How to Telemark: part 2

Télémark instructor Sean “Rowdy” Yates showing perfect form

Editor’s note:  Editor’s note:  Tracie Max Sachs reports from the Swiss Alps on her telemark lessons in two parts.  This installment focuses on practicing telemark skiing and reactions from onlookers.

Ready Set . . .

Once you have gathered your equipment and courage, it’s time to hit the slopes.  Télémark instructor Sean “Rowdy” Yates suggested we go for the intermediate runs, which are serviced by a chairlift.  It was better than the beginner area. The intermediate slopes, offered more variation in terrain and a break for your legs while sitting on the chairlift on the way up. My knee didn’t hurt, but after 2 hours, my thighs were screaming. There is nothing like a good thigh burn when you try a new sport.

Burning thighs notwithstanding, Rowdy began from the very basics.  He explained the equipment, and how the bindings work. My bindings didn’t have breaks, only a safety strap, so he quickly reminded me to never lay my skis down on their bases before they were attached to my boots. It’s amazing what beginner errors can be made very quickly that can cause a lot of damage. A runaway ski is no laughing matter. Once I had my skis secured to my boots, we did several exercises to find the base position. This felt very strange at first, the boots were bouncy, and I felt like I was going to flip over forward.

With some reassurance, I gained confidence and off we went! It was a strange sensation to be the student when I’m so often explaining the basics of the turn to my clients. Generally it’s the same principle only you bend your inside ski back until there is a small triangular window visible between your knees from the side view. If you are too far forward or back, you quickly feel a loss of balance. It’s not a forgiving sport in that way. Eventually I linked my turns together and felt I made quick progress of the sport.

Is telemark timeless?

I’ll spare you the rest of the boring details of what a great student I am. Is this a sport of the future or the past? Well, only time will tell. After some research, I found an article from February of 2017 (45.6) issue of POWDER Magazine titled Telemark Skiing Is Dead, by Hans Ludwig. Sadly, there may be some credence to the article. As I was télémarking with Rowdy, I notice we did draw quite a bit of attention.

People passing by screaming “free the heel”, and “there’s something wrong with your binding”. It was fun and we interacted with people and Rowdy even picked up a lesson for the next day, which is great. However, the lack of access to the equipment, despite there being many qualified instructors here, may have it’s downside. I don’t think télémark will make a huge comeback in the 2020’s. It’s a niche sport that is fun for experienced skiers looking for a new way to enjoy the mountain. I fully appreciated my day of lunges and will certainly continue and hope to help the sport stay alive. Télémark is a true art form and it is beautiful to watch those who are so proficient at it. I highly suggest giving it a try.

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