Here in Colorado, spring doesn’t so much “spring” as it does incrementally loosen the white-knuckled death grip of winter. That being said, the pow keeps coming. With the flick of a little lever at the BMF-R’s toe, I’m setting yet another skintrack into pristine wilderness.
I’m not gonna say it’s effortless. Even the best touring telemark binding in the world (which the BMF-R is) is still not a Ski-Doo or snowcat, let alone a helicopter. But compared to doing it on tele touring rigs of the past, it’s certainly a joy on the BMF-R. I can lift my heel nearly perpendicular to the ski without even a whisper of mechanical resistance.
When the going finally gets steep, I’ll have two different heel riser choices: one a perfect height for cruising, the other for stomping a skintrack into the sort of vertical escarpments the Dyna-fiddlers will all have to put their ski crampons on for. There’s simply no substitute for lateral rigidity; the underfoot plate that lets the BMF easily destroy spring crud and not-quite-yet-corn on the descents makes me feel like Superman on the uptrack.
I quickly get my rhythm and start covering ground. When I check over my shoulder after the first quarter mile, my lovely wife is still back at the trailhead, struggling to get those orange bindings from Idaho to stay clamped onto her boots.
Conventional wisdom holds that you shouldn't judge a man — or stuff he writes about skiing on the internet — until you've walked a mile in his boots. So step into my TX Comps while I fast forward our narrative through many miles of BMF-empowered skinning.
We arrive at the summit. I peel skins and step with unbelievable ease into my BMF-Rs. Of course we scoped this line on the way up. We've been looking at it for months, years in fact, thinking, "Man, if it keeps on snowing like this, that thing is finally gonna come in this year." And it kept on snowing. So now we have to ski it.
The narrow little chute at the top is the easy part. It's just wide enough that we're not gonna have to hop turn and can instead ski it fast. After ten turns, the chute opens onto to a big, steep, Euro-style face. We're planning to Bode Miller that face, to make the widest tele-arcs imaginable down to the giant, frozen waterfall below. I’m hoping to land a 40 foot cliff and not to tele-tumble once my skis are back on the snow. That tele-tumble could easily go on for a 1,000 vertical feet, so I’m doing my best to not think about it. I’m thinking about skiing fast and stomping it.
I smile at the beautiful woman standing next to me, take a huge breath, and count down from three. Then, “Wait. Hold on. I have to blow my nose.” We stare down the chute. Can’t even see the waterfall from here. Darn if this thing isn’t steeper than it looked from the truck.
What I'm trying to say is: commitment is scary. You can get out of my boots now.
Big mountain skiing, and telemark skiing especially, is so much like being in love that it is easy to enumerate the parallels. Both are terrifying, liberating, dangerous, humbling, silly, empowering, sometimes injurious, difficult to master, and wondrous to behold when done right. And all that hinges almost entirely on commitment. You just have to go for it; say "Yes!"; ignore the scary stuff and drop in. Maybe even drop a knee.
And in both pursuits, for better or worse, there's going to be quite a lot of trekking uphill. It undeniably helps to have a good partner. Spend enough time climbing mountains, skiing down, then climbing up again, and that partner inevitably becomes an essential part of you. They applaud your commitment to setting boot pack up the summit ridge. They watch in awe as you shred the heck out of a big, steep face. Occasionally, they sacrifice the line they climbed five hours for in order to retrieve the skis, poles, goggles, hat, and two front teeth you lost after tomahawking 1,000 vertical feet to a frozen waterfall.
Like having your true love with you, the right gear is key. Bishop’s BMF-R telemark binding is quite possibly the most life-altering piece of outdoor equipment you’ll ever have the opportunity to brag about on social media or your blog. So go ahead — fall in love; treat yourself to the BMF-R or BMF-3 now because the pre-sale bonus of a free Switch Kit won’t last long.
A young man's love interests are sometimes many and form an inevitable pattern — or at least this young man's did. I've no doubt that there are high school sweethearts out there who never thought of another, content to stick with their first love for a lifetime. Bully for them. Those people are probably still very happy with the performance of their Black Diamond 01 telemark bindings.
