Telemark Lead Change drills and skills – ALC how to ski series – Lead Change

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Telemark Lead Change drills and skills – ALC how to ski series – Lead Change

Chapter 4 Telemark; Lead Change skills part 2

Lead Changing Drills

Switching, Swapping, call it what you will!

Telemark Lead Change

These Telemark lead change drills are in no particular order and can be mixed together to produce a more complex mix of skills being used. In all the drills be aware of others on the slope and follow the FIS safety code.

Telemark lead change drills & exercises:

Straight Line Stances/Lead Changes, pick a point in the distance on a suitable slope; a piste marker, tree or pylon and aim at it. Travel directly without a deviation either in your line or the gap between your feet. If you are successful you can look back at the tracks and see they come straight at you and you also leave an island of untouched snow between the tracks, you have 2 goals;

  1. On the move either in alpine stance to begin with, then in one Telemark stance (right foot forward) and then the other (left foot forward).
  2. To make smooth accurate LC’s along the way

This sounds easy but is quite hard so can be used at higher levels to fine tune accuracy.


  • Make deviations; imagine a corridor half a metre wide then be inventive and widen the size gradually over time, say by 1 metre each time. Attempt to stay accurately to the confines of the corridor
  • Make the corridor a funnel (narrowing) or an hourglass (narrowing then widening) or even a reverse hourglass shape (widening then narrowing)**
  • Speed up the LC/slowdown the LC, go for fewer accurate ones then up the number over time. Remember quality is better than quantity
  • Make the island in the middle different sizes i.e. narrow, med and wide stance
  • Do it backwards (see Switch Tele)

**Choose which Steering element/s you are going to use to make the deviations, i.e. isolate or use only edging or guiding, or use a blend.

Snurfing or Mono-Marking, select a Tele-stance – say right foot forward – and maintain it, do not LC but do change direction. You’ll soon find out which side you prefer or are more accurate in. This is good for finding and experimenting with your stance before moving onto LC.

Note; this will feel wrong – & to some extent it is however never think of things as right or wrong but as opportunities to discover something new.


  • Use the corridor idea above
  • Use different heights of stance or vertical movement
  • Try it switch (backwards)
  • Do it in different types of turn, slippy, grippy and rippy (see How we Turn)

This uses different focuses of the steering inputs.

  • Once mastered do an even number say, 4 or 6 on one side to start and then LC and do 5 or 7 (always odd number from then on) on the other side, LC another odd number and keep repeating. You might accidentally do Edge change before lead change

Edge Change before LC, most new freeheelers will definitely LC first! Initiating the turn with flat skis, this will produce a slippy turn as edging skills are not honed. This not wrong but is only one dimension or outcome that will not be the best in all situations.

Once again the number 3 comes into play; 1. LC first 2. edge change first 3. simultaneous – we could focus on any one of the Steering imputs first and turn the process on its head. If you can identify what you do, attempt another sequence and work toward doing it simultaneously and inventively.

Use Snurfing/Mono-marking to help with the idea that the LC will happen after the edges have changed, giving you and your skis a platform to move along and you will feel the edges slice as they pass each other if accurate rather than brush or scrape.


  • Try to leave the LC until later and later in the turn, not because it’s correct but just to be experimental and feel something different and help create living Lead Changes

You’re working toward a living breathing LC that can be sequential one way or the other or simultaneous with the turning action.

Super Telemark Turns (Pink Panthers), this is a great drill to develop pressure on the rear ski (foot). The previous rear ski is lifted and stepped through. While keeping it off the snow the skier tries to find pressure on the ball of the foot on the snow before placing the lifted ski down softly, accurately and skilfully, maintaining pressure on rear foot. If done well the person will look like the Pink Panther creeping along.

telemark lead change drills       telemark lead change drills

1st image shows the previous rear ski lifted and passing the ski on ground. 2nd image shows the ball of the new rear foot is located and balanced on before lifted ski is grounded.


  • Some might say this drill is challenge enough but keep practicing as it is not easy to master
  • The lifted ski should after time go down as lightly as possible
  • Maintain control of the length of the stance as the ski touches down – watch that it doesn’t collapse into a light rear foot as the front foot slaps down
  • You can try to keep the ski off the snow for longer
  • Add a turn after you’ve mastered the action
  • Add not only finding the ball but the little toe edge (dot or sweetspot) of the ball of the rear foot while turning

If successful with the little toe above, it will look like flying LC’s, the front foot is off the ground while changing direction on the rear foot, how a horse changes its lead leg in show-jumping (see Relating to other sports).

Moon Walking Pink Panthers, just the reverse of Super Telemark turns! The front foot is lifted and moved back while trying to stay balanced on the ball of the rear foot d slowly flatten that foot as the other one travels backwards.

Note that you’re travelling forward although you could try both in reverse (Switch) although this might be dangerous unless you are proficient and wearing twin tip skis. The progression is as above otherwise.

