Or, where does the changed
lead change lead?
By Urmas Franosch
April, 2008-- The telemark position, and the transition
from one telemark position to the other, are what distinguish
telemark turns from other types of ski turns. To understand how
to derive the greatest performance and skiing pleasure from telemark
turns, we should first define what a telemark turn is. Then we
will look at some characteristics of good skiing, regardless
of turn type. Finally we will discuss several patterns of movements
that bring us from one telemark position to the other in a way
that enhances those desirable characteristics. Because there
is more than one possible pattern, understanding the purpose,
or what we are trying to accomplish with our turns, will inform
our choice of movements.
Naturally this article will reflect
my biases and preferences, but I have not finished learning how
to ski (When I do, I will probably stop teaching others how to
ski), I watch and try to learn from the best skiers regarding
what works well, and from my students, regarding what they learn
most easily. I'm willing to try it another way and to change
my approach if the new way seem to work better.
Let's start with a definition.
A telemark position is one in which the downhill ski is in the
lead, and the uphill foot is trailing with the heel raised off
the ski. For me a telemark turn begins with a telemark position,
and ends with the opposite telemark position. Thus a telemark
turn can be defined as a turn during which a transition from
one telemark position to the other occurs. Some people would
define a telemark turn as one in which a telemark position is
created, albeit with the uphill ski leading, and then held throughout
the turn. For these people a lead change is made, and then the
new turn begins. For them the turn begins in the same position
as it ends. If the lead change doesn't happen during the turn,
but between the turns, it must be while traversing. Since modern
skiing has eliminated traverses in favor of linked turns, the
lead change must occur during the turn. In a nutshell then, the
new turn begins with the telemark position from the old turn,
and finishes with the opposite telemark position.
The issues now become more focused;
when does the lead change movement begin, what is its duration,
and at what point in the turn do the feet pass each other? We
might also ask how the feet move relative to each other; does
the rear foot move forward, does the front foot move back, or
do both feet move back and forth in equal proportion.
For guidance in these questions
let look for a moment at what characterizes good skiing. Balance
and rhythm are undeniably qualities of good skiing. Balance and
rhythm lead to fluidity; fluidity leads to stability; stability
leads to mastery of difficult and exciting situations; and mastery
of difficult and exciting situations leads to attention from
young snowboard chicks. Or something like that!
To Weems Westfeldt balance is a
verb. In his new book, Brilliant Skiing Every Day (edgechange.com has a free
e-book download) he says, "Balance is often mistaken for
holding position. The agile movements of balance are really about
rejecting position and staying in motion with the moving environment",
and "Once you are in a position long enough to recognize
it as such, you've been there way too long." I believe this
is particularly pertinent to the lead change in telemark skiing.
Movements become fluid when they are performed continuously and
progressively. Telemark skiing is at its most fluid and elegant
when the feet are constantly shuffling from one telemark position
to the other (See our "Linking
Turns" lesson video for a demonstration of this).
Freeheel skiers started using the
telemark position to enhance balance. Moving from one telemark
position to the other while turning, transforms the balanced
position into a balancing activity. Thus applied, the lead change
movement begins with, or shortly after the edge change, and continues
through the turn completion, with the feet passing in the fall
line. Avoiding sudden movements, the skier in balance and motion
finds it easy to make rhythmical turns. Weems paraphrases the
Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers: "Good rhythm carries me through
times of bad technique better than good technique carries me
through times of bad rhythm."
I have found the pattern just described
to work well in most "all mountain" situations. Telemark
racers use a different pattern however. Since the goal of racing
is to maximize rather than control speed, racers make most of
the direction change early, and open up the finish of the turn.
This comma shaped turn is made by engaging and pressuring the
skis at the very top of the turn, making a quick early lead change
and then holding that position through the turn. In order to
keep from "parking and riding", they create angles
in their legs, hips, and spine as they move through the turn.
This requires considerable speed and highly developed inclination
and angulation skills in order to be effective. Because all mountain
skiers often need to make shorter, quicker turns to reduce speed
and negotiate narrow gaps, they must crank their skis around
using muscular turning powers. The continuous lead change works
beautifully for this. It is also well suited for skiers who ski
at moderate speed.
Unlike the medium radius carved
turns of ski racing, short turns, and slower speed turns are
best made by pivoting the feet around an axis between the feet.
Imagine standing on a huge Mason jar lid a foot in diameter with
both feet. Now unscrew the lid with your feet while keeping your
body facing straight ahead. This is what happens in a lefthand
telemark turn (remember righty-tighty, lefty-loosy). Your right
foot moves forward in an arc, as your left foot moves back. Both
feet pivot around an axis that goes through your body centerline
and penetrates the center of the jar lid. Starting with your
feet facing straight ahead, you can get the jar lid unscrewed
about half way. Now start with your feet positioned as they would
be at the end of a righthand telemark turn and unscrew the jar
lid. This time you can get it all the way off. Imagine you are
facing straight down the hill. You will notice that your feet
are momentarily next to each other when aligned with the direction
you are facing. If your feet move simultaneously, your skis will
remain parallel through the entire turn.
An early, or premature, lead change
spreads your feet out fore and aft where they are harder to rotate,
or point into the direction of the turn. Spreading them out more
slowly allows the leg rotation that starts the turn to continue
uninterrupted through to the completion. Remember, the telemark
lead change is primarily a balancing activity, not a turning
Another reason why all mountain
telemark skiers start turns-especially in the steeps-in a telemark
position (downhill ski leading), is they can push off against
the snow with the uphill (back) foot to release the edges, and
get the body moving downhill. Those who change leads prematurely
can only fall passively down the hill and hope for the best.
Furthermore, having the downhill foot ahead of you as you launch
into the "gravity stream", as Weems calls it, allows
the commitment to be more aggressive.
In the final analysis, edge change
is the most important element of ski turns. As veteran ski instructor
Denis Bogan puts it, "You can change leads early, or late,
or not at all, as in a monotele", but you can't make a right
turn on your left edges. I have found that practicing smooth
continuous lead changes helps make my edge change more fluid.
A good rule of thumb is to match the rate and duration of the
lead change movement to that of the edge change movement. In
racing it's important to make a quick and early edge change,
so the lead change is quick and early as well. At slower speeds
and in shorter turns, the edge engagement happens later, so the
lead change is more delayed.
To learn the continuous lead change,
you must have the feet equally weighted. Only then will both
of your feet shuffle equally fore and aft. If you finish a turn
with more weight on the front foot, you will stride into the
next turn with an early lead change. Good skiers vary their lead
change movements according to the purpose of their turns (See
video for a good example).
Whichever lead change pattern you
choose for a given situation, the most important thing is not
to get stuck in any one position. Good balance and rhythm will
result from smooth and progressive movements. Keep yourself moving
and you'll keep improving!
About the author: Urmas Franosch is a former PSIA Telemark
Demo Team member who has been teaching telemark at Mammoth Mountain
for more than two decades. In addition to being a gifted teacher
and master of the tele turn, Urmas also serves as the PSIA-West
Nordic Chief Examiner.
For more from Urmas visit our Lessons section and check out the many