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Getting over parallel guilt

If telemark skis had stayed skinny and boots were still leather, I might not be in this predicament today. Or maybe I should blame that backcountry ski trip to British Columbia seven springs ago.

After a few frustrating days of trying to make pretty telemark turns in deep, sloppy crud, I got tired of dropping the knee and praying that one ski wouldn’t head south, while the other went east. I was good for ten turns before my thighs cramped. If I was going to get my money’s worth, I needed to change my technique fast. I resorted back to the parallel, a turn I hadn’t used in twenty years. And that’s when my “parallel guilt’ began.

I’m a telemarker. This is more than just a turn, it’s a statement, a lifestyle, my politics. In the old days, when my skis were skinny and ridiculously long, the telemark turn made total sense. But as skis got fatter and boots went plastic, I paralleled more and more; it was so easy and S fun. I was thrilled to hear that I wasn’t alone and that some of the pinheads from Alta and Steamboat were also switching their style.



Debates over this issue were written in various ski publications, where diehards waxed with self-righteous indignation about preserving the “soul’ of the telemark turn and maintaining the nordic heritage. Give me a break.

It wasn’t long before I paralleled almost exclusively. If you had just hiked for three hours, wouldn’t you want the grin-to-grunt ratio to mean as many turns as possible? For me, this meant parallel. I slowly fell in love with what I lacked in my telemark skills – being able to keep my body square down the fall line AND carve (not skid) a turn. There isn’t much debate concerning the idea that if you parallel, you make rounder turns, compared to a telemarker who makes more of a swooping, long arc. To each his own.



I now confess to all my fellow free-heelers: I like the parallel turn better. And yet …

I feel a little foolish. After all, why not just join the masses and lock down the heel? Friends give me a hard time. “How can you say this is a great telemark ski when all you’ve done is parallel?” Or, screaming at me from the lift, “Drop your knee, get free!”

When the terrain is flat, I’d rather parallel. When the snow’s windblown, I find it safer to parallel. When I want speed with the carve, well, you know. Seventy percent of my turns are with my skis together. I still love an occasional knee-dropping. But usually after a few of those dog-slow, pretty turns, the inefficiency of it all grates on me.

But I’m coming to terms with this. I know what you’re thinking. I mean, jeez, what’s the point of being on telemark skis if all you’re going to do is parallel? It’s like putting a motor on a sailboat.

I tried hard this winter to get back in tune with the grace and rhythm of the telemark turn. But it was too slow, sometimes awkward, and I’m sorry, but it’s a bit of a foolish turn. Why make skiing so complicated?

I had to try locking down the heels and solving this crisis once and for all. A few days before the resort closed, I rented some equipment and hit the slopes.

At first, I loved it. I’d rip over blue ice like it was powder, where on my teles I’d most certainly skid and flail. And after a full day of locked heels, I didn’t even feel tired. It was just so easy.

Too easy. I mean, it was kind of boring after a while. Traversing and hiking was much more of a pain. Sure, there will be some locked-heel days in my future, but I missed the freedom, and maybe even the social statement, of the free heel. Even though I probably made a more “technically correct’ alpine turn with the heel locked, I missed being able to throw in an occasional telemark soul turn, getting back to the roots.

It’s been said, “Be careful what you wish for – you might just get it.” What I wish for is an incredible spring backcountry season, my honey telling me not to work ’till the snow melts, and to get over my parallel guilt. After all, one good turn deserves another.


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