Speaking solely from my own experience, though, finding true love requires some trial and error. As one loves, falls out, then loves again with someone new, they refine what they are looking for and discover new traits they find endearing or perhaps even extraordinary. But sometimes a new love interest’s deficiencies can't be overlooked. For instance, if a prospective mate is attractive, intelligent and fun, but only skis groomers… or, god forbid, doesn’t ski at all.
Perhaps others are not as discerning as myself, in love or when it comes to tele gear. But man, I have skied a lot of telemark bindings, and there have been some truly exceptional developments over the years.
The first time I toured a free pivot, oh yeah, that was hot. Getting rid of the cable around the heel? So sexy, thought I'd never need more. The NTN Freedom skied OK I guess, assuming you don't mind spending powder days on the corduroy or fiddling with that toe-lever thingamajig. The step-in/brakes combo on offer from Idaho just last year? That one was a terrible date actually — we weren't together long. But still, my desires were refined. And I kept on looking for tele love.
Let me say that I am truly lucky on the romantic front. My wife doesn't complain when it's her turn to break trail and will happily spend eight or more hours achieving a summit. If it's snowing and I'm feeling lazy after ten consecutive powder days, she will make coffee and breakfast before dragging me up the hill again. She is The One. I've been blessed. But I also refused to compromise.
That unwillingness to compromise has finally paid off when it comes to telemark bindings. I have spent the last month skiing Bishop Binding’s NTN-compatible prototype, the new BMF-R telemark binding. And after years and years of, "Wow, this binding skis pretty good, but...", I have finally found The One.
The BMF-R is no compromises. My buddies have accused me of being a broken record: "It's just like an alpine binding! It's just like an alpine binding!" A statement that is the best compliment a tele binding can get.
If the 3-pin dudes think telemark gear should remain its own unique monster and nothing like it's fixed-heeled competitor, well, people who don’t ski seem to find partners too. For better or worse, Markers and Looks are the gold standard alpine ski bindings. They are easy to get into, ski great and rarely break. These are not compliments often given to telemark bindings. Until now.
When I get off the gondola or step up to the trailhead, I toss my skis down, press my toe into the BMF-R and step into the heel. The ski brakes flick up and I'm ready to shred; no bending over, no throwing levers, no "kick kick kick, stomp stomp stomp" trying to get some Byzantine cam system to engage. You wouldn't even know it's a tele binding. It's so easy. Maybe even graceful.
And, totally crazy, the same is true when skiing. Watching from the lift, you can always tell when a skier is making alpine turns on tele gear. The knee angles are wrong, the butt sits too far back, the skis don't really bend. It's one of freeheel skiing's darkest secrets: we're all a bunch of tailgunners, feeling safe in the backseat but not really driving.
The BMF-R offers a true world's first in its ability to switch at will from powerful telemark turns to equally powerful parallel turns. Press shins to cuffs and lay those boards over, bro. There is so much power to the edges.
The BMF-R binding puts you in the driver seat. If you want to ski old-school low, go for it, but there's really no need. Maximum telemark action is available as soon as your heel leaves your ski. No deadness, no rocker launch, just smooth, effortless engagement of your energy to the sweet spot.
Three turns into my first run, I felt like I had new skis; I'd never bent a board with such ease. The BMF-R skis like no other telemark binding before it — an incredible blend of stiffness, activity and user-friendliness. By the end of that first fateful lap, I knew the search was over. I'd found true love. The best skiing telemark binding the world has ever seen. Totally flawless telemark technology. Like she was created just for me ...but only if she likes to go touring, right?TO BE CONTINUED!
You have to take into account many factors when you talk about how you did at the Freeheel Life Cup at Grand Targhee. For starters, you have to factor in the nerves. Could I have been any more nervous? I don’t think so.
There I was in my first big mountain telemark competition: I had never skied the mountain. I had one inspection run on the course, but still had only the slightest idea of where the take offs and landings that I wanted to hit were. So forgive me if I drank what was available while waiting for my bib number to be called. At least I had a pair of bomber Bishop 2.0s on my boots. at least I didn;t have to worry about anything breaking.
When they called my number it felt totally unexpected. As in, I wasn’t ready to be called. I thought I had more time. But the guy with the radio motioned me forward. “You’re up, buddy.” I stood at the top of the run, looking down, trying to remember where that band of rocks was. Where was that cliff I wanted to hit? My first run was ragged and choppy. I didn’t exactly flail, but I wasn’t pleased with my performance.
But on my second run I found redemption. I pursued the exact same aggressive line as my first, except the second time everything was clean, pure, smooth. Nothing felt rushed. To make this second run happen I had to forget about the first, forget about the feeling of uncertainty, forget about the nerves, forget about the other competitors, forget about the sharky conditions — just stop thinking completely.
It is International Women's Day 2017, and here at Bishop Binding Co. we want to give a shoutout to all the badass women telemark skiers out there. It’s a day to remind the strong women in your life that they don’t need to apologize for being awesome, and as badass ladies on tele skis we need to claim this sport as ours too.
It’s pretty safe to say that everyone knows the badass women alpine skiers of the world: Vonn, Maze, Gut and Shiffrin, who are constantly pushing the limits of speed and strength. Everyone knows freestyle women: Kearny and Dufour-Lapointe, as they expand notions of beauty, grace and gravity.
But where are the badass telemark women of the world?
We are in your backyard. We camp in the parking lot and are hiking up before you’re even making your morning coffee. We are dropping cliffs and taking face shots before you have your boots on. We are smacking gates, hitting rails and dodging trees. And we are still doing it all long after you have packed up your car and are heading home for the day.
On the slopes, I often get introduced to other people as “the best” or “one of the best female telemark skiers in the United States.” While this is true (I’ve seen the top of a podium or two, or twenty) why can’t they just say, “Oh yeah, see her there? Yeah she’s one of the best telemark skiers in the United States.” Because I am. Don’t say I ski like a girl. I either ski like someone who has practiced and trained for hours, or I ski like someone who hasn't.
My journey to get here was long and it was rough. It has been bruises and tears, sore muscles, lost toenails, broken bones and frostbitten skin. When I was 10, I finally convinced my parents to get me a pair of telemark skis and boots; a 3-pin binding setup and gold old leather lace-ups. While I still have elf-sized feet (6.5), back then there was no hope of finding something small enough. We stuffed the front of the boots with newspaper and socks and off I went. Within two years, I became the founding member of a telemark group at my home mountain that in the past 10 years has produced not only dozens of passionate and talented telemark skiers between the ages of 7 and 20 but also five U.S. National Team telemark skiers. Four are men. One is me.
When I joined the tele world it was a man’s sport: They taught me the joys of going uphill as well as down, how to rip the bumps and kick back a beer at the end of the day, and for that I will always be grateful. But there is no reason that we need to be in that world any more, the great guys that taught me to telemark make up part of the sport, but there is no reason they should own it. If you take a minute to look around you will see the badass women and girls that are teleing all around the world (#girlswhotelemark on instagram is a great place to start) and you should take note because we are the ones who are pushing the sport to go further. We are the ones who are out there during our lunch breaks demoing new equipment and skiing with other people, inspiring them to do what we love.
The fight to change the industry — the products that are being produced and the way that they are marketed — is a long road, but that doesn't mean that women just have to roll over and accept it. Yes, it will be a long time before I find a women's boot that is stiff and powerful enough for my skiing, so until then I will rock my men's T-Race, the only 75mm boot that is powerful enough to match my Bishops.
When you’re asked why you do what you do, don’t say because your boyfriend does it, or your husband. You telemark because you love it and you’re good at it, and it’s okay if people know that. So my advice for the badass telemark ladies out there (from someone who is still trying to figure it out for herself), is to be the boss of your own sport, teach your friend, or sister, or daughter to telemark because it is their sport too. On International Women's day, we hear how women belong in the boardroom and sky-high offices, but hey — we belong on the ski mountain too, dropping knees and turning heads, one tele turn at a time.
There are different strokes for different folks in the landscape of winter sports. Telemark skiing is definitely not the easiest way to get down the mountain, and there are those who will ask whether the extra effort of making free-heel turns is worth it. I would tell those people that is not only worth it, telemark skiing has advantages over alpine touring, snowboarding and alpine skiing. Here are seven of them:
These are but a few of the advantages of telemark skiing. I implore all winter recreation enthusiasts to thank telemark for breaking new trail and helping to create the backcountry ski industry as we know it today. As this list illustrates, however, telemark skiing is good for so much more than just backcountry pursuits — it is as relevant today as ever.
