Telemark heli-skiing - What's it take?
Last spring, while heli-skiing at CMH Adamants, Scott Steinbrecher dropped his knee into a telemark turn for 8000-meter-day after 8000-meter-day. We giggled and ripped down everything from effortless corn to burly powder and he nearly sunburned his teeth from grinning. I began to wonder if the free-heel heli-tele experience was much different than the heavy metal alpine heli-skiing experience, so I asked Scott a few questions:
TD: How good do you need to be on telemark skis to keep up with the heli-ski program?
SS: That depends on who you want to ski with. If you plan to heli-ski with a group of friends or family, you only need to be as good as they are. For example, I skied in the same group as my wife and my parents. I ski with them all the time in varying conditions and know that I can keep up with them. Obviously, telemarking in deep powder wore me out more than skiing at the resort, but it wore out my wife and parents just as much!
If you don’t already know whom you’ll ski with, then you should think about whether you would be comfortable pushing yourself to keep up with alpine skiers in changing and often challenging conditions. You might ask yourself whether would you accept an invitation to telemark with a group of strangers on alpine skis at a resort.
- If you would accept the invitation without hesitation, then you can probably telemark with CMH.
- If you would hesitate to accept the invitation, then you should think twice about whether you’re prepared to telemark with CMH.
TD: Are there any issues with tele equipment for heli-skiing?
- Leashes: Ask the head guide at your lodge whether you should use leashes. Sometimes it might be best to use them to avoid losing a ski in the middle of nowhere. Remember that neither the helicopter nor the shop will have a replacement for you. Other times the guides will prefer that you don’t have your skis tied to your feet if you are caught in an avalanche. Always defer to the resident-expert.
- Bindings: Because the lodge won’t have spare parts for your bindings, consider bringing them. Most binding manufacturers now produce backcountry repair kits. Take at least one kit with you to the lodge. If you’re a die-hard and can’t imagine sitting out an afternoon with a broken binding, take a repair kit and tools with you skiing each day.
- Knee pads: You’ll praise them when your skis are banging against your knees in the deep powder and when you’re kneeling waiting for the chopper.
TD: You used both downhill and telemark equipment in the Adamants, right? When did you choose one over the other?
SS: Yeah, I used alpine skis and telemark skis. Obviously, I brought two pairs of boots—alpine and telemark. I brought both for two reasons.
- First, I brought alpine boots in case I lost a telemark ski or broke a binding beyond repair. I didn’t want to be stuck in the lodge for a week without being able to ski.
- Second, I wasn’t sure if I could telemark in four feet of powder for seven days straight. I was right.
As a group, my family and I ski a lot and keep a pretty good pace. We ended up the fast group and skied every day from the first lift until they made us go home. During the first three days we skied about 65,000 vertical feet. My legs were exhausted. I skied on alpine skis on day four, telemark skis on days five and six and alpine skis again on seven. It was the perfect balance for me. A couple days of alpine skiing gave my legs the rest they needed.
TD: What is your telemark/downhill experience?
SS: I grew up in Colorado and started skiing around four years old, and was racing by eight. I raced in USSA and FIS sanctioned races through high school and raced in college. I coached alpine ski racing for a year. I skied at least four days a week from opening day to closing day for about a decade. I had been to CMH twice before and skied alpine both times.
TD: That's years on skis with your heel locked down, but how much did you telemark before taking the heli-lift?
SS: I started telemarking after I moved to the city and became a desk-jockey. I telemarked full-time for about a season and a half before I decided to telemark at CMH.
TD: Any other suggestions for telemark skiers interested in their first time heli-skiing?
SS: Go for it! At least one day at CMH will be the best skiing you’ll ever have!
Photo by Topher Donahue/www.alpinecreative.com