Tele-Tips for Free-Heel Skiers
by Paul Richins, Jr.
(updated 1/9/08)

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 A few tips on technique for free-heel skiers are provided below. This is not a comprehensive "how to learn" ski guide but includes some tips you may find useful for improving your telemark technique and turns. When my turns get sloppy or the terrain steepens, I concentrate on the following tips.

1. Keep your hands in front of you and below your waist. Keeping your hands low helps to maintain balance and a compact position over your skis. Additionally, in steep terrain or when I find my technique is waning, I place my outside hand on my leading knee as I execute a turn. Also try placing both hands on the leading knee. This is a bit exaggerated but helps keep me low and balanced over the skis throughout the turn.

2. Think "Big Toe, Little Toe". Edge on the big-toe side of your leading foot and edge on the little-toe side of your trailing foot. This tip comes from Paul Parker in his fine book Free-Heel Skiing: Telemark and Parallel Techniques for All Conditions. When you initiate a turn, apply pressure to the inside edge of the leading ski. You should feel pressure on your big toe. The most important part of this tip is the little toe on the trailing foot. Roll the ankle and knee slightly outward and apply pressure to the outside edge of the trailing ski. If done correctly you will feel the pressure on the outside edge of the ski under the little toe. If you do not roll the ankle/knee of the trailing leg outward, the ski will have a tendency to continue straight ahead and crash into the leading ski that is beginning the turn, knocking you off balance and down.

3. Keep your weight on the leading ski balanced between the ball of the foot, the arch, and the heel. This will help you keep balanced over your front ski throughout the turn, not leaning too far forward or too far back. In powder, I find it helpful to pull up your toes in the leading ski boot so they press against the top of the boot. Your weight on the leading ski should be distributed on the inside ball of the foot, the arch, and the heel.

4. Balance your weight between the front ski and the trailing ski. The trailing ski should bear about half your weight. This is difficult to do as you will have a tendency to more heavily weight the front foot and ski.  Focus on the back ski with the little-toe idea discussed above and weight the back ski as you progress through a turn. Another technique I like to use is to curl the toes of the leading foot upward so they touch the top of the inside of your boot. This will shift your weight over the arch and heel of your leading foot/ski. This helps to shift your weight to the back ski. As you curl your toes of your forward foot upward, feel the pressure of the snow under your arch and heel while at the same time thurst your forward heel outward to initiate and finish your turn. In powder, I think to arch my back so I can transfer more weight to my back ski.

5. Drop your trailing heel. Bend your ankle so your rear heel drops closer to the top deck of the rear ski. Attempt to get as much of your rear boot onto the ski as you can by tucking your trailing knee behind the forward knee. This will help you place half your weight and leg force on the trailing ski.

6. The upper body should be facing down the fall line. The correct alpine position is for the upper torso to be open or pointing down the fall line. Likewise with tele skiers, the upper body, above the waist (chest, shoulders head, arms, and hands), should be facing down the hill. Whether you are making a right or left turn your upper body should be pointing down the fall line. This takes a little getting use to on a steep slopes but if you keep your upper body open and facing down the mountain, your turns and technique will improve.

7. Drop the back ski to initiate a turn. Instead of advancing the uphill ski think about dropping back the downhill ski to initiate a turn. To practice this technique, start by traversing across the fall line assuming the proper position: uphill ski, ankle, knee, hip, shoulder slightly advanced. Your upper body should be open and facing down the fall line as noted in 6 above. Most of your weight should be placed on the downhill ski. As you traverse across the fall line instead of advancing the uphill ski, drop the downhill ski back assuming the tele-turn position and make your turn linking one turn after another.

The other day, an exceptionally good free heel skier blew by me in closely spaced trees in deep powder to mid-thigh. As he passed, he commented to me, "it is all in the rhythm, yes, it is all in the rhythm". He made it look so easy while my legs were feeling like wet noodles from 4 hours of tree skiing in not-so-light Sierra Nevada deep powder. I tried to catch him but could not. Obviously he had mastered the art and had the proper rhythm as he zoomed down the fall line never stopping to look back.

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