Teenage tele skiers: It’s not just a hippy sport anymore
VAIL – In the same vein as snowboarding, telemark skiing carries its own image, or perceived image.”There’s definitely a stereotype,” said Molly Etters, 16. “The stereotype is that tele skiers are old hippies. The kids on my team and I, we’re trying to get that reputation out of people’s minds.”Etters is one of 16 teenagers on Vail Mountain School’s telemark team. Last month, she took fifth place among junior girls at the Telemark Extreme competition in Crested Butte, and is fully committed to the sport. She said she’ll never touch her snowboard again.”About three or four years ago, I started telemarking a couple times a year – going on hut trips and stuff,” Etters said. “I thought it was a lot more fun than snowboarding. There was more work to do and it’s good exercise. Last year was my first year tele skiing permanently.”Work and good exercise may not top the priority lists of many teenagers, but the VMS tele team is trying to change all that.
“Our team has done a lot to promote younger kids getting involved,” said VMS senior Meggie Tuthill. “Before it was just older skiers. Now you see more high schoolers going out. It’s becoming more youth-oriented instead of a bunch of old hippies.”Young tele skiers agree that tele skiing involves more muscle strength than alpine, but it’s worth the extra effort.”It’s pretty physically demanding with the leg burn and everything,” Tuthill said. “It’s all about just making people realize that you’re having so much fun. Eventually you get over it. That’s always been the hard part for me is getting strong enough.”All-mountain accessTelemark coach Mike Ioli, who, like Tuthill and Etters, is a former snowboarder, said part of the appeal of a tele team is that all the different terrain on the mountain is covered, from the backcountry to the halfpipe.”When I first started the team, I thought it would be a purest approach – doing hut trips, avalanche awareness, things like that,” Ioli said. “But here we are, training big mountain, moguls, and freestyle. We’ll break it down – two days in the park, two days steeps and moguls. It’s real easy with these kids because they grew up in the mountains and they’re all ex-snowboarders and ex-freestyle skiers. They’re all little rippers.”
Tony Ryerson is one such ripper. The 15-year-old VMS freshman took second place in junior men at the Crested Butte Extreme contest, first taking a conservative line down the mountain during qualifying, then going for a more daring choice that ended in what he described as a 15-foot cliff drop with an icy runout.Ryerson views tele skiing as something paralleling the freestyle movement.”The stereotype is of hippie skiers, but I think it will change to the same type of image as freestyle skiing,” said Ryerson, who started alpine skiing when he was 2. “I think tele skiing is going in the same direction.”Of course, dropping cliffs and catching air is a bit more challenging when the skier’s entire foot isn’t attached to the skis.No heel, no hesitation”It’s way harder to land jumps on teles,” Etters said. “When I was learning how to land switch, I’d just fall on my face going backwards. It’s a lot more mental, just knowing to trust your skis and finding the right way to land. Balance is key.”
Like enthusiasts of all downhill disciplines, tele skiers cite powder turns as the ultimate means to enjoy their sport. On telemark skis, they say, face shots are more intense.”You can just get so low in the powder and make quick jump turns,” Etters said. “Getting so deep in the snow is much more fun.”Snowboarder converts quickly realize that tele boots are just as comfortable as snowboard boots. And climbing to hard-to-reach locations is better on top of the snow than by post-holing with a board on one’s back. “Nothing is off-limits on tele skis,” Tuthill said. “You can go do much more of the mountain. I have friends who use skis with AT (releasable alpine) bindings, but in the backcountry, teles are more comfortable. Snowboard boots have the same amount of mobility as tele boots, but with tele skis, you can float through the snow instead of boot-packing.” Young tele skiers say the key to success on telemarks is being pro-active.”You’ve gotta have aggression instead of being timid,” Etters said. “It comes to what you’re willing to do. I definitely think it’s more difficult than snowboarding. I don’t want to dis alpine skiing or anything, but when I’m lazy on tele skis, that’s when I do alpine turns.”
Taking a lungeThe VMS tele team has its own jackets. More than 25 students are signed up for next year’s squad.Of the eight junior girls competing in the Crested Butte Extreme, half were from VMS. In addition to Etters’ and Ryerson’s results, Kjell Ellefson finished fourth place for junior boys, Rob Wear finished sixth, Cole Graskamp finished eighth, Carder Lamb ninth and Forrest Graves 11th.”We were seriously the talk of the town,” Ioli said. “Every time someone came down, the announcer would say, ‘Here’s ANOTHER kid from Vail Mountain School.’ Now we’re on the map. It’s going to take off from here.”Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext.14632, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado