I almost gave it up, until I realized giving it up meant giving up more than I was willing to give up.
I loved rock climbing for quite a number of years, but as climbing gyms became more mainstream and everyone started “climbing”, it got to be more about saying you were a “climber” around the coffee pot at work than actually being a climber. It became all about what grades you were climbing and if that grade wasn’t up to some arbitrary “hard man” standard, you’d be dismissed as a real climber, even though the standard wasn’t being set on real rocks but rather on plastic holds in a converted warehouse.
For me, it got to the point where it didn’t seem to be much of a cohesive community among those with an appreciation for the beauty of the full process of climbing (on real rocks). That said, it honestly wasn’t hard to give up that part of the climbing culture and I’ve since found a smaller, tighter and more genuine community in the ice climbing world.
Similarly, when I got bored with snowboarding a few years ago, I decided I wanted something truly challenging, more so than just skiing again. I naively borrowed some telemark gear from a friend and set out with a grand notion of being a knee dropping, free heeling crusher within a couple of weeks. Five years later I’d finally consider myself pretty solid on the teles but still not really a “crusher”. I still get doled large slices of humble pie often and sometimes have to limp my burning quads and battered ego back to my truck…but always with a perma-smile etched into my face.
However, I think the thing I’ve fallen in love with most is the telemark community. From day one I was never ridiculed or looked down upon while faffing around on easy green slopes like a goober while I was trying to figure it all out, even from people who were ripping super hard. In fact, I was always just blown away by the comradery of everyone in the telemark community. There didn’t ever seem to be a top and bottom of the pecking order, just an equal community amongst everyone involved. Bottom line is that telemark is hard, like really hard, and that fact seems to galvanize those who drink the tele cult Kool-Aid instead of pitting them against each other.
This past week I headed to the backcountry up near Breckenridge with a friend with high hopes of another stellar day of uncrowded glades and endless fresh tracks. In reality I probably had my worst day on teles since early in my first year. I had no explanation for it other than just having a terrible day. I’ve worked really hard over the years to get better and make stronger turns in the backcountry so was mercilessly thrown for a loop when my whole game inexplicably just fell apart. The more I fought it, the worse it got.
I’ll admit, I was really, really discouraged. Just two days earlier I had a great powder day in the backcountry and was riding high and confident…then that happened. It was so discouraging that during my drive home I had stray thoughts of just hanging up the free heel life and switching to the far easier AT gear. I even went as far as looking around on the internet when I got home to see what was on sale in the AT boot and tech binding arena. However, after a night of sleep I decided I would go back inbounds for a day and see if I could right the ship before I sold out and dropped $1,500 on new gear.
Out of the dozen or so times I’ve been out this season, this was only my second day inbounds. Though I prefer the backcountry, it actually felt kind of nice to have a consistent surface under my skis, not fear hitting submerged stumps and logs, worry about tree wells and avalanches and have a cushy chair transport me up the mountain instead of grinding out a skin track for a couple of hours only to get one or two runs.
So, thinking that this day would either further my rogue thoughts of exploring the AT skiing set up, or forever putting my tele chakras back in alignment, I released my emotional Kraken and ripped like I seldom do for four straight hours. I was able to channel all my anger and frustration into something positive and worked through the valley of angst from the previous day’s ugliness. It felt fantastic from the first turn and fortunately my mojo was quickly restored. No, it wasn’t an epic blower powder day, but I instantly remembered why I love the tele turn so, so much.
Not ironically, on the way home I was listening to the latest Absolute Telemark podcast http://absolutetelemark.com/ and heard free heel icon JT Robinson recount how hard the telemark turn was to learn and then actually do well, but how the “community” is always there to pick you up and help you along when things aren’t going like you hoped. It was right then where I realized had I given up after something every telemark skier experiences, I would be giving up more than just a sport, I’d be giving up the community I love so much and feel so much a part of. Something I’m simply not willing to do. Not many things I can say that about.
So, I’m five years into the telemark tribe and I still love it more than ever. That’s not to say it doesn’t still frustrate the hell out of me some days! The beauty in it is that everyone who teles has their own style and there are no rights or wrongs…just self-expression and individuality without a single care what the mainstream thinks.
Climb high. Ski hard. Travel far. Live simply.