First Contact: Thrilling Telemark Experience

Picture source: NATO website

I didn’t realize how much I relied on my alpine ski gear until my first encounter with telemark skis.

Technology is a wonderful thing: Those bindings keep my feet laying flat on my alpine skis at all times. As long as I make sure my shins put pressure on the tongues of my boots and I swing my hips, a smooth run from the top to the bottom is guaranteed. Sometimes I lean too much forward, and sometimes my shoulder is not perpendicular to the fall line, my gear just quietly compensates the imperfect body position without bothering me with a signal of “not to worry.”

I was never worried though I need to worry because if I had brought my gear to intense conditions, such as steeper terrains or moguls, I would have consumed up the forgivingness of my beloved ski equipment. Fortunately before any tragedy could happen, I had my first contact with telemark skis.

On telemark skis, you cannot cheat. I was taking a weekend long telemark workshop offered by NATO (North American Telemark Organization) in Vermont, and I remembered I thought “what was going on?” when I heard the instructor asked us to try out parallel turns first. I cried inside “I want to learn telemark turns; that is why I am here!” but when I tried to ski down I felt shaky and couldn’t believe that I wasn’t able to control my skis.

On telemark skis, our heels are free. We lean forward, and our heels leave the ground, not until we really lower ourselves to lay our feet flat on the skis, we can ski edge to edge and make parallel turns. This “simply lowering ourselves” is the basic for telemark skiing, and this principle applies to alpine skiing too.

We worked on parallel turns for quite a while to ensure that everybody had a good body position and hip movement. The hip movement is somewhat “counter-intuitive.” With your downhill leg lower than your uphill leg, your body forms a C-shape with the hip pointing to the opposite direction of the fall line. However, people get nervous or afraid and therefore follow their instinct to point their heads toward uphill and generate an unstable, reversed C.

The first time I heard the term “counter-intuitive” was when I tried to pick up Eskimo rolls in my kayaking lessons. The finish position of a roll is also a C-shape. The common mistake people make during a roll is lifting their heads up too early to catch a breath before their boats finish a 180 degree rotation. Ironically, the head lifting causes the body to rotate the other direction and return the boater to the upside-down position.

I didn’t like the term “counter-intuitive” because I smelled the implication that our mind is easily fooled and surrenders to fear almost intuitively. Our mind commands our body to do the wrong thing when trying to survive? If we try to analyze the movements we have to perform during skiing and kayaking, it is nothing more than classical physics we learned in high school, and it seems that all that knowledge just doesn’t register in the brain.

At least this counter-intuitiveness teaches me patience. When learning a new sport, I have to practice so much in a controlled environment first and gradually advance. Like my climbing teacher once said, “you come here to learn how to climb well, not to climb to the top.” I have to make sure I can maintain good body position and perform good techniques on easier terrains otherwise it will just fall apart when I try to approach the next level too quickly. This way I promise enough time for my muscle memory including my brain muscle, and ensures that under emergent cases, I have those movements intuitively.

We got to telemark turns the first afternoon. We started with telemark stance, and we maintained that while jumping in place and sliding down, and then finally we attempted turns. It was a weird but quite thrilling experience: you constantly shuffle your legs when making turns. At first, my skis kept fighting each other. They tangled and I tripped; they tangled and I rolled off the hill.

What went wrong? My upper body was not quiet, my front foot was not flat, my knees were not pointing toward the same direction, my downhill leg was too stiff, or my hip movement was wrong? I don’t remember how much time had passed before I felt that I could turn one way but not the other. I kept practicing and I kept falling even face-planting, and this right feeling of telemark turns finally greeted to me at my last couple attempts. I rolled down purposely and lay on the snow-covered slope and my heart filled up with something, something explosive.

Gee, I know, I am going to ride on telemark skis to the backcountry.

4 thoughts on “First Contact: Thrilling Telemark Experience”

  1. Dear Little Po:

    其二,如果妳想得到較強烈的視覺影像,從反差大的(色調對比強烈)影像去獲取經驗會讓妳領會的很快,調整參數就”大筆一揮”- 做出大刻度的調整,保證妳會有很深刻的體驗,just try more and more and you will get exp. a lot.


  2. 謝謝你的comment喔,本來想大概寫英文的,比較少人會看。也謝謝你的提供的竅門,我會試試看的。再次恭喜你的「George 的捻花惹草與鄉土行腳」得獎喔!

  3. Pingback: Final Frontier: An Outdoor Blog » Blog Archive » New Year’s Resolution(新年新希望)

  4. Pingback: Final Frontier: An Outdoor Blog » Blog Archive » Concepts I Learned about Telemark SkiingTelemark skiing的學習心得

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