I've been skiing since I was two. I had those little Traks you could attach to your snow boots with floppy straps, so it was a combination of Nordic and Alpine at the same time. My parents had the brilliant idea to just let me go at the top of our "wicked" steep driveway in New Hampshire and see how I fared on the way down. They were proponents of the "learn by doing" philosophy. We lived in North Conway, N.H., and with at least five ski areas in a 30-mile radius, this was serious business, even for toddlers.
By age five I was bombing down the hill on Attitash Mountain at Olympic speeds and clearly destined for great things, that is until the family moved a few hours south of the White Mountains where the ski area (Gunstock) felt more like a mole hill and there wasn't much snow anyway.
With Olympic Alpine dreams dashed, I piddled around on cross-country skis for the next 20 years or so and grew to become at least a solid intermediate skate and classic skier.
When I signed up for the Telemark Evolution Ski Series at Mt. Bachelor last weekend, I figured I'd be ahead of the curve in terms of prior skill level and I'd be flying around the mountain, droppin' a knee like a pro in no time.
I picked up my rental skis the night before the class at Pine Mountain Sports which has a full line of rental telemark gear for those looking to give the sport a few test runs before investing in a full set up. Marc O'Brien got me fitted with boots and skis and I was delighted to find the boots were worlds more comfortable than Alpine boots, that often make me feel like in order to get them on, I'm going to have to break some bones. I was also surprised to see that the skis were similar, if not basically the same, as Alpine. I had envisioned much skinnier Nordic-like skis, which is what they used to be in the old days, I was told.
The next morning at Bachelor, I discovered our class was an even mix of people who had tried it before and neophytes, so I thought I was in good standing. Only in Bend though, does an older man wearing a torn up rain jacket and a fanny pack, and a pair of tele skis and boots from the '70s, leave me in the dust on the bunny hill during our first test run. It's a lesson, not a contest I know, but still.
The conditions were a little crusty, but it was a glorious day to be outside, and the mountain was packed. The last time I remember skiing as a teenager, I was the one racing down the mountain at harrowing speeds, barley missing tourists by a few inches and feeling a little smug about scaring them. Somehow in the 15 years that passed, my Alpine skiing has literally gone down hill and now I was the grandma snowplowing down the steep sections, suffering minor heart attacks every time another skier whizzed past my peripheral vision.
Luckily this was a temporary condition, and after I got my "ski" legs back I was able to start practicing my tele-turns. Here are a few key pointers I learned:
Center your weight between both legs. When you are first learning, this will feel like you are shifting back slightly.
Keep your weight evenly distributed on both skis. This feels really different from Alpine skiing where the downhill ski usually takes the bulk of the pressure. Practice over compensating by putting a lot of weight on your uphill ski.
Think about pushing your front ski forward. Beginners tend to lift up their heels but do not actively project their front knee forward. This will also help to keep weight centered.
Switch ski positions (moving back leg to front) halfway through your turn, not before. Most beginners anticipate turns too early.
At the end of the class, we retired into the ski lodge to watch videos of ourselves to see how we progressed. Cascade Lakes sponsored the class and provided beer and snacks - a nice treat at the end of a long day.
When it came time to play the video of me, I was actually kind of surprised to see that I did not look like the flailing clown I felt like all day. My confidence grew and grew as I watched myself do a graceful series of linking "s" turns and then fall to the ground.
I could hear the instructor yelling to me in the background of the video:
"Great recovery Laurel! You know you are really learning something if you fall a lot!"
His encouraging intent was laughable, but it is true that I learned enough to practice and maybe even become a decent skier with a few more lessons and lots of time out on the snow.
Mt. Bachelor's next Telemark Evolution Session, Feb 26, is a special women's only session. There is a great group of instructors up at the mountain available for privates, including our two teachers Bob and Armando. Information, mtbachelor.com.