Apr 15 2015

The Sweet Spot


Robert Bland harvesting corn with tele turns when it was considered the cool tool.

Robert Bland harvesting corn with tele turns when it was considered the cool tool.

As it was the early 1990s, I honestly don’t remember why I decided to try telemark skiing. What I do remember is being vaguely disenfranchised by skiing in general, turned off by the euro-style stretch pants, the macho swagger that went along with 220 cm skis, and the hey-i-went-to-a-ski-academy perfect turners. It wasn’t a great snow year. I wasn’t a great skier. And those telemark freaks simply seemed to be having more fun than anybody else on the mountain. I was sold.

I was fascinated by the rippers who were flashing their free-heels from the first chair to last call, and I remember the feeling of seeing my first telemark movie: tingly and exciting, like getting a love letter from a long lost girlfriend. It didn’t matter that my boots were too flimsy, the skis were too narrow, and I had zero idea of what I was doing, because the whole thing was contagious, refreshingly different and totally addicting.

More than 20 years of turns past that sweet spot, however, my Tua Montets (with Voile releasable plates) are rusting away in the garage, a real world analogy for the quiet end of an era that was brought to light last month when Mad River Glen hosted the last-ever NATO Telemark Festival.

The Tele Fest at MRG ran for 40 years, bringing flocks of free heel faithful to the extreme variable conditions of central Vermont. If you’re doing the math at home, the thing started when Gerald Ford was president, a lift ticket cost $10, and people still drank martinis out of a Thermos while they drove their unseatbelted kids around. There were other festivals, sure, but the MRG Tele Fest was the first to the party and the last to leave, providing a complete bracketing of the rise, the sweet spot and the quiet demise of telemark skiing.

The question isn’t whether a sweet spot existed in telemark skiing — or anything else — but rather when it existed. And it’s not as simple as calling out the “peak” of participation, as that sort of misses the point. (The peak is when you played Wembley Stadium in front of 100,000 rabid moshing fans. The sweet spot is when you toured for a year, perfected your sound, and recorded that album that got you the stadium gig in the first place).

Rob Bland & Todd Burrell matching movements.

Rob Bland & Todd Burrell matching movements.

Pre-sweet spot, you’re in the undiscovered country. Post-sweet spot, you’ve jumped the shark. And somewhere between the two, there is a sweet spot that emerges, gets noticed and makes fans.

The sweet spot is pure, electric and magnetic. It’s when charisma and energy combine, and when you can’t help but get sucked in. The more you get, the more you want, and the more you miss it when it’s gone.

But the fade of a sweet spot is also very real. Everything has a life span, and quality has nothing to do with it. Was it too many people? Not enough people? Lack of expectations? Burden of expectations? The simple passage of time? Hey, even M.A.S.H. went off the air eventually.

For telemark skiing (and skiers), there is a distinct yearning for a return to that sweet spot. Ironically, though the gear is better and lighter and more durable than ever before, the more it advances the further away the sweet spot seems in the rear view mirror.

That yearning for a return to the sweet spot exists for lots of other stuff — other places, other brands, other businesses, other trade shows. It’s a normal, human and almost expected urge to want to go back to when numbers didn’t matter, when pure participation was its own reward, and when all the best accomplishments were still in front of you. Like daydreaming of seeing Yosemite before the crowds, of catching a steelhead before the dams went in, or seeing the boys from San Francisco before they were the Dead.

But that cooling cup of coffee isn’t going to warm itself. Enjoy it while it lasts, and don’t sweat it when it’s over.

© 2015

The conclusion to this article answers the question of when tele’s sweet spot existed via quotes by those who were hooked on tele during telemark’s golden era, somewhere between the late 80s and early 00s. The answers continue in the original publication of this article at WickedOutdoorsy. Look for it in the April 2015 archives under the same title – The Sweet Spot.

Related Posts
Telemarkers make better lovers
Telemarking: Neither Dead nor Stupid

  • skier6

    Still on Teles…since 1976 when I spent a winter in the Tetons.
    It was a great tele-fest at MRG, with great snow too.

  • chiller

    started in high school mid 80′s until around 04′ took a 10 year hiatus. Back with some sweet ntn bindings and skis that rail. Having a blast!!