Crossed over to the dark side
Ever since 1976, practically a lifetime ago, Sue and I have been trying to master telemark skiing. We used to do it on cross country skinny skis with 3 pin bindings. It got harder and harder as we got older, natural I guess, since it is such a difficult and dynamic turn. It’s like doing squats, except while hurtling down the ski slope.
There used to be a mindset among my generation during the 80’s when we were young. We shunned the downhill ski areas. They were too crowded and too expensive. We would skin up into the mountains where it was free. There were no crowds, no chair lifts, and we prided ourselves on our hardiness. The only reasonably light ski back then was the cross country ski. We’d buy the ones with metal edges. They were light on the uphill, challenging on the downhill, but that was all part of the fun.
When we had kids, they followed us up on their skinny skis, but they never really mastered the telemark turn. It requires a lot of practice. As they became adults, with money of their own, they looked at the learning curve in telemarking and went straight to Randonee skis. These are also called AT (All Terrain) skis. You can still skin up into the backcountry, but on the way down you lock your heels, just like a downhill ski binding.
Because they both have great jobs in the medical field, they were able buy downhill tickets and quickly mastered the difficult skiing conditions found in the backcountry. Whenever we took them out into the mountains (usually Paradise at Mt. Rainier), they would leave us in the dust.
5 years ago we bought new telemark gear, the first in 30 years. We thought it would be the ticket to skiing better. It did help a lot. When I bought my yearly downhill ticket I could ski all day on my telegear. That never used to happen on my skinny skis.
But I still can’t even begin to keep up with my kids. The teleturn requires so much practice that it is basically impossible to master without a season pass. And even then it’s not a super fast turn like you can do on downhill skis.
Long story short, Sue and I pulled some money out of savings and invested in new backcountry AT gear. They feature pivoting toes for skinning up, and lock down heels on the bindings for skiing down.
I feel a bit guilty for giving up on my dream of being a great telemarker. There is an old saying about skiing: “Free the heel, free the mind”. It’s a bumper sticker seen at ski areas. Supposedly telemark skiing with it’s free floating heel is more of a zen experience. It is lovely turn, no doubt. But at our advanced state of decrepitude, I think we need all the help we can get.
There is another old saying in regards to telemark skiing. When you give up on telemark skiing, and buy skis with lock down heels, you have “crossed over to the dark side”. Still, now that I’m on the dark side maybe I have a chance of keeping up with my daughter. I just need to ride the chair a few times to get the hang of downhill skiing again.
Who knows, perhaps there’s hope for us old duffers. Sue got Black Diamond Helios skis, with the Dynafit speed Radical binding, while I got the Blizzard 95 Zero G skis, with the Dynafit TLT Radical ST 2.0 Binding. I’m dreading looking at my credit card balance after these purchases. But, these skis should be the last skis we ever buy, so it may be money well invested. We’ve skied on them once, in the rain, $40 lift tickets and they worked fabulous. It’s like having brand new downhill skis, which we haven’t had in 35 years. The bindings released correctly twice when I fell. I like the theory behind these Dynafit bindings. I did some research and they’ve been around since the late 80’s. They started as a modification of the Ramer binding, which was my downhill binding up until last week. Ramers had a “tuning fork” that would pivot on some pins. In a fall, the tuning fork would flex enough to open, releasing the boot from the ski. These Dynafit bindings have a mechanism that reflects that heritage.