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Memoirs of an actually pretty decent telemark skier: part 3

  • adam 

I started writing about a little revolution of my own involving a pair of skis and these bindings that don’t attach at the heel quite a while back. Part 1 is here, and port 2 is here. What’s happened in between part 2 and now was living for two and a bit winters in Tromsø, Norway – also Sapmi, on the lands of the Sami people.

This brought many, many challenges into our lives – some were expected (new language, new culture) and some were, well.. that is a whole nother tale to tell. This one is about the ongoing revolution of skiing. Overall, Norway was a-fucking-mazing on that front. I got good. I got to be able to ski a lot of things. The idea of 1000m+ vertical days became a thing. I got fit. I got my ass kicked.

As an Australian rolling into Tromsø I found it hard to get a skiing community. This is partly me – I’m gonna go ski anyway, so I tend to not put a tonne of energy into generating networks if that energy isn’t returned readily. This is pretty normal, we all need to spend our energy wisely and as a new migrant in a new country – well, there was a lot on. A second factor was the sheer cost of existence – we had to say no to so many things, skip over so many opportunities. The dream of endless skiing wasn’t quite realised – although… well, a lot of mountain time seemed to happen anyway.

A different kind of free heel skiing…

A shining light in my ski life was Tromsø’s network of Lysloyper – lit up trails for walking and running all year, and skiing in winter. I never expected to ever enjoy cross country skiing – and I got hooked! I loved it. Strapping these skinny long uncontrollable things on, heading out to sweat a lot, get overtaken by old people who look like they’re not even breathing hard, and get scared shitless zooming down hills in skinny little tracks.

I took to classic skiing (klassisk langrennski) – the one where you have wax on the skis and do a kick and glide thing. I didn’t get into skøyteski (skate skiing). Maybe another year would have done it? After two years I was not the slowest skier in all of Tromsø, I maybe got to second or third slowest – and anyway I stopped caring and loved the idea that I could strap some skis on and go have fun anytime. Sometimes watch nordlys (auroras), sometimes have nice fast tracks, sometimes have terrifying ice trails, sometimes lay fresh tracks in puking powder.

…and I even went to the mountains.

Getting my ass kicked

The first winter in the mountains, I got my ass kicked. Repeatedly.

In Australia a massive skiing day might net 400-600 vertical metres. In Tromsø thats a warm up, not even starting out. Something to do on a Tuesday lunchtime. So, the first winter my fitness was a huge issue – a massively steep ramp from December to April. I did some amazing skiing, and hit the steepest terrain I’d ever done on skis ( 35-40 degrees ) without crashing down all of it.

One of my first ski tours, followign Geir and learning exactly how unfit I was…

We didn’t have resources to buy a pass to the local ski hill that year, so any training was done in the backcountry – working on ski skills at the same time as working on whatever crazy snow conditions turned up. A tough regime! Luckily Tromsø has some wee gems that offer really nice skiing just a public bus ride away. Take the bus, skin up, rinse, repeat. And we took time with the kiddos to enjoy a small local hill nearby – enough to keep things working.

The first spring season was also heavily interrupted by fieldwork, and isolation – 10 day stints in hotel rooms followed by weeks at sea on a ship. Not great for improving my technique!

I did, late in the winter, find a couple of ski buddies (Thanks Andrea, Tim, Hans) who stuck around for the rest of the Norway experience, patiently waited, entertained my love of digging snow pits!

Time to work!

Winter part 2 was a different proposition. We were fully set up, had a vehicle, and lift passes. So – at least once a week from December through April was just a few hours of laying down turns, tweaking every little thing.

This was the winter in which something also clicked – I ski fully rockered skis, the venerable and (sadly) no longer manufactured Völkl 100eight. I kinda get it though, these things are beasts and don’t appeal to everyone! So the deal with skiing full rocker is that the ski doesn’t spring back for you as you unload between turns. Instead of popping around, you need to think about laying the ski on edge and turning. Driving it sideways when you want it to smear, using hips and knees and ankles. If you want pop it comes from working with the ends (tail / nose) of the skis. I’d tried way to much to ski like a regular person – and late in the second winter it fell into place. Listen to the ski, do what needs doing. After all, the theory is all there, just need to apply it again and again and again.

