By Steve Hubrecht
This year’s ski instructors’ Olympics is set to start this coming weekend in Finland, as the best instructors in the snow world compete in alpine skiing, snowboarding and a small but passionate coterie of that rare breed: telemark instructors — including three from the Columbia Valley.
Interski, as it’s officially called, is an international congress of snow sports instructors, held once every four years, at various spots around the globe. Much like the Olympics, there is an opening ceremony, and athletes are there to represent their countries. And there are some competitive events. But unlike the Olympics, there is also a big emphasis on sharing knowledge, with instructors engaging in outdoor and indoor workshops and demonstrations, with an aim of learning how people teach skiing (or snowboarding or telemarking) in different parts of the world.
Half of this year’s Canadian telemark demonstration team of six hails from the Columbia Valley —Invermere’s Jesse Moore, Panorama Mountain Resort’s Guy Paulsen, and Golden’s Larissa Pitton.
Moore, Paulsen and Pitton and three other teammates, all from Quebec, will compete in a synchronized ski-off competition against other nations. They will also show instructors from other countries the Canadian technique for telemarking and Canadian methods of teaching telemarking, as outlined by the Canadian Association of Nordic Ski Instructors (CANSI).
It’s under the CANSI umbrella that telemark instructors fall, along with cross country ski instructors, since telemark is considered a nordic discipline, rather than being under the auspices of the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance (CSIA).
The overwhelming majority of Canadians in Finland will be either alpine ski instructors with the CSIA or snowboard instructors with CASI (the Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors), but there will be a good number of telemark instructors there too.
“It is a niche. Not too many people choose to telemark,” conceded Moore. “But I am pretty excited to represent my country.”
Canadian team members earn their positions by demonstrating their skills on the slope, as well as their ability to explain the theory behind how to telemark and how to teach it.
It’s Moore’s first time on the team. Pitton, who is a former telemark World Cup racer, is part of team Canada for the second time. She previously participated in the 2019 games hosted in Bulgaria.
The Pioneer was unable to reach Paulsen for comment prior to the Canadian team’s departure to Finland.
But Moore and Pitton say Paulsen is a “semi-mythical figure” in the world of Canadian telemark, and suggested that he’d likely been to Interski too many times to count.
“It really is fantastic,” said Pitton. “Not just to represent your country, but to be together with so many other people who are passionate about telemarking, and to see all the cultural differences that come with teaching it.”
Telemark skiing is named after the Telemark region of Norway, where it originated (Wikipedia). Telemarking skiing at first appears as a sort of combination of cross country skiing and alpine skiing. While alpine ski bindings firmly fix both toe and heel to an alpine ski, telemark bindings attach just the toe to the ski, much like cross country ski bindings. A big difference between telemark and cross country skiing is that telemark boots and skis are beefier than cross country boots. And, telemarkers use their gear primarily to go downhill.
Telemark skiers turn, in part, by bending down the knee of the inside leg — creating a kinesthetic-aesthetic that resembles lunging down the ski hill.
While telemarking has less adherents than alpine skiing or snowboarding, those who telemark often defend their discipline with fervent dedication.
“I really enjoy the movement of telemark skiing and the challenge. You’re closer to the snow, your movement is smoother,” said Pitton. “To me it’s more natural. You’re basically stepping down the hill with each turn. The edging and turns are much harder to get than on alpine skis. Finding your balance, with your legs and your whole body, requires more finesse, and that affects how you move and makes the style pretty cool, I think.”
Moore is also a snowboard instructor. He originally turned to telemark while living in Canmore.
“Backcountry touring on a snowboard is not always ideal in the Rockies,” he said. “Taking up telemarking seemed like a good compromise for me, since a telemark turn does feel like a toe-side turn on snowboard, at least to me.”
With backcountry skiing in the Canadian Rockies there long entries and exits, and as a snowboarder, you’re often trudging out on the flats for what feels like forever, he said.
“You get back to the lodge and your buddies have been sipping beer for an hour while you’ve still been out shuffling along.”