Every once in a while I get a chance to find
out that the things I think, read and write about actually work.
This happened most recently last week when I was at the end of
a two-day- old-powder run. There was a short, sun exposed, 5
turn steep pitch with a nice little crust over it. I thought
about moving over to the shady aspect where the powder was but
decided instead to try the old breakable techniques.
I summoned up all I had heard and all I remembered
about. I discarded the hop turn and hope approach in favor of
something more fluid. I tried this: compressing real low into
the first turn (real low) I exaggerated my upward motion (a lot)
and drove my outside hand toward the fall line and up. The skis
actually came up through the mank to somewhere near the top of
the crust layer. I made a very quick lead change and instead
of dropping right onto the rear ski like I usually do, I punched
the front ski down and applied a bunch of twist to it, then I
powered the rear ski. I cut the turn short (coming too far around
is an invitation to disaster in this stuff) and repeated the
The key is the real low compression and the
dynamic extension as you stand up. The rest of the moves are
important too, neglect one and the sequence will fail.
I'll be darned if it didn't work! I was able
to link all five turns. I never really got going all that fast
and felt in control the whole time. It was actually kind of fun.
I suppose fifty of those turns might be a different proposition,
but it was great to know that this technique would work in at
least some kinds of death crust.
Even advanced telemark skiers can benefit
from an examination of their hand and pole position. If you get
lazy and let this fundamental slide a bit, you will not be able
to realize your full potential on the slopes.
Good skiers, alpine or telemark, keep their
hands under control never flailing. Your hands should be at the
edge of your vision at all times, if you can't see your hands
then they are too far down and back. Get them up and forward.
This is usually more of a problem when making GS style turns,
it is easy to get complacent and let those hands drift back.
Short radius turns usually find us working the poles a lot more,
although it is still easy to let the off hand go.
A ski partner that I often hook up with
at Tioga Pass in the spring ( an experts expert: he is the Masters
Program race coach at Squaw Valley ), once told me to think of
"frog gigging". "Have you ever been frog gigging?"
he asked me. "No, I don't believe I have" I answered.
"Well, you gig frogs with a flashlight and a spear, you
point the flashlight at the frog to freeze him and get him with
the spear. As you are getting ready to make your next pole plant
you should have your poles in the frog gigging position, the
downhill pole is the spear and the top of the grip of the uphill
pole is the flashlight, the 'frog' is downhill, reach down with
the spear/pole and shine that flashlight/pole grip at him, then
your hands will be in the correct position!" It was good
advice, whenever I find myself wondering what to do with my hands
I think back to Scott's "frog gigging" analogy and
I am back on track.
Keep you hands moving forward, roll your uphill
hand over to get the top of the grip pointing at the "frog",
fight the natural inclination to let it drop back and you will
be on your way to consistent, powerful hand position.
In powder, equal weight distribution is a
key factor, let that back leg go doggie and the rear ski will
have a mind of its own. Exaggerated up/down motion (flexion and
extension as it is often called) is also key. With a strong up/down
motion you will not be as tempted to sit back as you might otherwise
be. This tendency to sit back in powder is very common, it is
the inexperienced pwder skier's futile attempt to "keep
the tips up" that leads to "backseatitis". Extending
and retracting the legs aggressively in powder will keep the
skis rising to the surface between turns. This up/down motion
is what allows expert powder skiers to ski the light and dry
even on skinny skis. Press your toes down into the snow at the
bottom of the turn to build a platform to extend off of.
Stay in the fall line, I can't emphasize this
too much. Cut your normal turn down by as much as half, speed
is your friend in powder. Face down the hill and keep your hands
out front. These are all basic skills that need to be re-emphasized
Be aggressive and concentrate on exaggerating
the basics of the telemark turn and you will find the almost
spiritual bliss that powder skiing is all about.
"Oh man, how am I going to get down now" I remember
thinking. One third of the way down a 2000 plus vertical foot
descent of Bloody Couloir, I had just managed to arrest a 150
foot slide, half of which was head first, and I was now shakily
standing upright on the 50 degree slope, rocks on either side
and a huge rock prow in the middle, trying to figure out how
this had happened. You see, up to that very moment I had always
believed that my rock solid jump parallel turn, my "turn
of last resort" would see me through anything. This turn
had gotten me out of hairball situations and bad snow for years,
why was it failing me now?
On the climb up, things looked good, about 4 inches of
what seemed to be fairly dense fresh on top of a solid base.
As we cramponed up, the wind began to build and the snow was
swirling around some, not that unusual in a narrow Sierra chute
at mid-day. We summited, had lunch and started down. The first
twenty turns were challengingly steep and fun. Then the snow
became very inconsistent, the wind had been blowing it around,
there were now areas of sticky powder and patches of hard ice.
I would jump, land and turn through the fall line, gain speed
on the ice and then hit a patch of sticky snow, which would throw
me forward over the tips. A couple of recoveries and then came
the big slide for life. I was in desperate need of a turn I had
never bothered to learn: the telemark jump turn. The answer to
dealing with this snow was fore and aft stability, and in parallel
mode I did not have it. I got down that day and even managed
to have a little fun, but I new I had some work to do. Below,
the scene of the spanking.
The Basics Of The Telemark Jump
The power to execute the jump-turn comes from creating
a platform on the snow to rebound off of at the end of each turn.
So to start, we begin with a little mini-turn. Traversing a bit
you make this first turn, almost like a garland, push down firmly
to form the platform, sinking and edging hard. Your upper body
should be facing down the fall line, leaning out, reach down
the slope and plant your downhill pole firmly. I make this pole
plant just a bit behind my hip, reaching down and slightly back
helps get my upper body in the right position and, as always,
the upper body is a key factor. Now push up hard off the platform
you created at the end of the mini-turn and begin the jump, up
and around the planted downhill pole. When you first begin the
jump, slide your lead ski back and let the new lead ski take
care of itself, don't worry about moving it forward, if you move
the old lead ski back it will be in the right position. Punch
that old uphill hand around and down the slope, this helps speed
up the rotation and get this pole in position for its own downhill
plant. Suck up your knees a bit on landing, absorbing the shock
and storing some of that energy for the next turn. You should
have now landed in the tele position and be ready to begin another
- Pole plant
- Lead change
Once you have mastered the steps above then you can begin
to experiment with shortening up the traverse. While you are
traversing you dissipate the energy that you have stored up from
the last turn, this is good for learning, it gives you a moment
to recover and get your bearings, but it is an exhausting way
to ski. Instead of letting that stored energy go to waste, shorten
or even eliminate the traverse and pop from one turn to another.
Land the turn, sink, edge, platform, pole plant, pop up and turn.
The telemark jump turn is much like an alpine style jump
turn with the key point of difference (and the thing that largely
determines the success) being the quick early lead change at
the start of the jump portion. Remember, slide the old lead ski
back early. I like to think of myself sliding it back and landing
on it, leaving the new lead ski to largely take care of itself.
Drill the sequence into your brain and repeat the moves over
and over until it becomes easy, and don't worry, it will.
Practice the jump turn whenever you can, it is actually
easier to perform on steeper slopes where gravity and the slope
angle work to the your advantage. Practice it on the steeper
groomers and on backcountry mixed snow conditions, everywhere
you can. The telemark jump turn is a necessary and valuable tool
in the quiver of turns. It is the only effective free heel jump
turn for certain situations, take it from me, I learned this
the hard way!
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