Old Books, Good Tips - Part II

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Learning the telemark turn is to reimagine edging a ski. Though styles and teaching paradigms have changed, many an alpine skier has used the inside edge of their outside foot to great effect, and often alone in the turn. Telemark begs the skier to take a different approach. Two feet are ideally employed equally, steered by the rear foot, to create one long inside edge in the turn, utilizing opposite sides of each foot. Thus balancing weight distribution between the skis is paramount in the turn and through the lead change. But learning to edge correctly can be challenging to conceptualize for the newcomer - luckily it’s a well-trodden theme in telemark instruction.

Of all the tips given to the burgeoning telemark skier, especially in downhill-oriented arenas, big-toe, little-toe may take the prize as most repeated advice. Nothing cultivates an image of putting the skis on edge quite like this morsel. And though it has been used ad nauseum for generations, it is still eminently useful as a model for how the edges of the telemark turn should be utilized.

Paul Parker defines this tip in Free-Heel Skiing succinctly. "The big-toe, little-toe idea is simple: when you edge your skis into a turn, you should feel the pressure under the big-toe (inside-edge side) of your front foot and the little-toe side (outside-edge side) of your rear foot." This simple trick aids in edging the entire ski on each foot properly and conceptualizes getting on edge with each respective ski.

Allen O'Bannon and Mike Clelland dive into the big-toe, little-toe vibe in their own way in Allen & Mikes Really Cool Telemark Tips, saying "this is a surefire way to focus on your edging."

Both works give solid focus to the back ski and its role in anchoring the turn, telling skiers to focus on the little-toe for most pronounced results. "Weighting and edging the rear ski in your telemark will give you better control of your turn," says Parker. And doing this adeptly is done when the skier is able to "relax and bend your rear ankle so your heel drops closer to the ski."

The relaxed rear ankle helps place the weight of the back foot over the ball of the foot, creating a strong, controllable back ski, the cornerstone of solid telemark technique. Though modern telemark equipment and its strong resistance helps lessen the steep learning curve - and certainly aids in allowing aggressive descents by advanced telemark skiers - it can lead to a backfoot that pushes into the resistance of the binding too far, putting the weight over the toes on the back ski instead of over the ball of the foot. Learning on neutral bindings (think G3 Targa, Rainey Designs SuperLoop, or Voile 3 Pin Cable) paired with a low-cuffed plastic boot (think Scarpa T4) will add to the challenge of learning the telemark turn, but a soft setup like this will force better technique, especially weighting the back foot properly.

Well-edged skis helped about by big-toe, little-toe is but the first step in an entire process of a telemark edging philosophy. Steve Barnett takes the concept a step further in Cross-Country Downhill, asking the hypothetical question, "How do you weight two skis?" perhaps a nod to legacy alpine technique being very downhill-ski, inside-edge reliant.

To this question Barnett answers in a decidedly XCD, leather boot / Nordic ski light, saying, "the front ski is the 'tip' of the telemark; you initiate short-radius turns by striding the 'tip' into place and weighting it...as you move through the turn, the center of pressure on the telemark should be 'centered' with weight on both skis." Barnett finishes the idea with this: "as the turn ends the pressure should be moving back onto the rear ski." Though this tip may be borne on a zeitgeist based on older gear and ethos, the notion that a two footed stance - and one that is essentially driven from the rear foot - marks the epitome of edging correctly via the early lead change (a topic to be covered in a future technique piece).

Allen & Mike's Really Cool Telemark Tips also takes up this notion by touching on the independent but symbiotic nature of the two skis in the telemark turn, saying in part on tip 91, 'One Big Ski,' "imagine you have just one platform under your feet," continuing , "you have the advantage of being able to move your feet independently."

The telemark turn is a two-footed endeavor; one that requires a balance between skis throughout the turn. And learning to engage each ski in what becomes the long and powerful edge of the telemark stance marks an early but important step in learning The Turn. It is a fundamental that is utilized as a building block for more advanced technique. And the concept of big-toe, little-toe - engaging the inside edge of the outside ski with the big toe, and the outside edge of the inside ski with the little one - is a tried-and-true turn thought; one many experienced free-heelers have used, and one that many a newcomer will lean on for years to come.

For a full immersion in free-heel technique, pick up a copy of Paul Parker’s Free-Heel Skiing and Allen O’Bannon and Mike Clelland’s Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Telemark Tips, both in print and available. And keep an eye out for Steve Barnett’s Cross-Country Downhill and Other Nordic Mountain Skiing Techniques, which can occasionally be found used.