Feb 4, 2009 06:27 AM
By BOB MENTZINGER
When Saddleback holds its fifth annual Telemark Invasion this Sunday, it will be a celebration of a long-lost Alpine ski technique in the midst of a revival.
The daylong event will draw “pinheads” from all around the Northeast to Saddleback’s challenging backcountry for this athletic style of skiing, according to event organizers.
The sport, also known as free-heel skiing, goes back to the 1800s. It was made popular by skiers in Norway who wanted to combine downhill skiing with some aspects of cross-country style. The Telemark region in Norway is where the sport is said to have flourished.
With ski boots less bulky than Alpine boots and cable bindings that allow the heel to lift from the ski, telemark skiing is a balletic grind of linked turns that looks graceful when done properly — and purely tragic when attempted by the uninitiated.
You can always bail into a normal parallel turn while skiing on teles, but why would you, when your skiing could resemble a slippery, kinetic version of “The Blue Danube” on sticks?
Telemark skiing earned its cult status by offering the outer fringe of expert skier a way to differentiate from the teeming hordes of parallel-turning groomer-cruisers.
Many wanted a more versatile, back-to-basic style of equipment that could access any terrain — up a hill or down it.
Others prefer the telemark ski’s unmatched ability to navigate the backcountry where lift service isn’t just unavailable, it’s an unwanted technological intrusion into the pursuit of the ultimate natural ski experience.
If fitted with “skins,” free-heel telemark skis allow a skier to actually walk uphill, with skis still on — a key consideration when traipsing about in the great white beyond.
A likable hybrid of telemark and Alpine ski equipment, called randonee, combines the free heel of a telemark binding with the ability to click down into a standard fixed heel for the ability to execute powerful Alpine turns.
Also, it just looks cool.
Sunday’s Saddleback event, sponsored by Aardvark Outfitters of Farmington, begins with a series of free clinics in the morning on everything from the basics of tele skiing to the more advanced aspects of the sport.
There will be demo gear to try, and telemark instructors will help unravel the graceful mystery of the tele turn.
An uphill/downhill race will provide a demonstration on how to use climbing skins. Anyone can take part, but you must have your own skins and gear to enter the race.
“This is a great opportunity for anyone who is interested in the sport to try it out,” Saddleback’s Steve Prince said.
Saddleback’s event is the second of two events this weekend to herald the three-pin binding. Sunday River’s telemark festival is Saturday, featuring the Eastern Telemark Mogul Championship at 12:30 p.m.
If you thought telemark skiing was difficult, watch how it’s done for speed on a mogul run.
Longtime readers of Happy Trails know how we pump the small, local ski area.
But now that we’re in the worst economy in generations, it’s also possible to hawk airfare and hotel deals that could bring you places you might never have dreamed about.
Flights have come down significantly in price, so airfares are driving the bulk of the ski bargains. Resorts that rely heavily on air traffic offer the most alluring bargains.
So I’m giving you permission to look out of state for your skiing. Check out some of the deals I’ve seen recently:
Aspen/Snowmass in Colorado will give you one free flight, a free night of lodging and a free day of skiing if your stay four nights and use Frontier Airlines. Visit www.stayaspensnowmass.com/frontier for details. Sure, daily lift tickets retail for near $100, but … it is Aspen, after all.
Three nights of lodging and three days of skiing can be had at Heavenly, Calif., for $85 a person a night, with 20 percent discounts on ski school programs and all that nightlife at your feet.
And a recent airfare search turned up round-trip fares as low as $233 from New York to Jackson Hole, Wyo., departing Feb. 17 and returning Feb. 27. That’s an unheard-of price for such a hard-to-get-to locale during winter school holidays.
The drive-to-ski market remains the focus of most skiers’ planning around here, though.
Sunday River, for example, has lodging specials from $99 a person a night Feb. 13-19 that include an adult ski or snowboarding lesson and a lift ticket.
And local discounts that continue to draw Maine skiers include deeply discounted Wednesdays at Sugarloaf, $25 tickets for Mainer Day the first Sunday of every month at Saddleback, hourly pricing at Lost Valley in Auburn, and two-for-one and by-the-carload discounts at Mt. Abram in Greenwood.
To view this column online, click here.