If you watch Michael Jackson or anyone else doing this well; the back foot is on the ball of the foot while the front foot is slid back flat this foot then progressively goes up onto it’s ball and the process starts all over again (See Moonwalk in Alpine Phase?).

Sideslip LC, while slipping directly sideways down a relatively steep slope, imagine you are in a narrow corridor that has very little tolerance either side of the tip and tail of the skis. Another way is to imagine a line in the snow that your feet stay on in Alpine stance and stay on either side in Telemark. Use an Alpine stance first to get used to the idea, facing left and right for symmetry. The same in Telemark stances and then add LC’s one at a time, quality before quantity until constantly LC-ing while travelling sideways in a perfect straight line.


  • Make the corridor increasingly tighter and tighter (50 cm, 25cm, 10cm, 5cm, 2cm tolerance) as you get more skilful

Imagine if there were skirting boards along this corridor how much re-painting would you have to do after each pass?

  • Make the corridor wiggly, not straight anymore (known as falling leaf)
  • Add in direction changes too, these will be very slippy turns (sometimes called pivot slips)
  • Develop them from one LC and turn every 10 metres into a LC and turn every 8, 5, 3, 2, 1 metres

Switch Telemark, basically going backwards, best to start this like Straight line LC’s or Snurfing on easy terrain or use traverse. The big goal is trying to remain centred, resist placing too much trust in the flat foot, try to trust the foot that is on the ball equally.

When trying to start to turn make them mere deviations (narrow corridor).

telemark lead change Riding switch in Zermatt whilst delivering a BASI Telemark course

You will have to see where you are going so look over your shoulder that becomes the downhill one, this will be the side where the foot that is flat. Of course you will need to change shoulder each time you LC. When doing this in wider turns you’ll be looking down the slope without contorting the neck too much. To get this correct, while going backward imagine going forward to get the correct foot forward or backward i.e. you’re turning left the left foot is on the ball and you’re looking over the right shoulder. No worries if “wrong” you’ll be snurfing switch and learning something new anyway.


  • Once again just doing it is a BIG challenge, go for accuracy of balancing movements and then tempo of LC before increasing speed, steepness, slip-y, scrape-y and carve-y turns

Safety note, when going switch it is best to have suitable skis such as twin tips as traditional skis tails being flatter can get caught in the snow causing injury. Also avoid doing it on crowded slopes.

Bouncy LC’s, once into your length of stance you can still move in the vertical plane without affecting the length. Add some bounce/movement to an otherwise static LC/Stance that shows that there is still somewhere to go to help influence the turn or deal with terrain (suspension).


  • If using big movements slowly make them smaller and smaller, remember great skiers use tiny almost invisible inputs but can react to BIG changes in terrain

Your movements can also be dictated by the terrain so if not going fast or over bumpy terrain, how much movement do you need to use? (See Golfer/Tennis player/Jockey in Relating to Other Sports/Activities)

LC Shuffles, start in a shallow traverse and carve across the slope. Take care where you do this as you’re going to get skied into if under a blind spot!

In Alpine or Snurf/Monomark can you leave tracks in the snow from the edges? If you can then try;

  • To leave the same quality of tracks in Telemark stance but do a half LC

To the point where the feet are almost beside each other, then back to the same Telemark stance. Then add more half LC’s twice then three times as the length of the traverse or skill allows.

  • Then move onto full LC’s once, twice etc. but no direction change
  • Then steepen the traverse and move toward doing throughout a full turn and then constantly on the move

For feedback check your tracks in the snow. How clean and consistent is the width of the tracks. If you find you have a weaker side use Snurfing/Mono-marking to improve.


  • Full bore carving down a comfortable slope leaving clean tracks the whole way while LC-ing all the time in different tempos, lengths of stance and heights etc.

Rocking horse, in a traverse (again be safe) or on flat terrain to begin with, rock backwards and forwards to pressure and balance on the front and then the back foot and then develop into turns. Great for testing balance, once again make the movements smaller and smaller and more subtle.


  • As mentioned elsewhere, at first you will be moving the upper body over the feet – like a flower in the breeze, develop into moving the lower body under the torso
  • Lifting the skis especially the front one will lead into and help Pink panthers
  • Could use the +scale- idea from before +front foot 0 rear foot-

Airborne LC, make a quick but smooth LC movement and leave the ground and try to land softly. Great for coordination and timing and for experimenting with range of movement, for take-off and landing (pro-active and reactive).

Joe Airborn on Telemarks   

Ridge turns, find a ridge line (normally found on the edge of a pisted run) and LC on it while turning either side of it, allow the front foot to be stopped by the ridge and the back foot to take the lead over the ridge. Great as an introduction to bumps, try softening the legs to absorb the ridge/bump.


  • Use a combination of Airbourne LC and Ridge Turns for fun
  • Test your balance and reactions by using movements that will enable you to decide whether you take air or absorb during the same run

Frequency/Volume, you have these 2 dials on a radio.

Play with the frequency. How many LC’s can you do in a given time? No right or wrong answer, compete with yourself, just try to be as accurate and subtle as you can.

