The first-timer tele challenge |

The first-timer tele challenge

Kimberly Nicoletti

OK. I admit it. I bailed out of the snowboarding lessons after getting my 40- and 50-somethings all excited about them. And I was glad, especially after I read that Karen Wray’s instructor said the longer you’ve been a skier, the harder learning to ride is. And the last time I was on a wakeboard, I felt like a turtle turned over on its shell; once I got up, I felt out of my element. I’m a forward kind of person, not side-to-side.

So the following week, after my comrades were sore, I was excited to take tele lessons at Arapahoe Basin, as part of the women’s clinic. I think I made the best choice; I thought I’d be sore after a half-day of thigh-burning turns, but I was OK.

We began on Molly Hogan, and when I slid off the chairlift and looked at the pitch, it intimidated me. This is from a skier who can ski nearly any steep ” as long as my heels are intact. We began with shuffles, which was even more scary, because it caused me to go faster without knowing how to turn.

But soon enough, our instructors taught the eight of us how to turn. I thought I was doing OK (not great, but reasonable), until my instructor pointed out I was combining tele turns with alpine turns. I practiced pressuring that back ski, so I could find some semblance of making it follow my outside ski. Key words here: “some semblance.”

After one run turning on Molly Hogan, we moved on to the big boy: Exhibition Lift. Never have green pitches looked so irritatingly difficult. I was having a blast learning tele turns on flat terrain and actually envisioned myself smoothly negotiating blues by mid-season ” until I actually encountered a steeper pitch, which, just the day before I did aggressive giant slalom turns down on alpines. What a difference a loose heel makes.

I admit: I whimped out. I wanted to stay on flat greens, while the rest of the group (somewhat younger than me) enthusiastically tackled the steeper greens. That was the only downside of learning at A-Basin: Even greens are a little intimidating. It’d be a great place to learn for someone who’d been on teles a few times, but for me ” who, two years ago, spent half a season out with a fractured tibial plateau ” it wasn’t my choice terrain. Still, with each run, my turns improved. I stepped more on the ball of my back foot instead of my tippy-toes. But, just as I thought I was weighting my back leg more, the instructor pointed out that I was leaning to the side to do it. To me, that’s the beauty of taking a lesson: It stops bad habits before they become entrenched. I’m so grateful for that pointer, as well as not creating “Bertha Butt” (sticking your butt out rather than balancing weight evenly over your core) and another tip, which is a little too risque to write here, and which only women receive.

From age 7, when I started alpine skiing, to age 30, when I became a ski instructor, I had never taken a lesson. As a result, I practiced bad habits, which I had to unlearn (and sometimes am still unlearning). That’s the gem of taking a lesson: I’m hoping to learn my tele technique right the first time so I can slowly transition into steep and bumped-up runs without unknowingly having bad habits hold me back.

by Nicole Formosa

So, you’re comfortable, even accomplished, on alpine skis or a snowboard. Now what? Are you ready to commit to dropping your familiar set of sticks or snowboard and starting fresh on the green trails you abandoned so long ago?

This is probably the time when most people lose interest in learning a new sport because, frankly, no one in their right mind would want to waste a powder day fumbling with new gear and falling face first in the fluff. Even without sacrificing a powder day, learning on harder snow can be a daunting task.

But, I’m finding that if you’re really determined to master a new skill ” and if you can stick it out through the growing pains ” the reward is well worth it.

Not to say it hasn’t been a painfully ” often literally ” slow process.

I started telemark skiing early last season, because I was seeking a new challenge and a change from snowboarding (boy, did I get what I asked for). Having never been an alpine skier, everything was a new experience. The typical thought running through my head was: “I’m supposed to carry these poles and get on the chairlift at the same time?”

But with the help of several patient instructors and friends, by the end of the season, I was dropping my knee confidently on blue groomers. This year, I wanted more. I strive to be able to shelve the snowboard entirely and conquer the entire mountain on my telemark skis, bumps included.

So I signed up for a women’s telemark clinic at Arapahoe Basin in December and joined the intermediate group. All four students felt confident skiing on groomers, but we hoped to improve our technique in variable conditions. We were fortunate to have telemark-extraordinaire Scott Powers as our instructor.

Powers has been on telemark skis since 1981, has competed professionally and has been teaching at The Legend for seven years. After giving us a boatload of tips on stance and technique, Powers led us to a steep mogul pitch directly under the Exhibition Lift. As if the first attempt at bumps wouldn’t be embarrassing enough, I was sufficiently mortified to find that I would have an audience above.

My crack at moguls was humbling, to say the very least. Despite Powers’ urging to maintain my tele stance, plant my inside pole on top of the bump and turn, I flailed … badly. Regardless of my obvious lack of skills in the bumps, I held back the discouragement and reassured myself that I just needed more practice.

Becoming proficient on telemark skis has definitely been a longer process than I expected, but I’m envisioning the day when I can gracefully float through powder fields, aggressively tackle moguls and turn swiftly through the trees.

And my snowboard has stayed on the shelf all season.

If you’re interested in signing up for one of A-Basin’s clinics, visit

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