The next class in the AMC NH ski committee leader training series is the yearly telemark class with PSIA instructor Jim Tasse. This year 16 leaders attended on a cold powder day. Tasse gave everyone a few individual tips and reviewed general telemark form. Here is what I can remember of what he taught.
We started the day with introductions and a review of everyone’s goals for the day. Then we skied a warm up run. Next, we did Tasse’s favorite exercise for a large group – the circle ski.
To set up a circle ski, have all the students line up on the side of the trail spaced about a turn apart. The instructor picks an exercise and demonstrates it while skiing past the line. Starting at the top, each student attempts the exercise and stops at the bottom of the line. When the instructor is next to go, they pick a new exercise and repeat. While waiting on the side, each student should watch the others skiing. After several exercises, everyone regroups to debrief. The circle ski works well for a mixed group of instructors. The advanced skiers can focus more on movement analysis, while the weaker skiers focus more on their own technique.
The exercise progression Tasse used during circle ski was quite simple and served as a good refresher for me. I don’t know if it helped the less experienced skiers.
- Medium radius telemark turn
- Monomark on the left
- Monomark on the right
- Parallel turns
- Slow, continuous foot transitions
This sequence deconstructs the phases of a telemark turn and then puts it back together. In a proper turn, you should monomark in, transition feet or parallel down the fall line, and telemark back out. I observed an interesting correlation between people’s monomark technique and their parallel technique. The folks whose back ski wedged during monomark, weighted only one ski during a parallel turn.
From that exercise, Tasse transitioned to picking a weakness in one student and then made us all ski exercises to develop that skill. Here are some I remember.
Several people did not have enough weight on their back foot. For this, Tasse assigned us to do a normal turn, but during the telemark out phase, to lift the front foot and tap it on the snow. The next exercise was to do a side slip in a tele position while tapping the front ski. We also discussed the impact of upper body position on center of mass. Tucking your tailbone under and gently arching your back forward results in a good athletic pose. Sticking your butt out backward puts you off balance. Another place to focus is the front foot. The front heel should press on the ski when the knees are bent. The front calf should be somewhere between neutral in the boot to pressing the shin against the tongue.
Other people had issues with pole plants. Tasse didn’t have particular exercises. Instead, he had us ski normally while concentrating on specific parts of the technique. Tyson kept forgetting to pole on the right, so his assignment was to remember both poles. The more common problem was people rotating their arm out and back after a pole plant. Your hands should always stay in front of you in a fairly neutral position. When you plant the pole, the pole tip is in front of your hand. As you ski past the pole tip, the tip should swing back beside your body, leaving your hand stationary relative to your torso. (Remember the torso is quiet and always facing down hill.) What you shouldn’t do is open your arms wide like opening a book.
As the powder poured down from the sky, we discussed techniques for managing powder and skied up powder that turns to soft moguls. Tasse didn’t advocate either approach I expected — wider stance or more weight in the back. Instead he agreed with Roy on very equality weighted skis and more power to each ski.
Another student worked on where he exited his “rectangle.” That term was new to me. It describes the upper body motion for the edge release. John Tidd taught it as a “fore-agonal” motion. To transition edges, your body should move diagonally across the skis and forward. The rectangle is a rectangle around your skis. Your body should exit the rectangle from the front opposing corner.
Several different exercises came from my weaknesses. First, I let my upper body rotate too much with my skis rather than keeping it facing straight down the slope. I already know some exercises to address this: pointing the pole handles downhill as headlights; holding the poles high as a picture frame and keeping the same distant object in the frame. But Tasse decided to do a simple skiing demonstration focusing on the twist at his waist. I saw he released and re-engaged his waist twist at the apex of the turn while maintaining his angulation. Angulation should transition side to side at the end of one turn and beginning of the next. He maintained a forward bend at the waist the whole time. I then practiced the same. I had some success, but was hindered by my next area of improvement.
The window between my front and back foot was too long. Having them so far apart pulls the rear leg’s hip back, making it harder to twist at the waist. We discussed both the lateral distance between boots and the fore-aft distance. The heuristic for both is 1 to 1.5 boot-dimensions apart. Stationary, I pulled my feet in closer, but that instantly stood me up taller. Tasse said the technique to get lower while keeping feet close, is to bend more at the knees and put more pressure on the boot cuffs. Paul suggested a good mental model is the back foot should be under your butt. With that in mind, I skied off with the 14 odd other students watching to diagnose my technique.
Their report when we regrouped was that I was nice and low sometimes, but other times extending tall. As a result, I was bobbing up and down wildly. After some discussion, I realized this came from a misconception of mine. I thought you were supposed to fully extend at the apex of the turn when your feet pass. This was the rest phase in my thoughts. According to Tasse, there is no rest phase and you need to stay flexed the whole turn. The only time you might extend fully is if you are carving fast wide turns. He assigned us all to ski the next slope pretending we were in a low-roofed tunnel and stay flexed to avoid bumping our head. This reminded me of the “tunnel of power” in skate skiing.
At this point, I had significantly improved my technique. Tasse went on to the next student. Ted, though, saw one more change to which would solidly move my technique to the next level. I had fixed the up and down bob, but my torso was still tilting side to side. Ted suggested focusing on keeping my jacket zipper vertical. At this point between keeping my feet close together, twisting and releasing at the waist, bending forward, and staying low to keep my head from bumping the tunnel ceiling, I felt like I was trying to rub my belly, pat my head, and juggle 5 balls. But, I figured I might as well add peddling a unicycle and try to keep my jacket zipper vertical. I self diagnosed that my torso tilted when my skis arced out too far, perhaps a vestige from extending my legs too far in the middle of the turn. So, I guessed how far out my skis should go in my new lower stance. On the slope below me, I painted a straight line for my torso to follow and a line on either side marking the edge of each turn. Above that I sketched the tunnel ceiling. Then I skied my virtual reality. Tyson said I looked really good. I was surprised how well it worked since I wasn’t paying attention at all to the lightly moguled powder. I tried a few more times and then reverted to my normal skiing in reality. In contrast, my normal form seemed more jerky and off balance. I am going to have to transfer the new form to muscle memory so I can pay attention to snow conditions too.
Previous, and subsequent year’s Tasse clinics