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Memoirs of a crappy telemark skier, part 1

  • adam 

We all start at the beginning, and get better at stuff.

…and it sucks when we start something new, and we suck at stuff again.

This is the story of me and telemark skiing. I used to snowboard, a lot! I thought I was amazing at it, but the reality was that I was OK at not dying in huge mountains. Mid range, so so. And that’s great! I still had metric shit tonnes of fun and threw myself off some hectic lines and had amazing adventures in the snowy realms of Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Until I got tired of carrying a snowboard around in the backcountry, and realised after 20 years on a board it wasn’t doing my hips any favours. So a few years ago, I didn’t buy a new snowboard. I bought secondhand telemark skis and boots.

It’s been revolutionary.

Sometimes skiing goes uphill
Sometimes skiing goes uphill

This year marks the first time I’ve felt any good at it – and at skiing on two planks in general. I learned to ski backwards (well, snowplow backwards), I learned to not panic as soon as anything unexpected happens, and a key realisation – every turn is a committed turn.

Telemarking is a strange sport. It needs a perfect dynamic balance of power, and fluid ease. When things go well, telemarking is so easy. Incredibly easy – you use the forces already happening to you, and dance down the mountain.

When the mojolicious juices are not flowing in harmony, then it’s a mindfuck of epic proportions as seemingly everything goes wrong both in parallel and in series. I’ve had to learn this the hard way. With an engineering brain I try to get all the ducks lined up, constantly thinking of the perfect thing I should be doing now.

This is a bad approach.

Sure, think of the things you need to do, then let go. Who cares if that arc isn’t perfect? Did you whoop like a beast because you nailed a  telemark turn? I bet you did. And I bet you do every time, even if you’ve telemark skied all your life. Here’s me kinda janking a tele turn but grinning like an idiot anyway, because I’ve just janked my way down a nice steep pitch of Mt Twynam without making a tangled mess of myself!

On the same trip, I also janked myself down some of Australia’s steepest country – I got 5 or so turns in before cutting out thinking I was going to smash into rocks far below. I would have just pointed and pinned it on my snowboard – but I didn’t think about that at all – it was incredible just to make it that far! And a fantastic opportunity to see where the limits are. Here’s a photo. It doesn’t look steep at all! But try walking up the grassy patch – we needed hands and feet.

It never looks that steep from below

As well as pushing personal limits, making me feel like a complete numpty, forcing me to refocus, relax, let the mojo flow… telemark skiing makes access to awesome places a lot easier! Turning around from the last photo, here’s the view. As well as awesome viewness, you’ll notice it’s really late spring, and we were skiing soft, sun-affected mush. A great day to go bite of more than you can chew on skis – pretty safe from slides, easy to crash on, not too fast. Wins all around.

transformative tools help us get to amazing places!

One of the coolest things about telemark skiing now as opposed to ten years ago is the evolution of equipment and skis. Bindings get boots to flex in the right places, and skis themselves have come so far! This last winter I pretty much hired out the same skis each day – fat, full rockered tour beasts in the form of Volkl Nunataqs. I loved them, and I’m more or less a fully rockered convert now. Here they are.. sweet, sweet skis…

So what has all this to do with evolution and revolution? Everything

We rarely challenge ourselves supremely – in the form of abandoning something we’re good at and moving to a parallel (pun intended) path. Change and uncertainty are both critical to evolution, and if we’re not doing either, we’re not evolving. We’re stagnating.

Instead, we tend to build a nice safe bubble around ourselves and our identities, and stick with what we’re good at, stick with what is comfortable and predictable. We’ve been trained for our whole lives to seek certainty!

And when we do approach change, we do it the hard way. Like telemark skiing,

change is easy, and if it feels hard we’re doing it wrong! 

Everybody has different limits – I don’t suggest you need to take the extreme step of switching sports, or abandoning a thing you love. That is just an example – a way to demonstrate a point.

…which is this:

However we can, whenever we can – choose the path toward evolution. Ask ourselves what can we do to seek out change, and use that to build ourselves? How can we become more comfortable with uncertainty?

I think it’ll make the world a better place – returning to the adaptabilty that makes humans so amazing, and clearing out a stagnating society, for something… else.

As for skiing, I’ll report back next year. With some luck, I’ll be getting to slaying all my dragons on two fat, free heel, full rocker sticks. Seeya out there!

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