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Longtime alpine skier takes a telemark lesson to learn to really free her heel

Posted Friday, February 18, 2011
— Smugglers' Notch, Cross-country skiing, Alpine / downhill skiing, Backcountry skiing

My friendly tele instructor, Oliver.

He teaches at Smugglers' Notch.

My tele boots.

My tele skis.

File photo showing my bad habits, which I *will* break!

Oliver, the Smugglers' Notch telemark instructor who coached me this week, seems to have the same skiing philosophy that I do. Why stick only to skiing on the trails and why stick to just one kind of skiing? Branching out and trying something new will keep skiing forever fun and interesting!

This is what I've been doing for the last eight years or so. This lifelong alpine skier married a former nordic ski racer, so guess what new sport I picked up? Then I was introduced to "free-heel" skiing with mellow backcountry ski touring that required kicking and gliding through the woods and making some downhill turns now and then.

Since then I've been making more telemark turns in the glades and backcountry, and I want to make some confident linked turns down the steeper, deeper terrain. I really want to have fun coming down the hills that I work so hard to climb!

With that in mind I signed up to take a telemark skiing lesson. I've had tele gear for more than a year now and I've used it enough to get a feel for it, but also long enough to develop some naughty habits.

Oliver at Smuggs would be the one to try to curb those bad habits. I wanted to work on the mechanics of the telemark turn so I could apply it better in all of my free-heel gear. As it turns out, my missteps seem to stem from my years and years of alpine skiing, and my tentativeness to start a new turn.

Oliver had me working on striding — keeping my feet moving forward one at a time — and keeping my ankles and knees bent so that my weight would be over the balls of both feet. This was a slightly awkward position to get used to. I had been skiing my tele gear more like alpine gear.

And then I worked on getting a 50/50 balance of weight on my skis. Again, on a groomed slope, alpine skiers don't ski 50/50. But when I saw how smooth Oliver's turns were, I tried my best to mimic him. Every once in a while I made a decent turn (typically better turning right!), and now it's a matter of repetition to make those muscles remember how to do it right.

Oliver also addressed some misperceptions about telemark skiing:

1. You do not have to do deep knee bends. You do have to flex your ankles and knees, but not like you are going to propose to someone!

2. Telemark turns really don't have an advantage over parallel turns on groomed slopes. However, Oliver says they are more natural and advantageous when you are in moguls and powder.

3. You do not have to have a full-on shaggy beard and wear lots of wool to tele ski. OK, I made that one up myself, but it's true.

I used to be in the ski instructor role and it's interesting and humbling to be the student again. But it's also fun to try to master a new skill — one that might have terrific rewards: allowing me to have even more fun while exploring Vermont's snowy glades and backcountry terrain.

I must admit that when we made telemark turns in some mellow bumps and a bit of powder, it felt really good. I didn't feel as awkward as when I was on the groomers, thinking too much about each turn.

So now my goal is to practice my 50/50, flexing, striding telemark turns on light powder days, and in some small, fun moguls. Thanks for the tips, Oliver!

"Spring Skiing"

Thursday and Friday's warm temperatures served up some early spring skiing in Vermont. (And a lot of snow and ice sliding off of our roof! Always fun to hear that in the middle of the night.) Skiers saw some sun on Thursday, and some rain on Friday.

Friday night the temperatures will drop back to normal. Thank goodness!

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