This past autumn I sort of decided that I would maybe start thinking about the possibility of trying something other than snowboarding this winter season. Keep in mind that about thirteen or fourteen years ago, after discovering snowboarding, I had vowed to never ever ski again. Besides that, I was always just an “okay” skier and never really excelled at it so the thought of going back never seemed an option.
The thought of strapping two skis back on my feet only came back to my thinking when my buddy Chris told me I should give up the snowboard and try some AT gear (all-terrain). He said that instead of post-holing in waist deep snow with my snowboard strapped on my back, I should skin up so I could move as fast and efficiently as my lungs would allow. Yeah, it was hard to slog up backcountry peaks just as he said, but I truly loved the sensation of ripping big powder turns on my snowboard so much that it always seemed worth the extra effort. Reluctantly though, I told him I’d consider skis for this season.
I still remember his excitement when I told him that I’d indeed bought a pair of skis off Craig’s List. But let me clear that statement up a little. He was excited until I told him I was buying a telemark set up instead of the AT set up he had suggested. If I remember correctly, I think his exact words were, “Why’d you go and buy that hippie shit?”. Then, just like the Chis everyone knew, he laughed and immediately starting listing out all the “skiing projects” that we HAD to do this winter in the backcountry. I hated to squelch his always present enthusiasm for the next great “project”, but I told him I at least needed to get my ski legs back under me before I ventured off into the backcountry. I told him it shouldn’t take long at all since I was athletic and as he knew, can be as determined as anyone once I put my mind to learning something.
Because of the circumstances, my maiden voyage on the the tele skis was put on hold for a bit. However, when I did finally get them out, I decided that A-Basin would be a great place to start learning this whole telemark business. I figured I could just run laps on their intermediate terrain while I got the whole knee dropping system worked out.
Seriously, how hard could it be? I could go anywhere I wanted on my snowboard and I had all the confidence in the world when it came to ripping big turns. I surmised it shouldn’t take but a single day to figure this tele stuff out because like I mentioned before, I was athletic and had the determination of a pit bull when it came to learning how to do something new.
Well, that was terrible assumption number one…of many to come. Let’s just say that getting clipped into those funny looking bindings and getting on the chair lift went off without a hitch. Once off the lift, the overall game changed a little. I was quickly served up the biggest piece of humble pie I’ve ever eaten. There would be no intermediate anything that day. For the first time in many years, I cowered at the sight of a blue square on a trail marker and frantically searched my trail map for anything with a green circle. In fact, every joint in my body would turn completely rigid when I’d look down anything more steep than a handicap ramp at the grocery story. There was simply no controlling those damn skis with those crazy loose heels flopping around.
So to recap my first day on tele skis, let’s just say the pit bull mentality I thought I possessed turned out to be more befitting that of a pitiful little lap dog. And yeah, my bravado about being able to learn things simply because I was “athletic” had been reduced to a head-hung-in-bitter-defeat walk back to my car after only three exhausting hours. I admit it, I was shattered. Fail.
As is the always the case with me, I whimpered around for a day or two nursing my demolished ego before I got another little spark of determination. I decided that I’d go back the following weekend and try again. And against my better judgment, I asked my friends Bryan and Andrew if I could tag along with them…them both being freakishly good tele skiers. My thought process was that I could follow them around, watch them and try to learn what I was doing wrong. I say “doing wrong” because I had pretty much determined that nothing I was doing was “right”.
The day started better than the ego crushing marathon I’d had at A-Basin but chasing Bryan and Andrew around was not as much fun, or as easy, as I thought. After a couple of easy runs I told them to mercifully leave me to my misery and go have fun, which they thankfully did. However, in the following couple of hours, I finally managed to link a few crude tele turns together. I wanted so desperately for someone I knew to see me to show them that I really could do this. But alas, only elderly grandmas and their tag-a-long toddlers were to be found on the embarrassingly flat terrain where my first true quasi-tele turns finally happened. Therefore, I kept the jubilation to a minimum.
Bryan, Andrew and I had agreed to meet back at the village later in the day so despite my newly found slightly-faster-than-glacial pace, I started down a little early to allow plenty of time. About 500 vertical feet above our meeting place, I glanced up and over to see Andrew screaming down a steep trail that fed into the trail I was on, naturally making some beautifully graceful tele turns!
So happy was I that I had finally linked some turns, I decided I would confidently bust a couple out right in front of him…to which he would be duly impressed. What I hadn’t calculated was the immense degree of leg fatigue that learning to tele can dish out. I sort of dropped my right knee and I turned a little to the right. I sort of dropped my left knee to link the turn back to the left. What followed was the most wicked cramp in my quad that I’d ever experienced. I crumbled into a massive heap right in front of Andrew. Fail. The elderly grandma and her three year old granddaughter confidently skied around me. Fail, again.
For the next few weeks I continued to go up both days of every weekend to try and get those elusive fluid and beautifully graceful turns figured out. Some days were grim, other days only horrible. Just when I’d gain a little confidence, the changing terrain and snow conditions would move the target and I’d come home frustrated and demoralized…but never defeated. I just kept plugging away and even went up to Canada with a friend where I got thoroughly schooled, again.
With each and every outing I honestly would learn something new and then one day, just after I got back from Canada, it finally clicked. I had taken a beating for weeks and weeks and just when I found myself on the ropes and thought the knockout blow to my psyche was on the way, I had my breakthrough day….finally. I left that day with a huge smile…from ear to ear. I had never had such a fun day on skis, and yes, even on a snowboard.
From that point it’s only gotten better and better with each outing. I’m probably in the best winter shape I’ve ever been in. I’ve skied more days than I’ve ever skied in a single season. I’ve met some of the most down-to-earth and amazing people I’ve ever met. And dare I say, despite the complete and absolute smack down I took early on in the season, I’ve never had so much fun in my life. I’ve gone from being terrified of trails with names containing the words “bunny”, “cotton” and “easiest way down” to feeling confident enough to head out on my own to skin up peaks and ski down things I wouldn’t have thought possible five months ago.
Was it worth it? Was it worth the early beatings, the rampant frustration, the humiliation, the crashes and all the time I spent leading up to my “Ahhh-haaaa moment”. Click on the link below and I think the answer will be pretty clear.
Paddle far. Run long. Climb high. Ski hard.