Telemark Balancing skills – ALC how to ski series – Freeheel stance and Balancing 1
Chapter 3 Telemark Balancing Skills part 1
It’s just alpine skiing with one foot back, right?
Once again not really.
This section follows the ideas in the previous Alpine Stance and Balancing skills chapter that can be adapted and used for this discipline, especially if alpine skiing on Telemark kit which is the normal progression for many newcomers. This can be a great benefit for the alpine skier to fine tune their balancing skills because of the nature of the equipment having a free heel and therefore requiring fore/aft precision.
Here I’ll develop and explain them from this disciplines perspective that will lead onto the next step for Telemark – Lead Change.
In the history of freeheel or Telemark Balancing skills, the Stance was invented or developed by Sondre Norheim initially to provide a stable platform (especially when landing from a jump) and to transform two skis into one long ski back in the days when ALL skis were free-heel. It revolutionised skiing.
There is a discussion point as to how much alpine skiing a student needs to do, if any, before attempting a Telemark stance or turn.
- From absolutely no experience at all
- Learn alpine to a fairly good parallel level first
- Somewhere along this process
There is no correct answer, it will depend on the individual, factors including;
- Their fitness, age and drives
- Their background, sports and activities done before
- Whether they are a purist or not
Both of the disciplines share a lot in common; inputs (the things we do) and outcomes (the results from what we do) for example. However the two have very different and unmistakable looks or shapes from the side. Arguably alpine skiing may have a high focus on pressurising and balancing on the outside ski, whereas Telemark it could be said to have a more equal focus.
Here the focus will be to create an adaptable Telemark stance or series of stances that evolve into a changing shape that will enable you to enjoy the sport, hopefully without pain or discomfort. Be aware that the major difference between the two disciplines is that Telemark stances require more muscular strength. This is because the feet and legs are separated and bent differently in the curtsey or lunge and the skeleton has to be supported (great for fitness and buns of steel). We are therefore more biomechanically compromised especially when low and long, than Alpine skiers, as the legs are not working alongside each other. Imagine using heavy weights on the shoulders at the gym and squatting with feet side by side as in a normal squat or with the feet offset, which of these would be easier and or more efficient?
This is where the saying, fix the heel fix the problem comes into effect however, why fix the heel and lose the opportunity for all the fun and challenge free-heeling brings?
How you are standing and balancing on the skis and within the stance can, in my opinion be said to be the most important aspect of the sport. Especially at the beginning of your Learning Curve as it will impact onto all other areas.
Having read the section about V.A.K. Visual, Audio and Kinaesthetic in the previous chapter Learning Curves will enable you to understand why this chapter and book may have a very feel oriented style.
Note once again, the word being used is Balancing or more truly constantly re-balancing, not balance or balanced. This is because balance could be construed as a static word – I’ve achieved a “stance” and if I stay like this I’m balanced – well not necessarily; if your skis, the forces and the terrain are constantly moving and changing, so should you.
Hang on though, Stance sounds static! To help, think of stance as one of the building blocks of balancing, it could be said to be a place we visit and move around from; we have to start somewhere.
Firstly we need to look at this stance we are going to use to either get the idea or intellectually understand what we are trying to achieve. What does this look like this Telemark shape we stand in? Let’s take a look, the V in VAK in Learning Curves.
We can get a visual idea from other sports or activities like before and for this I will use a few different ones that are very far removed from the art of Telemark:
Maybe the best way to relate the Telemark stance to anyone who has never seen it would be to explain that the feet are separated similar to a lunge in the gym or as in a weightlifter during the Clean and Jerk. Imagine going down on one knee during a Marriage proposal or curtsey-ing when meeting the Queen. How swimmers and long distance runners start a race or sprinters in starting blocks. If you are into old comedians, think of Groucho Marx’s comic walk (a google search of the examples will provide images).
It is once again not important if you’ve never done any of these things; it’s just to get an idea.
Here are some good biomechanical principles to help you create a Happy Telemark Stance:
Here’s skeleton Bob again. I’ve used him/her for the same reasons stated in the previous chapter; our bodies differ and very greatly but out skeleton’s are generally similar, so lay your build, muscles and fashion choices on top of Bob’s frame.
The left hand Bob A is just one example of a good stance and the dotted lines are there to show a tolerance of where the bones could be moving between. If this tolerance/movement is used the athlete’s shape will be higher or lower and shorter or longer.
The right Bob B shows an example of a weaker “position”. B’s rear foot would be “toey” rather than on the ball of the foot and the angles of the rear femur and front shin aren’t biomechanically sound. Biomechanical stance help:
Front leg. The front knee is ideally in an area directly above to slightly forward of the ankle of the same leg.
Front foot. The aim is for the front foot to have pressure along its entire length and also some light pressure on the tongue of the boot.
Rear leg. The angle of this femur (thigh bone) should be vertical or ideally slightly forward of plumb (vertical) .
The rear knee and therefore tibia (shin bone) angle should be above horizontal or parallel to the ski (horizontal).
Rear foot. The bellows of the boot are compressed with light shin pressure and flexion of toe joints. Weight/pressure taken on the ball of the foot.
Weight/pressure/force is shared equally by both feet. Although this will have to be adapted during different turns and terrains, according to ability/task/snow conditions and inputs you’re using.