Play with the volume, how long and low, tall and short and varied can you be?

Do you need to stay short to be quick?

Low, low LC’s, stay as small as you can while LC-ing as if under a glass ceiling – stopping you from using an upward or unweighting motion. This helps versatility by combining with other focuses while staying low;

  • Different lengths of stance
  • Different speed or tempo of movements

It might stop you always making the skis light during the LC too, as you’re minimising or completely removing vertical movements.

Bear claw. Imagine as you’re Lead Changing and the bellows flexes, Wolverine type claws come out of the boot and you CLAW the snow back behind you. Great for keeping the pressure on the foot as it goes back.

Rubber band. Imagine a bungee cord between the feet/boots, stretch this and don’t allow the cord to go slack too quickly when Lead Changing. A pneumatic piston is a variant that works better for some. This will help make your LC movements slow and deliberate and improve accuracy.

Cool tricks and 360’s.

Start in alpine stance and get good at switch riding before attempting to rotate around in a spin ending, looking up the hill and then allow the skis to slide backwards down the hill and repeat switch until facing back downhill. Then attempt in Telemark. The skill here is being able to keep the skis relatively flat (buttering the snow) so that you don’t catch the edges but does involve subtle edge changing to complete the 360.

If struggling learn to draw a J in the snow, which will just be travelling in a straight line down the hill followed by a full turn or U until you’re facing directly uphill. Focus on keeping the skis parallel and practice until you can do it well. You may find that you use a wedge or plough at the end because you may not want to travel backward unless you’ve mastered Switch or the terrain is too steep.

The next stage is to then practice the same J drill backward (Switch). Plenty of time practicing on very easy or comfortable terrain until you can resist using a wedge when travelling backwards.

You will now have drawn a J J in the snow and it will look like a strange elongated W down the slope. Lots of practice and you’ll be finally able to do a smooth 360.

Once you’ve mastered the alpine 360 then start all over again drawing a J but by the end when facing uphill drop into Telemark stance, just before you stop LC and rotate to face down hill and carry on moving in the new Telemark stance. Tele 360 complete, learn the other rotation now – just imagine the J reversed to make a rounded L.

Note everyone has a preference either clockwise or anti-clockwise rotation (JJ or LL) this can be overcome with time and practice.

Challenges; learn to JJ, LL and 360 on one foot. this will have to be alpine but try it with light heels! try 360’s at different speeds and steepness of terrain and remember the slower you’re travelling and the flatter the slope is the harder it will be – SLOW IS PRO!

Add a jump and rotate to 180 and land in the opposite Lead Change.

Master 360’s in balls down, heels up shape (See next chapter).

Speed and tempo of Lead Changing.

(Tip) When you have worked and acquired a versatile LC, you can now use different focuses to help make it more versatile. Play with the quickness and agility of the movements in all directions and see if you can match a type to a condition or situation. For example pulling back works well in powder? Is this true or false, I’m not going to answer as you can and will find out for yourself. But here’s a thing:

Quick LC movements are needed in bumps because there is no time to use slower ones. Slow movements suit longer carved turns!

Turn things on their head once again and try it the other way. The one thing I’ve had lots of success with when coaching Telemarkers and alpine skiers for that matter; is to slow them down in most situations but especially bumps; make the movement as if in slow motion, in treacle or “sticky toffee” so that the LC and movements are more controlled and deliberate. The movement may be up-tempo but slowing it down, even a smidge, makes for more accuracy. And if the action is too quick it can lead to dead-spots in performance.

All these ideas/drills can be used separately and worked on until absolutely polished to a diamond finish or combined to make the task harder. The opposite is also true; make it easier if you find it too tricky by simplifying the task or the terrain. Always strive for quality.

Conclusion, Lead Changing is a very complex thing, especially when mixed with blending other inputs, to create the perfect turn. Just for one minute imagine this: as your rear foot goes forward it may have to go from the little toe edge to the big toe edge and while this is happening the other foot may be moving backwards, going from the big toe edge to the little toe edge, all the while this is happening you’re also selecting the best blend of inputs to create a turn. Imitate this with your hands, hard isn’t it! Karate Kid, wax on wax off! It’s a bit like rubbing your belly with one hand while tapping your head with the other and then switching. All of this can be going on while the snow/terrain/bumps are knocking you about.

There is no such thing as a correct LC, it needs to be versatile to enable you to act and react to the terrain and situation. Good Lead Changing takes time to master as this old pic of me from the late ’80’s or early 90’s shows. The look on my face is priceless! Nice alpine knee, Tele-llel, Para-marking.

DSC_0989For blog left

Other ideas for practicing Lead Changing in the off season, summer are rollerblading, although there’s no bellows to bend and I’ve played about on Ice hockey skates which has the same problem but better than nothing and anything that gets you out and doing stuff especially experimenting with Balancing and Telemarking is a good thing in my eyes (figure skates have serrated points so can’t be used).

Next we’re staying with Telemark Lead Change but a quick look at “Alpine Phase?” what happens when our feet pass each other.


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