Endangered: Tele Skiers

Nostalgia for The Turn, and hippies

I don't care that you don't care about not caring. Adam U makes The Turn at Mount Baker. PHOTO: Grant Gunderson

I don’t care that you don’t care about not caring. Adam U makes The Turn at Mount Baker. PHOTO: Grant Gunderson

This story appeared in the October (42.2) issue of POWDER.

For nearly two centuries, they were the most mobile of all winter folk. With merely a toe attached to long wooden skis, they welcomed Ullr with open arms and frolicked within his deep snows. Whereas most skiers could only go downhill during winter, they went up, over, around, and down—wafting unpleasant odors and causing a paradigm shift in how the rest of the world perceived mountains.

But it was precisely the down—what they deemed “The Turn”—that set these humans apart. Lunging forward over a bent knee, pressuring the toes and rolling the balls of their feet, they teetered between clumsiness and grace—the challenge being to find that elusive sweet spot as gravity pulled them downhill. The Turn did not generate unusually high amounts of speed. But that was never the point. Done correctly, it was intended to be fun, goofy, weird, dorky, utilitarian, and even somewhat stylish—a discipline that delivered an exciting rush of snow straight to the face. Addicted to this full facial freeze, the telemark skier kicked and glided deep into the backcountry and pioneered some of the most famous zones in America.

Also on the Endangered Species List: Stretch Pants.

As time went on, their leather boots turned to plastic, and their little toe-clip bindings came equipped with stiff cables and tight springs, which helped improve control and downhill speed. Then their beards became manicured, they lost their peculiar smell, and their clothes went from being duct-taped and tattered to form-fitting and technical.

In the early 2000s, the worshippers of The Turn experienced their golden age. They had movies, festivals, dueling magazines, sponsorships, and marketing money. Fed by mocha skinny lattes, annoying jam band music, yuppie fashion, and liberal arts degrees, their population spiked, albeit with too many pretenders. Bystanders saw The Turn being done so poorly by so many that they started to view telemark skiing as nothing more than having “a license to suck.” They hounded The Turn’s followers with degrading comments such as “Drop the knee, squat to pee,” “Fix the heel, fix the problem,” and everyone’s favorite, “Nobody cares that you tele.” Which was true, except for the people who cared enough to make stickers about not caring.

And so the glory of The Turn began to falter. Conspiring against its survival were: a) Rat traps. b) Leashes. c) My binding broke. Again. d) I got off the tram, bent over to put my skis on, and by the time I stood up, all my friends were gone. e) My ski tip hit me in the head, requiring stitches. f) My ski tail hit me in the head, requiring stitches. g) The Alps. h) Alaska. i) I forgot my kneepads, decided to risk it, and splintered my kneecap. j) No, for the last time, NTN is not the answer. And finally, k) what a huge pain in the ass.

Meanwhile, everything else was getting easier. The emergence of Rocker and Alpine Touring allowed every mediocre backseat-driving arm-flapper to become an instant hero. All those pretending to make The Turn didn’t actually need The Turn anymore. They just needed a few thousand bucks, a Dynafit, and a walk-mode.

With that, the herd has been culled to historic lows, and only the truly fit survive. Today’s practitioners are usually quiet and unassuming, just like their ancestors. The men are hairy and strong, while the women have pigtails and round firm asses. Their equipment gives them away, and it’s temping to feel sorry for them, as if they didn’t get the memo. Then you see them explode down the hill with the mastery and grace of a ninja, and the truth comes out: They really don’t care what you think.

Elsewhere on the Endangered Species List: Lifties and Soul.

Add a comment

  • Lorenzo

    Good.

  • Tele

    Lol….my NTN bindings and Armada JJ’s would argue that they’re not crap equipment…

  • freeheellifer

    I think there is a correlation in that both Telemark skiing and Soul are now on the endangered species list.

  • SoCal Skier

    Dear Matt,
    You’re WRONG.
    Time for you to get out of the office and ski more.
    Let’s go make some turns.

    Best Wishes
    Tele Heads Worldwide

  • Alex

    Even though I don’t, it is alive and well at Mad River Glen.

