A Free-Heel Skier Takes a Long Look in the Mirror

This article originally appeared on Ski Mag

One day last year, I was doing my usual piddle at my desk job when a coworker approached me like he had many times before. I didn't know him well, but I liked this guy, and we would chat pretty regularly about jam bands and beer instead of working. We had a good thing going.

This particular time, the conversation turned to skiing instead of Phish, so I mentioned something about telemarking in my usual disarming way to avoid sounding arrogant. My coworker --an unrepentant alpine skier--rolled his eyes so intently that his whole body followed him to the side. When he finally came back around to look me in the eyes he said, "Lock the heel, ski for real." I was waiting for him to laugh or smile but he never did, he just walked away.

I was a little taken aback by that. He seemed to think telemark skiing was beyond consideration. Maybe this guy could really ski. He sure seemed to think telemark was an excuse for me to suck.

A few weeks later we finally met up to ski together for the first time. My coworker looked at the part of the alpine shredder. Huge goggles. Huge skis. Huge pants. And he brimmed with confidence. That, mixed with his thunderous distaste for telemark skiing, made me worried I might be shown up.

It was an incandescently clear afternoon and a great day for skiing groomers. So we did. The snow was grippy and edge-able and with almost no one on the resort, the conditions were fast. I took the first run all the way to the bottom, making deep telemark turns the whole way down, my coworker's previous comments in the front of my mind.

When I got to the lift he was nowhere in sight. A few minutes slid by, and I waited in an empty lift line. I even started to worry a bit. After a few minutes, he finally made it down, gasping for air. Stammering, he hopped on the lift with me for another lap.

The snow was so fun and so fast that I could really open it up. It was a day you could take it there. Again, I went all the way down the run without stopping, making exciting, long radius turns, each lead change feeling like I was taking a chance with fate. Again I waited at the bottom until my breathless coworker staggered into the line. I didn't say a word. The pattern repeated itself for the rest of the afternoon until we called it a day.

I walked back to my car splashing through spring puddles as the afternoon warmed. And I smiled to myself. It was a perfect day of fun skiing, and also a redemptive one. Something in me wished my coworker would have come around. Maybe he could have mentioned one positive thing about The Turn that day. But it really didn't matter. It didn't change the fact that we had a great day skiing. And I probably wasn't about to change his--or anybody's--mind about telemark skiing.

Still, it does creep into my mind sometimes... maybe the tele-haters are right. Maybe telemark is silly and too hard, and difficult to relate to. Maybe it is a bit of a handicap--an excuse to suck. But if telemark's detractors say 'Lock the heel, ski for real,' what's their excuse?

Editor's note: This piece has been fully endorsed by Paddy O'Connell, a likely future telemark enthusiast.

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