When I started learning to telemark ski this year I was greeted, okay, actually slapped in the face with an ocean of challenges. Finding my balance on skis again, getting used to funny looking bindings that don’t connect at the heel, independent leg action and quads that rebelled after just a couple of hours of doing deep lunges were just some of the adjustments I had to make after spending the last 12-15 years on a snowboard.
I fought through all that stuff and finally got to a point where I felt like I was advancing my skills and improving my technique. However on my first “real” powder day on the teles I found that despite the euphoric feeling of “flying” through the deep stuff, I was constantly falling over when I’d slow down or try to stop. Part of the problem was that it was snowing really hard, visibility was low and depth perception was a huge issue. The long and short of it was I essentially lost my balance when I’d come to a stop or just straight up got vertigo and would topple over.
I did that for about half the morning until a fellow tele skier came up to me and offered some friendly and quite helpful advice, something I absolutely love about the tele community. He said when I slow down or come to a stop (and even while skiing for that matter) in those conditions I should always look at the horizon and not look down at my feet and skis.
I hadn’t really realized I’d been doing that, but when I thought about it, I actually had been. I don’t ever remember looking down at my feet when I was snowboarding, which may be why I never remember toppling over when I came to a stop, even on the crappiest of days. Part of the coolness of telemark though is the rad movement of the skis and body with each turn so I guess I’d let myself get mesmerized by my own skis and feet! Sloppiness and bad form on a bluebird day with groomers galore will make for plenty of heroes in the tele world, but on a powder day with difficult visibility, well, it’ll find you out in a hurry.
So, back onto the lift I went and made the traverse back across the ridge to another trail there in Game Creek Bowl, one still filled with surprisingly deep powder. As I stood ready to drop down the steeper trail I was awash with all the little tips that’d been clogging my head since starting to learn how to tele. Instead of letting it bog me down too much though, I decided I’d just try focusing on the horizon this time — and of course hauling ass through deep snow!
I dropped in and picked up some good speed as I got into the fall line. I could feel my skis rise on the soft snow and I was “flying” again! I made my weight shifts as I started to initiate my turns, dropped my knee to finish it out and once again my decision to learn the sport was affirmed by the ever-addictive adrenaline rush. I cranked out turn after turn and could feel my soul smiling deep within. Then it came time to slow down and stop.
Just like my new tele friend suggested, I picked a specific point on the horizon, kept my focus squarely upon it and turned my skis to a quick stop. Voila! I didn’t get that vertigo sensation with the weird light and lack of depth perception and most importantly, I didn’t fall over. Life was good.
Over the last several months I’ve had to deal with some less than fortunate things in my life, some of which hit me harder than I thought humanly possible to endure. Looking back I see that throughout that hard emotional learning process, I’d metaphorically found myself looking down at my feet instead of looking out on the horizon, something I had always prided myself for doing. Even running, something that has always been my “go to” source of meditation and spiritual re-centering had taken a backseat. I honestly hadn’t been able to motivate myself to run more than five or six miles at a time since this past November, much less fifty or sixty miles.
A couple of weeks ago though I went up to Canada to ski with a good friend. Throughout the five days of traipsing around Washington and British Columbia we talked a lot about life’s experiences and how when certain things happen we sometimes get emotionally bogged down and yes, topple over. Sometimes when that happens we unfortunately aren’t able (or willing) to look beyond that single hard step in our journey to the greater path ahead. And just like my tele comrade had suggested a couple of weeks earlier, my friend reminded me that though things can be hard, I needed to stop looking down and redirect my focus on the beautiful horizon ahead.
Now that I’m back I honestly feel like I’m once again breathing easier, both spiritually and emotionally. I’ve started to run a little again, I feel better about ending some long friendships that had run their course, I feel an amazing spiritual connection to some of the new people who have come into my life and I’m sort of beginning to come to terms with Chris’s accident, though that’s still excruciatingly painful at times. Most importantly though, I’m feeling more focused on the horizon ahead just like I always had before. I can definitely feel the visceral passion for living the dream every single second of every single day filling my soul once again. Life is good.
Telemark = life and life = telemark. Go figure.
Run hard. Climb high. Paddle far. And by all means, drop those knees!