These are not rules to be followed religiously but they do give a great home base to be returned to, as the strongest or most effective shape to be in to deal with the forces that occur. What you finally end up looking like will depend to some extent on YOUR build and or who or what inspires your drives. They are guidelines to help with the fact that in Telemark we are already compromised strength-wise so unless you’re the world’s strongest man or woman, get all the help you can.
Rules and regulations?
Note, many Telemark racers do not follow these points i.e. their front tibia is behind vertical and they’re using pressure on the rear of that boot. They might even twist the spine or counter-rotate (upper and lower body turning in different directions) and kink the spine too, to angulate (articulate the joints to create the classic “C” shape, see How we Turn). Why?
They’re racing, not looking for style approval or points for being biomechanically sound from an exterior judge, although their coach may have feedback on these points their real judge is the stopwatch.
They will though get penalised if not in Telemark stance at the gate or on landing after a jump. They are racing and are driven by their need for speed/a quick time. They will also be in great physical condition to be able to deal with the shocks and stresses to their bodies (See Racers Perspective).
The FIS rules state that a boot length is the minimum distance between the back of one boot (heel) to the front (toe) of the other for a well balanced and effective stance and is marked by a judge as the racer passes the gates. Once again this is a good marker or measure but unless racing, feel free to ignore and develop what works for you.
Stance into series of Stances
The stance or series of stances we use when Telemarking is again dependant on many dynamic internal and external forces and conditions. They could also be said to be driven by our own perception of what we wish to achieve, either style or performance wise.
There could be said to be 3 natural stances or markers of type of preferred stance;
- Tall and Short
- Long and low
- Exploring the space between
Being able to vary the stance, within functional limits, can create versatility.
If your preferred Telemark style is very low (classic Norwegian) then your legs will be under more strain. This style also has the potential benefit of greater fore/aft stability, unless you go too far.
A taller shorter stance has the benefit of being nearer to a stacked skeletal aligned shape which requires less muscular strength.
Imagine these 2 examples moving toward each others stance; each next frame would be a differing shape!
However if your stance is too short then you’re Alpine skiing and or not being very effective. Referred to as Alpine knee, Tele-lleling or Para-marking, you will often see this when a person first tries the sport and they cannot trust the full stance and only pay homage to it.
The Alpine knee refers to the fact that when Tele-lleling the uphill knee is in front of the downhill one, this could also be referred to as having the knees tied together (like wearing an old fashioned hobble skirt, walking from the knees down).
Stance into Stances – series of stances into Shape into Balancing
Let’s take a classic Norwegian; long and low style for an example to show how this person could be said to be using all the series of stances! There has to be a point where his or her legs pass each other before passing through a small almost polite curtsey or Tele-llel, then exploring the space between the two extremes before reaching the end of the line and having to return the other way.
The stance isn’t static, it is a shape that evolves and shares the same 3 dimensions to it as before in the generic chapter;
Balancing skills are 3 dimensional, in other words when Telemarking there are 3 planes of balancing;
Fore/aft (forward and back), altering where you are standing along the skis and the stances length
Lateral, or sideways (left and right), altering where you are standing either between the skis or whether the skis are flat or on their edges
Vertical (up and down), altering the height and shape of the skier, which helps create and control the changing pressures experienced when skiing
These 3 planes are blended and combined to arguably create a “4th dimension”, that of rotational balancing – how we deal with the varied terrains we encounter.
The main aim at the start of your progress to becoming the Telemarker/athlete that you want to be is to target toward an exact outcome- aiming for sharing the weight/pressure equally between both feet. Creating a stance or series of stances accurately that enable you to feel your body supported over your feet, through the skeleton by using your joints and muscles efficiently within your boots. This can then be explored and experimented with toward a wider idea later. Possibly the best way to do this is to work from the feet up, finding an effective centre to your base of support.
Lots of instructors will work from the head down; horizontal eye line, hands out and forward, rounded back for example – none of this is wrong but being from a building/engineering background… You can build a house from the roof down but generally you work upwards from the correct foundations!
It could be said that in Telemark stance, our first goal is to try and obtain the 50-50 balance point between the feet in both the sideways and fore/aft plane (so we have our own extra invisible Sweetspot along the length of our stance too). If we just stay here once this is achieved we become like a cardboard cut-out Telemarker and will be unable to adapt and react to changes.
Using very subtle movements and reactions we need to be able to change the emphasis between the feet from front to back ski and use 60-40, 40-60, 75-25 and any other weight/pressure percentage that we feel is necessary or appropriate for a given situation. Feel free to use your own word, pressure, weight, mass or force you’re feeling (see Perceptions later).
Finding “Centre” from the Feet Up!
We will start our stance work from what we feel and do with our feet, for the same reasons we do in Alpine Stance & Balancing.
You do not need to be on snow or skiing to benefit from the following ideas, feel free to experiment in bare feet, slippers or trainers well before trying it on the mountain so the process is well imprinted in the mind before hurtling down the hill at mach 3. It is always a good idea in learning to use this approach with any new technique or tactic. If already on snow, play around in ski boots without skis on for a couple of minutes, maybe while walking to the lift or in the gondola.
In part 2 we’ll revisit and adapt 0xo, Happy Telemark Stance and Perceptions.