For all the speed of alpine skiing and the twisting airs of freestyle skiing, skiers of all stripes all have a grudging respect for the once fringe sport of telemark skiing. It adds a level of difficulty and fitness to an already demanding sport, it opens up new possibilities for skiing powder and accessing the backcountry, and it looks — for lack of a better word — awesome.
But one thing Shane Landreville noticed at the successful Whistler Telemark Festival last February was the lack of youth involvement in the sport.
"Last year was the inaugural year for the telemark festival, and one thing that came out of that was the need to try to develop the youth side of the sport," said Landreville. "The kids I do see on telemark skis absolutely love it and swear by it, the majority of telemarkers you see on the hills are in the plus-30 age demographic."
To introduce more kids to the sport, Landreville has worked with BC Telemark Ski to create a three months (12-day) Whistler Youth Telemark Program, which gets underway on Jan. 6. The program is targeted to kids aged 10 to 18, with two coaches taking all comers.
"If they're beginners, they'll start out on the beginner slopes learning basic techniques before moving onto more advanced skiing like maybe off-piste skiing or heading into the bumps," he explained. "If they're more advanced they'll do a variety of things — bumps, freeskiing, powder skiing. They'll hopefully get into the race centre a few times to focus on carving techniques and into the park as well to develop the whole range of telemark skills."
Sometimes called freeheeling, telemarkers use special boots and bindings that allow skiers to lift their heels and make telemark-style turns on the terrain. It's big among backcountry skiers, but there are telemarkers that are into park riding and alpine racing as well.
While you can use almost any ski to telemark with, participants will need to purchase special boots and bindings. For next year, as the program expands across the province, Landreville said they will look at finding an official supplier that could make the entry costs cheaper for youth.
As for why youth would want to set aside skis and snowboards and tackle something new, Landreville says that a lot of kids are interested already but until this program was created you were pretty much on your own.
"Telemark is having a bit of a renaissance in B.C. right now, but it needed some work on the development side of the sport to target youth," he said. "The bigger picture is that kids will be able to develop their skills on the racing side, on the big mountain side and in the developing discipline that is the park. There are lots of different streams and lots of opportunity in the sport for people, and we're looking to engage youth to develop their skills early so they can choose what facets of the sport interest them."
The cost for all 12 weeks of instruction is just $60, or $5 per week, with BC Telemark Ski helping defray the cost of coaching. Youth will also need their own passes to Whistler Blackcomb, as well as all the necessary gear.
To reserve a spot or for more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.