18-year-old Summit County resident leads Telemark Freeski Series
If 18-year-old Taiga Young was an alpine skier, more people might know that she’s on her way to becoming a national champion. But, about 10 years ago, at the tender age of 8, Young decided to free her heels. And now that she’s leading the United States Telemark Ski Association’s Freeski Series, she says her success thus far is its own reward.
Young, who graduated from Summit High School last year as 15th in her class with an above 4.0 grade point average and lives in Summit County, won the freeski event Feb. 9 at Jackson Hole, Wyo., and also the event Jan. 12 at Alpine Meadows, Calif., despite being in a neck brace and battered from a crash she sustained training for the slopestyle event, which she also won a few days earlier.
“My goal this year was simply to podium,” Young said. “So, after Alpine Meadows, this has all been icing on the cake. I’m not even thinking about the title right now. For me, I’m so happy to have those two plates (trophies) they gave me, I could totally bombshell out, and I’d still consider the season a huge success.”
Young was trying to clear a table top on the slopestyle course at Alpine Meadows when she landed flat, sliced her lip open and injured her spine. This didn’t stop her from competing.
“I had a minor disagreement between myself and a 50-foot gap table,” she said. “They thought I broke my C-1 (vertebrae). The slopestyle comp was two days later. I was really scared going into it. I was so nervous I was shaking.”
Young was the only woman competing in the slopestyle contest and is one of about 15 competing in the freeski series this season. She said dropping cliffs and catching air is something few women choose to do on their telemark skis, and something even fewer people would do with a potentially damaged vertebrae. Young would like to see the sport grow, especially among women, and she is not the only one.
Former Telemark Freeski Series champion Leslie Ross conducts women’s tele clinics throughout the season at Arapahoe Basin and other Colorado ski areas with Babes in the Backcountry, her organization that also specializes in avalanche, navigation and steeps clinics and hut trips. Ross opted out of the Freeski Series this season so she could focus on teaching and eliciting more general interest in telemark skiing.
“I’m trying to try a different angle with the sport,” Ross said. “What I’m trying to do is push people, help them achieve their own personal goals. It’s a great group of people that (tele). The clinics aren’t just designed for people who have never tried it. The experienced people that do them don’t have to be thinking about competing, either. They might just want to feel more comfortable on the steeps or in the trees. I just want to show people small things they can do to build their skills.”
Not a month goes by in the winter that tele skiers who frequent the ski resorts don’t encounter someone asking them why they’re on cross country skis. But the low-profile aspect of telemarking is something both Young and Ross embrace.
“I think it would be great for the sport if some big companies decided they wanted to endorse the (telemark) series,” Ross said. “I wouldn’t want to see it take away from the sport, though. It is low-key now, and it’s individually competitive. Even though people are pushing themselves, they are still pretty supportive of each other. I wouldn’t want to see it become too competitive.
With more telemark articles, and more exposure on RSN (Resort Sports Network), people are becoming aware of it. I’m seeing a lot more people from the cities who are like, “Wow, I’d like to try that.'”
Like Ross and Young, there are many tele enthusiasts who grew up alpine skiing, and, once they freed their heels, never went back.
“I enjoy seeing the crossover,” Young said. “I’ve known a lot of people who go from alpine to tele and haven’t gone back. It’s been fun. I love seeing where the sport’s been going. We’re taking it to whole different levels. You wouldn’t see it 10 years ago. Tele skiers are doing things just as good as any alpine skier. I’m seeing guys drop 80-foot cliffs and stomp them every time.”
As far as her own career, Young wants to be right up there with the best of them; and not just the best woman.
“I don’t want people just saying, “she’s good for a girl,'” Young said. “I want to be top 10 in the men’s division. Overall, I would love to see telemark skiing get taken to the level that alpine skiing has been taken to, and to be considered one of the best riders, not just as a female rider, but as any athlete.”
The next stop in the USTSA Freeski Series is Feb. 28 – March 2 at Crested Butte. The finals take place March 28 – 30 at Snow Basin, Utah.
There are four major manufacturers of tele skis – Karhu, which sponsors Young, Black Diamond, which sponsors Ross, Tua and K2.
Telemark clinics are available at Breckenridge and through Babes in the Backcountry. The Wednesday women’s clinics Feb. 19 and March 19 at Arapahoe Basin are $40 in advance, and include a three-hour lesson, demo equipment, giveaways and discount coupons. Babes also offers a full-day clinic March 8, a two-day clinic April 5-6, free steep clinics at Crested Butte and a clinic at Silverton. Clinics are offered for tele skiers of all abilities, from never-evers to advanced. For more information, contact Babes in the Backcountry at http://www.babesinthebackcountry.com. To register for clinics at A-Basin, call (888) ARAPAHOE, Ext. 3.
Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at email@example.com.
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