OK, if you’re a purist, one of those telemark gods or goddesses who move effortlessly downhill like the finest ballet dancers, you may want to look away now.
This post is not for you. In fact, it may annoy or frustrate you.
But here’s the thing…
As a pretty confident Intermediate (blue*) parallel skier, I was listening to all these amazing stories from my bushwalking/hiking buddies about going back country on the white stuff.
So last year, like a two year old on a sugar loaded high at Woollies, I stamped my feet and had a ‘me too, me too’ moment.
As luck would have it, my bushwalking club was having a joint trip with the Nordic Ski Club to Charlotte Pass in the NSW Snowy Mountains, right at the end of the season in mid September 2012. (Yes, I know, it might come as a shock to some overseas readers to learn that we have snow in Australia… and even Ski Resorts!)
So here’s what I learnt!
- There are many ways to skin a cat: Just like you can go downhill fast on either a toboggan, skis, or your arse, there are different ways of cross country skiing on different types of skis. I found the easiest way to transition from downhill skiing to XC is by using resort telemark skis. I sourced mine from the awesome folk at Wilderness Sports at the Perisher Valley NPWS Centre. Friendly guys and happy to spend time on a busy rental day with a newbie like me. (If you watch my video, you will notice that my skis are wider at the tip than traditional XC skis. In fact, they look and behave a lot like traditional carved downhill skis – only with a free-heel… hence an easier transition! More traditional XC skis are straighter and lighter, making them trickier to turn unless you can master the elegant mastery of the Telemark Turn).
- Go when the conditions are good: It’s a given really, but if you’re learning anything new on snow and likely to end up on your bum a bit, it’s always going to be more pleasant (and hurt less) if the snow is fresh, soft and forgiving. Trying to learn on icy yuckiness, when it’s blowing a gale and the sleet is cutting into your face, is not going to be that much fun.
- Go with people at different levels: I was the only complete newbie with the club’s group for the week. Thankfully, they were a very generous bunch and I learned heaps every day we went out. Each day there were a number of different trips organised, going in different directions for people of varied experience.
- Know your limits: Be realistic about the distance you think you can achieve each day and your skills. Don’t be shy about taking a professional XC skiing course if you feel you’re not progressing.
Safety in numbers: All the usual things apply when heading into the wilderness anywhere and any time of year. Travel in groups, carry water, food, map and compass, GPS, PLB, first aid, etc, etc… There are a few additional bits that you might need to consider when going out in the snow.
- Blistering good time: Doesn’t affect everyone, but I had some cracking blisters from the free heel movement of the boots and skis. Possibly, this was brought on by the downside of the resort tele skis… they (along with the solid boots) are heavier than the traditional XC skis with their soft laced shoes and lightweight skis.
So, in summing up, if you’re a keen bushwalker, who also happens to be a skier, I thoroughly recommend giving the backcountry a go. There’s something wonderful in that moment when you duck under the orange boundary rope and head out into un-tracked beauty.
It truly is taking the best bits of bushwalking/hiking and skiing and putting them together. Throw in good mates and great weather/conditions and you have the making of a wonderful experience.
*In Australian ski resorts we use a 3 level system of green (beginner), blue (intermediate) and black (advanced).