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Turning telemark instruction into a business

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Turning telemark instruction into a business

Postby Williamtele » Thu Nov 29, 2018 12:00 pm

I think many of us in the telemark world spend time considering the state of the sport, particularly in the off-season when we’re not fixating on the next weekend’s weather. On one hand telemark is small, intimate, and draws its devotees together like few other activities. This is one of its most attractive aspects and I suspect if you polled a population of freeheelers, they would admit that they like the fact that it’s just not that popular. On the other hand, we suffer because of its inherent lack of appeal to the masses. Access to equipment through brick and mortar dealers is next to non-existent. Technological advances are spastic and generally fail to address telemark’s most glaring challenge…that it’s hard to learn and physically demanding. Lastly, telemark instructors are left to their own devices to promote telemark at their home mountains because established snowsports programs are unable or unwilling to comingle it with alpine and snowboard instruction.
I became a ski instructor about 12 years ago and I joined the staff at Waterville Valley in NH. With 25 odd years of telemark experience under my heels, I fashioned myself as a tele-vangelist. I was determined to show management and my fellow instructors that they were missing out on a great opportunity. I mean come on…telemarking is so cool. Who wouldn’t want to try? And I reasoned that if Waterville could start offering regular telemark group lessons, they would be overrun with new business. Right??? I got my Level 1 and Level 2 PSIA certifications over the next 2 years and nothing was going to stop me…except everything did.
To make the proverbial long story short, I really did work hard to promote telemark over the next couple of seasons. Although I had to also teach alpine, I would don my tele gear at every opportunity and would chat up anyone who would listen about the joys of dropping a knee. I heard all the standard objections (it’s hard on your knees, the gear’s too expensive, I like to shower, etc.) but I remained convinced, and still do to some extent, that there is pent up demand for telemark if it can just be “packaged” a little more thoughtfully. I got a few private lessons at Waterville but I couldn’t make any inroads into what I thought was a fertile market. I blamed it on management, on the lack of good rental gear, and even on the skiers themselves who obviously didn’t realize what they were missing. Then I figured that if I got my Level 3 my luck would change.
It took me two tries, spaced 6 years apart, but I did finally pass in 2016, and it didn’t really make any difference.
Waterville may be lacking in many ways but they have an incredible kids’ seasonal program. On weekends from before Christmas until the end of March hundreds of families use it to teach, socialize and otherwise occupy their children. About 12 years ago, my friend David Berowitz started a telemark group within junior seasonals and built a competent and loyal posse that went out in the mornings on Saturdays and Sundays. My own daughter was even a somewhat reluctant participant. We beat the bushes for used gear and utilized Waterville’s rental shop (well, they used to rent tele gear!!) to get everyone outfitted. The existing morning session remained for the older all-mountain skiers and an afternoon session was added for first-timers and younger inductees. In addition to basic skills instruction, we tried to make it fun, taking video whenever we could and we even had some folks from the US Telemark Team come to conduct a race clinic. This year if the snow cooperates we’d like to take them into the woods and perhaps on a field trip to MRG or Burke. Race and freestyle clinics are also in the works.
So we haven’t exactly changed the face of telemark in my little part of the ski world, but I have begun to recognize what I think is a mechanism for growing the sport. Waterville is about as un-tele as any ski area in New England and yet we have a thriving program that is getting local and (dare I say) national recognition. Six of our kids are, or have been on, the USTSA team. Two have gone on to become nationally ranked racers. That’s pretty cool. But why can’t other resorts do the same thing? Grassroots efforts by other televangelists at their local hills could replicate our success in a few short years. It just takes someone who has the passion.
So how do we do that?
PSIA-E (cue the groans) can play a critical role by establishing clinics for tele instructors who know how to teach, but want to learn how to grow their business at their home mountains. Junior seasonal programs may be part of the answer but it seems reasonable that a thoughtfully developed template for growth could accelerate the process. That might include strategies for approaching local snowsports management, identifying the markets, finding solutions for tele equipment shortages, figuring out what “products” to offer, generating ideas for promotional events and, of course, how to make it all make money.
I’ve tempered my expectations over the years and (painfully) no longer feel like telemark will ever be the next BIG THING. Even so, there is no reason that it can’t be a larger part of the snowsports mix but it will take a concerted effort by the telemark community to cause that to happen.
Williamtele
 
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Location: NH on weekends

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