U.S. Telemark Ski Association
Next time you head to the hill and Ringo and Yolanda are running their mouths about floppy cable bindings and über-tech A.T. setups, tell them to reach in the truck and grab your skis. You know, the ones with “Bad Mother F@*%ers” on ‘em. The new BMF bindings from Bishop are quite simply the most badass telemark bindings in the universe. Being a Bishop, you expect them to be burly and powerful, but these bad mamma jammas are tougher than Marsellus Wallace wielding a shotgun, giving you the confidence you need to bust moves that would make Vincent Vega blush.
The BMFs come in two flavors, so Bishop’s got you covered whether you’re looking to earn your turns on top of the highest peaks or rip Hollywood lines right under the chairlift. The BMF-3 is for freeheeling shredders looking to dominate the park, pow, moguls and groomers with the aura of Jules delivering an ominous monologue. The BMF-R is for tele skiers looking to get outta dodge and into the backcountry faster than Butch on Zed’s chopper thanks to an unprecedented 63 degrees of unrestricted movement when in tour mode.
Wolf Creek Ski Area is in a precious gem of a storm track that conspires with a prominent ridge of the southern San Jan Mountains to consistently produce powder days as fat as Oprah in the ’90s. It is as puckeringly steep as it is maddeningly bench-ridden. Though something of a planetary chakra for old-school freeheel wisdom, Wolfie also represents one of the more hotly contested territories in Texas’ long-running campaign to annex the best parts of Colorado. Like all places where disparate energetic currents mingle and intertwine, it constitutes a liminal space: a place of transition where the self must simultaneously delineate and expand its boundaries in order to survive, grow and evolve.
So I’m gingerly picking pow-circles from my beard at the bottom of Alberta Lift, waiting for a buddy on a snowboard who is undoubtedly cursing those benches as he swims (or whatever you call what snowboarders do in navel-deep snow) across the flats. As I wait, a guy in a Carhartt tuxedo pizzas his way over to ask if my bindings are broken.
“Nah bro,” I assure him, “They ain’t broken. Not yet at least.” I’d stopped skiing G3 Targas years ago, so I actually had a prayer that my telemark bindings would make it through the rest of the day.
The cowboy inquires about telemark skiing, about why I do something that looks, as he put it, “so damned ridiculous hard!”
It’s a good question. Why do we choose to ski in this manner that’s athletically inefficient, nearly impossible to become an expert at, and, even if expertise is achieved, makes a face-down-in-the-pow moment more likely than it is for a first-grade nerd who encounters a bully in a snowstorm?
I wonder if I should I summarize for my Texan homeboy the aesthetic purity of the freeheel turn or the magical rhythm of dropping knee after knee down an unlined alpine face. Or might I describe the practicality of moving with ease through all varieties of winter terrain, especially those nasty benches? And what about our history? The telemark turn as an epoch-making moment: a first-ever smoothing of skis across the fall line instead of just down it; the initiation of an era where we could descend a snowy hillside with something like control, maybe even grace?
Or do I ask him to consider the more spiritual implications of telemarking? The ecstatic partnership between the mountain and the freeheeled skier; that cosmic extend-float-compress-slarve dance of pinning in pow; the enhancement of one’s personal vibrational frequency through the maverick dynamism of changing lead skis; that time on the hut trip I ate too many magic mushrooms and the Great Spirit of the Mountain manifested to inform me, “Alpine skiing is absolutely soulless!”
But those are gaper answers, cliched and empty of insight into something real as the narrative of a Warren Miller movie. You could probably say the same things about monoskiing. About snowblading.
So I do what Socrates would do, what Jesus would do, and flip the question back to him.
“I dunno, dude. Why do you ski?”
He scratches the corner of his mustache, licks at the chap of his lips.
“It’s an excuse to get away from the wife when there’s nothin’ to hunt.”
And in the gathering clouds above Alberta Peak, the Great Spirit of the Mountain smiles, confident in the knowledge that She will continue to sell lift tickets; $18 cheeseburgers; jester hats with little bells on all the points; and shiny, immaculately machined, totally bomber telemark bindings—with ski brakes, alpine-style step-in, seventy degrees of resistance-free touring, and the sweetest, most badass progressive flex—forever and ever, amen.
We tele because The Great Spirit of the Mountain loves us the most.