Outdoor Adventures: Telemark racing isn’t what it used to be

  • Marie Boudreau of Quebec City, Canada, gets ready to leave the start during last Sunday’s Minus33 Eastern Telemark Series sprint classic at Wildcat Mountain in Pinkham Notch. MARTY BASCH / Courtesy

For the Monitor
Saturday, February 11, 2017

Telemark racing isn’t about old-school soft leather boots and three-pin bindings anymore.

The gear is lighter and sturdier. There are still giant slalom gates, but there’s also a jump, a 360-degree banked turn called a reipelokke and cross-country style sprints.

There’s a freeskiing discipline, too.

“There is more of an adventure race type of mentality to competitive telemark,” said United States Telemark Ski Association President Garrett Long. “You take the gates of an Alpine course and throw in the adrenaline of jumps and the endurance of cross-country.”

The nonprofit group is the governing body of the U.S. Telemark Ski Team and Telemark Freeskiing. It’s taken part in several New England races including a Minus33 Eastern Telemark Series sprint classic last Sunday at Wildcat in Pinkham Notch, drawing top telemark skiers.

The free-heeling pursuit, which combines both Alpine and Nordic styles, was developed in Norway’s Telemark region and pioneered by racer Sondre Nordheim in the late 1860s.

Though telemark has a groovy, relatively recent history, the racing side’s gotten crazy.

In the one-run classic format, racers go through gates but also have features that can include a jump, the rap and a skating section. The sprint classic is like the classic format but racers take two runs and the course is shorter. The parallel sprint classic is a single-elimination race which has two competitors going side-by-side on a course that has a jump midway through, the rap and the skate. That was introduced into World Cup racing in 2012 with hopes of becoming part of the Olympics someday.

New Boston’s Miles Fey, 17, used to be a terrain park guy but now is a national telemark development team member.

“I like that it encompasses lots of disciplines in one race – gates, jumps and Nordic,” the Derryfield School student said. “The jump provides a different dynamic. You need to have the right amount of speed and time your landing well. If not, you might eat it.”

Then there’s the circle, the rap.

“That’s crazy,” he said. “It’s like a pump track and it gives you a push to start the skate.”

Montreal’s Antoine Belanger-Morin is on the Canadian national telemark team and has raced in several championships. His father competed in World Cup telemark.

“It is a very complete sport and you have to be a complete athlete to do the sport,” he said.

Belanger-Morin trains in the gym, runs gates on weekends but it’s the final Nordic stretch that makes it for him.

“The skating section, this is where I usually win my race,” he said. “Everything about the race is cool but skating is where you win or lose.”

Not only is speed important but there are judges on the course checking skiers’ stances around gates and whether they clear the “jump line” on the jump. That’s where penalties come into play and can deduct 1-3 seconds off times.

One of those judges is Beth Long of Queeche, Vt., a veteran USTSA volunteer. Her son, Garrett, is the USTSA president, daughter-in-law Melinda is USTSA secretary and son Jack is a race official.

“The faster racers are the clean racers,” she said. “They generally win. Technical skiing makes a difference.”

Cowbells ring along the race course. Racers complete their run and then stop and cheer on their competitors so there’s also a social atmosphere.

“Alpine racing has a go-go mentality,” Melinda Long said. “Telemark tends to follow tele-time – a little bit slower, more easy-going.”

She said many spectators are shocked when they see the jumps at races.

“The jump and the rap get people interested,” she said.

Wildcat General Manager Brian Heon said there’s an increased demand for this type of racing.

“Hosting an event like this heightens the general public’s awareness that something like this exists,” he said.

There are also open races and demos for gear from Telemarkdown.

A mini-classic telemark race is planned for Feb. 24 at Granite Gorge near Keene and the Telemark Down Eastern Series Final Sprint Classic is March 11 at Crotched Mountain in Bennington. There’s also the Freeheel Life Cup at Wyoming’s Grand Targhee in March, expected to attract more than 300 freeskiers.

Plus, the USTSA may bid to host World Cup races next season, with one possibly in New England.

“We are analyzing options,” Garrett Long said. “There is a bit of a process to go through, line up and work out.”