Telemark skiing: It’s like dancing, but oh my aching quads! |

Telemark skiing: It’s like dancing, but oh my aching quads!

Janet Urquhart
Janet Urquhart, left, makes a telemark turn (with a slight snowplow variation) while following instructor Cindy Burke. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

“You’re not retarded. That’s normal.”Of course, my instructor hadn’t seen my rented tele-skis jump off my shoulder and clatter to the bricks on the mall when she offered that reassuring assessment.The camber-loaded skis sprang from my grasp repeatedly, sabotaging my attempt to look like the oh-so-cool tele-skier headed for the mountain and a few graceful powder turns to start the day. Actually, I did manage to make a few graceful tele-turns – out of hundreds of attempts – but the awkward fumbling on the way to the bus station was definitely a precursor of things to come.I showed up at Snowmass, a rank beginner on telemark gear, and left with a new appreciation for my former nemesis – the alpine turn. Sure, I mastered a rudimentary telemark turn under the patient tutelage of instructor Cindy Burke, to whom I gave my undivided attention even though she made the whole tele thing look annoyingly easy (it’s not). Let’s just say my legs were tired by the time I got the skis on. (The invention of effective step-in tele-bindings, by the way, will make someone a fortune.) The essence of the telemark turn lies in the free heel; the toe of the boot is affixed to the ski, but the heel is free to move up and down, unlike a ski boot clamped into an alpine binding.Alpine-style turns can be done on tele-gear, though, Cindy quickly assured me. Thank God, she was right. She gave me free rein to employ the alpine turn whenever I needed a break from the tortuous lunges that are the hallmark of telemark technique. Her permission was all I needed.

I felt like a kid misbehaving in class behind the teacher’s back. Since I usually followed her down a slope, I took entire runs with my heels firmly planted on the skis, tele-turns nowhere in evidence. It’s not that I didn’t want to make tele-turns, but my thighs screamed in defiance.Telemarking is something I’ve always eyed with envious appreciation. Cindy, too, was captivated by the sight of bobbing tele-skiers cutting a line with the quick back-and-forth slicing of their skis.”It’s very beautiful. Very graceful,” she told me over lunch. “When I was an alpine skier, I thought, ‘Wow, that looks cool.’ I always feel like I’m dancing and prancing when I’m on my tele-skis. It’s very playful.”Yeah, right.

Actually, it could be like dancing, because I feel pretty putzy at that as well.Cindy must have rolled her eyes as I poked fun at my performance. She found much to praise in my efforts, which even I’ll admit weren’t half-bad.”You’ve only been tele-skiing for 20 minutes – you don’t have to judge yourself yet,” she admonished me after our first turns down Fanny Hill failed to turn me into an expert. Like a textbook perfectionist, I was looking for immediate results, instantaneous proficiency – rarities in any sort of skiing.Another instructor once told me alpine skiing is an unnatural act, but having finally mastered it (more or less), telemark skiing felt somehow foreign – a reversal of all that I’d learned. Now the tip of the uphill or inside ski hangs back and the downhill ski arcs through the snow in the lead, the skier’s knees bent into a slight crouch. At least, that’s how it looked when Cindy demonstrated the proper form.My mutinous downhill ski had a tendency to wedge into a snowplow, unless I aborted the attempt altogether. By afternoon, my tired legs often started a tele-turn and wound up finishing in an alpine stance – sort of an instinctive act of self-preservation over which I had no control.Our final descent from the top of the Coney Glade lift to Fanny Hill and the mall was murderous for my aching quads. Inexplicably, I briefly flirted with the thought of just one more run.Lurking somewhere in my fatigued “muscle memory” are worthy tele-turns, linked in quasi-graceful fashion, just waiting to show themselves again.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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