The 100eight also loves to run. I think I’ve written before about how it wakes up when you can relax, drive it hard, let it run. This requires confidence! More than I have most of the time – and it also smears and turns on a dime when it is driven right. The key revolution for winter 2 was adaptability, especially in the backcountry, especially in Tromsø snow. You might start a turn in one snow condition and then modify it three times mid turn. Or it might be sweet pow and you just have to stay upright.

This winter also saw a lot of time on snow – on the lysløyper, on mountains, on the local hill. I even got to ski on Svalbard, taking the planks on a fieldwork trip in early 2022 and touring Trollsteinen on Svalbard 3 times in 3 days (yes, ski touring with a huge rifle is as awkward as it sounds!).

Ski touring on Svalbard – human powered from the centre of Longyearbyen to Trollsteinen

So – some fitness also turned up and by the end of winter 2 things felt allright, even breaking trail all the way up 800+m climbs and laying sweet, long, deep turns.

My line is the rightmost on the lower pitch – a beautiful tour on Skittentind

The skiing didn’t stop until June – capping things off with late summer tours to some really amazing big mountains with a couple of neighbors, a little international crew of late 40s mountain-wise dads, out having fun on midnight skiing missions.

Midnattski, late June on Slettinden, Malangen. If you look hard you’ll see two tiny skiers in there!

Working it out!

The third winter was a short one. And a weird one. I was in Norway ‘home alone’, after the family migrated south to avoid the dark time. My main tasks? Trying to wrap up a contract and pack up a home. It came with the longest mørketid ever – a little snow around christmas saw a couple of tours snap out, including my first headlamp tour – and then the snow stopped. Until early January.

Laps on the local bus tour Rødtinden, with a headlamp!

On top of winter 2 activities, this off season all our bikes were in Norway – so fitness retention was quite a lot easier. I’d also come across some great exercises to practice – work on strange muscles that come into play when the winter hits ( I also did (and still do) a ..lot.. of boring old squats.

I didn’t buy a lift pass this year, mainly because I knew I was leaving at the end of January. I also got news that my car was basically unsellable, leaving a pretty large hole in the adventure budget. This disaster turned into “well, I have a ski vehicle until I go!” – and while this time didn’t see too many peaks, I’d found a few sneaky spots and made great use of them.

Winter 2.5 also felt like I didn’t even have to ramp up again – two 1000m peaks in two days? No problem. Breaking trail solo touring in 30cm ski penetration up 500 vertical metres and doing a second lap? sure. OK. Skiing deep snot? Nerve wracking although basically OK. In short my limit was time – fitness was not really a problem anymore. Nor was skiing power – finally feeling like things worked, even when they didn’t!

The amazing light – even though the sun doesn’t come up

This is the whole key right? Growing a body that knows, more than relying on a mind that has to process it all.

Despite this short season some really nice adventures were done. Including seeing the sun a day ahead of anyone else because we did a little tour in the right place at the right time!

Getting the 2023 sun one day before everyone else!

Whats next in the progression for a not-so-crappy telemark skier?

…and next? I’m not really sure. Winter 2023 in Australia was a bust. I skied once, taking a short tour out to Mt Loch. Almost a year after leaving Tromsø some dust is settling and stability might be a thing – so the winter of 2024 is looking positive for some adventure. Would I like to head back to the far north and spend a lot more time in the mountains? Of course! Maybe one day… Until then, time to train, stay motivated, and dream of the next winter…

…and if you want to go bend a knee reach out. As it happens I’m also an APSI level 1 telemark instructor, maybe we can learn and progress – or just go explore – together! The community is a big part of why I started this journey, I’d love to help keep it going…

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