  • SC

    “they teetered between clumsiness and grace”?? Terrible article and zero respect for your fellow mountain riders. Shame on you, Matt and I assume you have never tried to telemark or you did and quit because its too much effort or too hard. I blame your boss for letting this article hit the publics eyes.

    • Davevail

      Go back and read the last two sentences again, Mr. Oversensitive.. *wink

  • Floodster

    I’ve been skiing tele for close to 20 years, and if you paid attention during the “golden age” you will find a lot of truth to this article. You haters leaving negative comments are seriously crushing our chill tele-bro stereotype. This article was a great mix of insight & humor. Thanks, Matt, & long live the unassuming graceful skiers out there!

  • whitemtnbarbie

    Appreciate your article, it made me chuckle! Well written. Except for the ‘pigtails and round asses’ part. Seriously? What in your learning of gender roles made it impossible for you to think that any ‘remaining’ women telemarkers are actually serious athletes, not just chicks with long hair and a round ass? Come visit New England and let me and my fellow tele b!tches SMOKE your fixed-heel a$$ on our terrain. B@m, glove down!

    • Better In Leather

      Yup, my wife, at 45, is a damn fine telemarker with no pigtails…. (however, the ass part applies and I think she’s probably happy about it!) As for my old tele ass, I laughed it off while reading this. Spot on satire. Thanks for the grins and inspiration to dig out my woolies.

    • Telechick

      Well said! I too enjoyed this article, but the author does seem somewhat oblivious to the kick-ass women who tele (and better than most of the men, in my experience). Kick ass, not round ass!

    • sgeek

      I took that as a reference to well-developed glutes, personally.

  • ATer

    It has died some and that is a good thing, it was never meant to be big, just the most beautiful way to get down the mt…

  • Chris Cawley

    poop

  • Andy Russell

    My 13 year old picked it up 2 years ago. He is not too hairy yet but he does have the aroma

  • couloir007

    The problem with teleskiing is that it takes a Herculean effort to get good, especially before plastic boots, but even still. My 3rd year tele-ing, 95/96, I spent the winter at Okemo, and worked at a tele shop near Kilington for the equipment. I spent 80 days on snow on 198 atomics with 2 buckle leather boots. I spent most of my time everryday in the bumps. I was determined. It was a long painful process early in the season knocking the wind out of me every 4th or 5th turn as I went over my tips to land on a distant bump on my chest, whacking the back of my head with the tail of my ski drawing blood, only to get up and do it all over again. It took time, but in the end it paid dividends. There isn’t anything I can’t ski, leather or plastic. Late 90′s early 2000s people jumped into it and grew impatient. Tele-skiing takes patience and determination. I’m completely fine with the state of the sport. I haven’t bought new equipment in 9 years. My skis have hundreds of days on them. I bought new pants last summer for the first time in 10 years, duck tape and dental floss couldn’t hold them together anymore. I’ll splurge when my kids get all their equipment first.

    • rorcus

      If it was easy, they’d call it snowboarding!

  • Dostie

    Well done Matt. Your concluding sentence says it all.

  • megunticook

    This writer evidently ain’t been up to Saddleback Maine lately. He’s only half right about the pigtails and nice asses tho…some of the Maine tele boys have both too!

  • T3Pinner

    Been a T-nut since ’81 – someone said it right, if tele-skiing were easy, it’d be called snowboarding

  • EasternTeleSkier

    I’m a late bloomer – learned to ski in my forties and tele in my fifties. I do it because I love it. I have the choice of parallel or sinking into a beautiful turn and it feels like I’m floating. I have iron quads now and strong abs – yes it’s not easy – and I have a lot to learn, but when I’m tele skiing in western powder or eastern ice pack, I feel free.

    The author is right, I don’t care what other people think.

  • Max

    Adam Who? If you’re going to run a photo of a telemark skier, at least use someone who can get down the hill in a proficient fashion. Like Andy Rosenberg or Frode Gronvold.

  • jonathan

    spot on. no better turn than the free one. i believe we’re a binding break-through away from making noise again (sorry NTN).

  • Eva Odland

    looking at my 3rd place Telly dual slalom trophy from 1992…the old much loved gear is retired and I am on the new gear, plastic boots, 22 Designs bindings, short and fat rocker/camber skis. Still having fun making any turn I want.

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