Sometimes it’s great to switch up your snow sliding equipment. If you’re comfortable in one discipline, new gear can change the way you look at the mountain, as well as the people riding alongside you. I’m an alpine skier, and it’s just really comfortable for me—I can confidently descend whatever I need to. And as much as I love alpining, sometimes I miss that excitement that comes with learning a new skill every day…even every hour.
On Saturday, I decided to switch it up and slap on a pair of tele skis. And what better place to tele in Utah than Alta? The resort at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon has long been a stronghold for the free-heel crowd. But throw out your old conceptions of dirty hippies, leather boots, and flimsy, skinny skis. Today’s telemark is defined by baggy pants, twin tips, burly four-buckle boots, and a wealth of young tele shredders. I might try to look the part, but trust me…I’m not one of them.
After a few warm-up runs to get my knees dropping properly on the groomers, I decided to head for some of my favorite runs like No Name and Stone Crusher out on West Rustler. I figured that’d be a good, steep spot but fairly smooth to ease my way into off-piste tele skiing.
What I didn’t factor in was the ski out the High T required to get there. The High T is a high-speed traverse chuck full of compressions, huge braking bumps, rocks, and other obstacles. On alpine gear, I just charge through, paying little attention to anything but how much speed I can carry. But with a free-heeled faceplant just one missed compression away, I was instantly slowed and realized what a challenge Alta can really be…and how much I’d been taking it for granted.
Throughout the day, I got more comfortable with the High T. West Rustler, however, completely kicked my butt. I wound up chickening out and making alpine turns down most of it. But by the end of the day, I was linking tele turns on its lower, gentler aspects. Later in Catherine’s Area, I even linked up some drop-knee turns in some generous powder leftovers. And despite one fully-committed, over-the-bars, tele head plant, I had a huge smile at the end of the day. Telemarking is still just another type of skiing, but it allows you to see the mountain in a whole new light. If you haven’t yet, give it a try!