Telemark Festival frees the heel

Skiers converge on Blackcomb for annual gathering

In a ski area as large and popular as Whistler Blackcomb, telemark skiers have become increasingly difficult to spot on the slopes.

That all changed this last Sunday (March 1) when the fourth annual Whistler Telemark Festival returned to Blackcomb Mountain. Around 65 telemark skiers showed up, a mix of local, regional and international visitors with some trying telemark for the first time and a handful having never skied before in their lives.

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“Clinics are a big (attraction); some people just want to explore the mountain with a group of other (tele) skiers, some people want to take the opportunity to learn, for a very reasonable price,” said Shane Landreville, president of BC Telemark and World Cup competitor. “This is the fourth annual (festival), so it’s changed a little bit over the years, but it still has the same foundation of programming. It is a niche sport, but this gives it the opportunity to come out into the open.”

Highlights of the day included a series of dual slalom races at the GMC Race Center, apres at the Brewhouse and a full group “tele-drop” down the Jersey Cream run with all 65 skiers, in full view of the Jersey Cream Express Chairlift.

“I ski with alpine skiers all the time and it can still be a challenge keeping up,” said Iain Reid, a 25-year telemark athlete who was on vacation from Sydney, Australia. “But it’s been a great morning. We’ve covered a lot of ground. If we could all ski like Shane, our lives would be made.”

Reid’s longtime friend Peter Hyslop is also from Australia and now resides in Squamish.

“I like the flow of it,” said Hyslop. “I think it’s far superior in powder. The turning is so much more fluid with a lower centre of gravity and the stepping motion of the skis.”

“And you only need half as much snow to get a faceshot,” added Reid, with a laugh.

While most attendees at the Whistler Telemark Festival were in the 40-plus demographic, BC Telemark has programs in place to keep youth engaged in the sport. One group of 10 Whistler kids meets every Sunday for a day of telemark coaching by certified instructors who volunteer their time.

“We’ve had a lot of success with it,” said Landreville. “It’s starting to see the demographics of telelmark skiers you see on the mountain. A couple of years ago it was old guys for the most part, we talked about getting Viagra as a sponsor. But our sport is changing a lot, the gear is changing a lot, it’s not as difficult or expensive anymore. It doesn’t have the facade anymore of being exclusive or hippy-ish. Anyone can do it, it’s not as hard on the legs as you think with the right technique. So we’re trying to push this onto youth and a lot of youth are picking it up because they’re looking for a new challenge.”

BC Telemark will also be hosting the Spring Loaded Telemark Festival in Silverstar from March 27-29 to cater to the tele community in the Okanagan.

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