Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sexy Telemark Skier

I've been an alpine skier for well over 20 years.  I started out skiing in my jeans on our local ski hill in South Dakota.  Many wipeouts and bruises later, I graduated to the intermediate runs.  There I stayed until the early 2000's when I joined the ski bus, and began to take weekly lessons.  Six years and lots of lessons later, I'd progressed enough so that I could ski anywhere on the mountain, in any kind of snow conditions.

Striking a sexy tele turn

Then, four years ago, I got a wild hair, and decided I wanted to learn to telemark ski.  I'd watched the freeheelers make lovely tele turns down the slopes at my local ski area.  They looked so graceful!  I was also interested in backcountry skiing and thought I had to learn tele to do this.  And, I think I was just looking for another challenge.

Me and my K2 Schi-Devils - the best tele skis ever!

Well, I certainly got a challenge!  I signed up for a couple of lessons from Shelly at Wy'East Nordic.  The day of my first lesson, it rained.  Was the lesson cancelled?  Of course not!  I spent all morning wiping water droplets off my goggles, and trying to drop knee without face-planting into the snow.  At lunchtime my jacket and gloves were dripping wet.  But I switched to dry gloves and went back out there for the afternoon session.  I was hooked!

Gettin' ready to drop knee

I spent most of the my first tele-season on the beginner lift at Meadows.  After progressing my alpine skiing up to double-black diamond runs, it was a humbling experience to start over again on the bunny slope.  But I persisted through the first season, and into the second.  The second season I took a series of lessons from a great instructor at Meadows, and progressed so I could ski the blue groomers comfortably.

Makin' turns on Shooting Star Ridge

My third tele-season I thought I was ready to try the backcountry.  I signed up for a ski mountaineering class.  The first class outing opened my eyes to the reality that my tele skiing skills still needed a lot of work.  Most of my freeheeling had been on groomed runs.  My first tour was off-piste - on the side of Mt. Hood.  The snow was heavy with a hard crust on top.  The trip uphill wore me out so much I didn't know how I was going to muster the energy to ski back down.  Trying to make turns through the hard crusty snow tried my patience to the max.  I kept flailing, skidding, and finally crashing.  I had a meltdown and uttered a bunch of naughty words I hardly ever use.  Needless to say, it was back to the resort to work on my tele-turns.

Skiing down Apollo - photo by Grant Myrdal Photography

One of my co-workers is a big-time skier.  He and I often compare notes about skiing when we see each other in the hallway, and I give him regular updates on my tele-skiing journey.  One day last year, he stopped by my cubicle to tell me about a man he'd ridden the lift with the previous weekend.  The two of them were sitting on the chair, shooting the breeze, when a telemark skier swished by.  The man turned to my coworker and commented "I used to telemark ski, but my knees can't take it any more.  You know, tele skiing is a really beautiful thing.  It's like a dance.  And there's nothing sexier than a woman telemark skier!"

So my co-worker said teasingly "you are a hot and sexy telemark skier!"  This became a running joke between us.  Every time after that, when I'd see him in the hall, he'd drop into a telemark stance and say "hey sexy telemark skier!"

Another great photo by Grant Myrdal

Of course, all the time spent on my tele-boards, I had never felt even remotely sexy.  Out of control, yes.  Off balance and wobbly, yes.  Dressed in my bulky ski clothes trying to slide down a hill without crashing, sexy was the last thing I felt!

Perfect turns down Two Bowl

Then this year, my fourth season tele-ing, something clicked.  I started to be able to link all my turns.  My left side turns (always my difficult side) became as smooth as my right.  I was able to ski all morning and half the afternoon without feeling totally thrashed.  My confidence boosted, I ventured into the off-piste and bumped over some moguls.  And I started trying to ski the black diamond runs.

Two weeks ago, the tele-gods smiled upon me.  I had a most excellent day on the slopes.  The turns came easy - smooth as silk.  My skis felt like they were extensions of my body.  I tried one black run and found I could make telemark turns all the way down.  I tried another black diamond.  Same thing, even a little bit faster speed.  Woo-hoo!

Then I decided to ski down Two Bowl - my nemesis.  It's a pretty steep run and every time I've tried to tele ski down it before, I've chickened out and resorted to alpine turns (aka "survival skiing").  I got to the top of the run, and who should be at the bottom, but the resort photographer!  Oh no - I have bad luck tele skiing in front of him - I always wipe out!

Well, maybe I'm a little bit sexy!

But my friend told me to block him out, lean forward, and concentrate on making good turns.  I pushed off from the top of the run.  Slowly, I dropped into my stance.  My skis slid effortlessly through the snow.  Swish!  Into another turn.  That one felt good and strong.  Woosh!  Another nice turn.  And another.  And another.  Before I knew it, I was near the bottom of the slope.  Yahoo!  I'd just skied down Two Bowl using only telemark turns!  This was a huge milestone for me.  I skidded to a stop, turned to the photographer and said, "I hope you got some good pictures of this."

Then my friend and I skied the rest of the way to the lift.  The turns continued to come easy.  My ski edges cut through the snow like butter.  I got into a great rhythm.  My body felt fluid and smooth.  It was almost as if I was dancing.  I felt strong, graceful, and yes - for the first time - sexy.

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