to try again. I later took a lesson and got my bearings. Unless you have a patient and knowledgeable friend, a tele lesson or clinic is the way to go.
Whenever I ski or snowboard for an entire day, the most relieving part of the day comes when I slip out of the boots. The telemark boots are another big draw ” they are soft enough for walking around, yet they aren’t the size of footwear one would need while walking on the moon. And again, the free heel gives a safe feeling. While I’ve never hurt my knee in alpine skiing or snowboarding, there have been times when I thought for certain I was going to tear a ligament.
One thing that does take getting used to on teles is that the skis aren’t going to release when you fall. After one or two falls (and not just the small plops), you get used to it.
After my final run, despite a giant spill, I felt like I’d made some serious progress.
When I woke up the next morning, I knew I’d done something right. I consider myself to be in great shape, but I still felt sore in places I never thought were possible.
I knew there was less than a month left in the ski season, but all I could think about was when and where I was going to buy my tele gear.
Sports Writer Ian Cropp is in no way qualified to give telemark lessons but can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.