This past weekend I had the privilege of participating in the North American Telemark Association’s Telemark Instructor Course with Dickie Hall at Sugarbush Resort in Warren, VT. Better yet, I was one of only two women taking the course, so it felt more like a private lesson! While the focus of the two-day training was learning to teach telemark skiing from a variety of perspectives, due to class size, we were able to get personalized tips and tricks to improve our technique and become better skiers ourselves. As a hands on learner, the best way for me to become a better instructor is to deconstruct my own technique and re-learn the basics, so this course really hit the nail on the head. Dickie has a keen sense for helping self-taught tele skiers erase ingrained alpine biomechanics and emerge as a true “free heel” skier. Below are my favorite 10 tips I picked up from Dickie… hopefully they will help you as much as they helped me!
- It is all about the back foot! – Regardless of how often you think you are using your back foot when telemark skiing, you most likely are not using it enough. If you are not able to get into your favorite telemark stance and pick up your front foot, you are definitely not making your back foot work hard enough. Re-introducing my back foot to my telemark turn kept my legs from getting shot after two runs, and allowed me to tackle steeper terrain without hesitation. Pro Tip: Ski goofy, aka, make reverse telemark turns with your down hill ski back, or simply keep the same foot back constantly and “surf” on your skis from turn to turn, forcing yourself to steer with your back foot.
- Keep your front foot down. – As many self taught telemark skiers know, the first type of telemark skiing we tried was with a super low lunge, both feet up off the heal plates, and thighs burning! Keeping that front foot down is the key to stability and power. There should not be any light between your front heal plate and boot.
- Your body weight should be balanced between your front and back foot. – As an alpine skier convert, this is the hardest skill for me to erase out of my biomechanics. Alpine skiers are taught to lean forward, to push their shins into the tongue of their boots, and drive with their knees. With telemark skiing, you need to ski with your weight equally balanced between your two feet and over your hips. Pro Tip: Parallel (alpine) ski on your telemark skis. Bend your knees, flex your ankles, and feel your shins pushing the tongue of your boot without your heals coming off the heal plate.
- Don’t be ashamed to parallel ski! – Every telemark skier should parallel ski at least half of every run they take. Are you trying to get thigh burn at 9:30 am??? (This was a big relief to hear!)
- Deep, burning lunges are not the only way to telemark ski. – There is a whole world out there of telemark skiing, and you do not have to drop your knee all the way to the ground with every turn that you make. While that is one way to ski, there are so many other ways, including keeping your back foot close to your front heal, goofy skiing, telemark plow turns, and again, parallel skiing…keep it interesting.
- Mix up different turns each run. – Play around, see what you can link together. This will help you be prepared for what ever lies ahead: ice, steep pitch, hidden moguls, etc.
- Keep your zipper towards the lodge. – In other words, keep your chest facing down the slope, while letting your hips and lower body rotate with each turn. Both hands should be in line with your skis or ahead of them, never falling behind. This again provides stability and power, and is the key to faster, steeper and more challenging terrain. Tips for success: Ski without poles, and most importantly, shorten them!
- Practice side slipping in your telemark stance. – Drop into your telemark stance and side slip down a pitch, changing which knee is forward while continuing to face the same way. This will only be successful if you have your weight balanced between your two feet and are not resorting to old alpine habits.
- Terrain is everything. – Whether you are teaching seasoned alpine skiers, beginners to the sport, or are just frustrated with yourself, go back to terrain that is way below the skier’s skill level and try again. It is hard to learn anything when you are in a challenging setting where your bail out moves are destined to come out and your turn will fall apart.
- Learn to do a 360 telemark turn! – This was my favorite trick we learned this weekend. It helps skiers learn to be comfortable going forwards, backwards, goofy, and removes any point of reference which helps skiers be spontaneous on their skis. Start by going into a telemark turn and ride it out until your tips are almost pointing up hill. Then drop the other knee and let your skis slide backwards down the fall line, making a complete circle, and allowing you to feel super cool with your new trick!
Want to learn more? Sign up for a NATO course today. A big thank you Dickie Hall for all these tips, he really knows his stuff!