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That First Telemark Lesson

Have questions about telemark technique? We have invited seven professional telemark instructors to help out with any questions you may have. If you are a never-ever wondering how to start or an expert tele skier wondering how to polish up that mogul run, here is the place to look.

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That First Telemark Lesson

Postby Williamtele » Mon Jan 27, 2014 5:44 pm

Teaching someone how to telemark is a challenge for any number of reasons. In addition to the fact that it’s physically demanding, there are a multitude of variables that come into play; things that as an instructor you have almost no control over. They include the student’s skiing background, their physical conditioning, their equipment, their motivation and their expectations. Combine this with traffic on the hill, weather and snow conditions and you’ve got the potential for a Nordic disaster.

In spite of all this, their interest in pursuing telemark will be based on how that first lesson goes. If they’re physically exhausted, confused and frustrated at the end of the lesson you’ll never get them back on teles. Conversely, if they experience some level of success, have a basic understanding of the telemark stance and turn, and can still walk when you’re done with them the odds are greater that they’ll return.

If you’re an instructor there’s a tendency to want to overload your client with information. Figuring that you’ve only got one shot at them, you make poor terrain decisions, push them along too quickly and work them too hard. You have a vision of them doing fundamentally sound tele turns after 60 or 90 minutes of direction. You open up your bag of drills and throw everything you can at them…..with predictable results. If you’ve been telemarking for a long time you know what a ridiculous notion that is. It takes years and years to get good at the sport and we all learn something new every time we go out. Improvements happen in tiny increments and there’s no good way to rush it.

So how do you deal with a first time telemarker coming over from alpine, Nordic or snowboarding (yes, it’s happened)? I think the biggest first step is to adjust YOUR expectations. Accept the fact that you will not produce the next Biff Higgison in one single lesson. Then adjust your student’s expectations. Explain that it’s a challenging sport and set up the parameters for what you would consider to be a successful first lesson. It might be simply making alpine turns on tele gear, or getting into a good tele stance in between alpine turns. Whatever it is, make it achievable and easy to understand. And don’t kill them in the process. Leave them hungry for more….season your discussions with “next time you come out” to sell the idea that it will take several sessions for them to get comfortable on the new gear.

A couple of things that have taken me years to figure out will help assure a successful lesson. In no particular order:

1) Try to get them onto good equipment. No offense but leather boots and G3 Targa bindings are just not good learning tools. Modern boots and active bindings make a huge difference.
2) Talk to them on the chairlift but also get them talking. The more comfortable and relaxed they are the better.
3) Get a video app for your phone like Coach’s Eye and learn how to use it. You can watch it together on the lift and can email it to them afterwards (good marketing tool).
4) Exploit your students’ strengths. If they do something well, have them do it a lot!!! Success is a fundamental goal of their first lesson.
5) Keep it simple (stupid). Don’t keep introducing new drills throughout the lesson. Stance and balance will probably be the initial focus which can be taught with variations on one or two basic drills.
6) Lastly, please allow time at the end of the lesson to summarize what your student has accomplished and to encourage their return. Don’t be disingenuous but tell them how well they did and what they have to look forward to.

One of the reasons that telemark skiing is not more popular is that it is perceived as being very difficult. If a first lesson confirms that perception it will be an uphill battle to ever get that person to try it again. The more you can do you can do to make that introduction a success, the better the chance that your student will come back AND will bring their friends.

What have you done on a first lesson that has had positive OR negative results???
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Re: That First Telemark Lesson

Postby Biff » Mon Jan 27, 2014 7:07 pm

Wow Bill... nicely done! You even mention ME... I love it! But seriously... that's a great synopsis that any telemark instructor or student could read and get a good deal from. (If you haven't already you should send this in to the PSIA monthly rag.)
The only "normal" people are the ones you don't know.
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Re: That First Telemark Lesson

Postby Brenda » Wed Jan 29, 2014 2:31 pm

I agree with Biff--great write up. I hope to add my thoughts once I have more time.

Biff, I really enjoy this forum--great idea to have a place to talk about teaching!
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