Telepalooza: backcountry wild men do the resort thing

Like many Telemark skiers, Stephan Poirier likes to get away from the crowds and civilization, into the backcountry.

Like many Telemark skiers, Stephan Poirier likes to get away from the crowds and civilization, into the backcountry.

“I’m out there for the beauty — the silence,” he said.

So it may seem strange that Poirier and fellow Telemarker Shawn Taylor, and a handful other backcountry enthusiasts, piled into an old school bus for the Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood, Alaska, last week for the fifth annual Telepalooza Festival.

However, even Grizzly Adams had a hankering for human companionship once in a while.

The three-day Telemark extravaganza features bands, clinics and races at the resort.

The whole thing is held as a memorial to Jeff Nissman, an avid Telemarker, mountaineer and avalanche ranger from Girdwood who was killed in a work-related accident in 2004.

Poirier said that the festival was not only a great deal — $200 for three days of skiing, all the races, music and prizes, and a pair of merino wool socks to boot — but helps to support avalanche research as well.

For the first time, the festival has grown to include the World Telemark Free-skiing Championships, which Poirier and Taylor competed in.

Organizers even opened up non-public ski areas of the resort for the Championships, a spot known as the Headwall.

“It’s free-skiing, you choose the line you want through the steep wall,” he said. “It’s all natural, there’s all these chutes, and very steep.”

Poirier said the competition was intense, and he finished 38th of 49 skiers, while Taylor finished 42nd. “It was only my second day skiing,” said Poirier. “With Sima closed the only skiing for me is out in the backcountry, so my legs were pretty tired.”

Judges watched the skiers for line, aggression, fluidity and control, and the skill level varied from amateurs to sponsored skiers riding for companies like Atomic or G3. “There was a team from Crested Butte, Montana, that was very strong,” said Poirier.

Crested Butte is known as the home of the Telemark resurgence of the 1970s — a movement that eschewed the big resorts, and favoured more traditional attire as well.

The fundamental difference with Telemark skis is the free-heel binding design.

It allows for easy traversing, like cross-country skis, while the width of the parabolic ski allows for a fairly controlled downhill descent.

Performing turns during a descent requires a unique stance, with the inside knee bent over a trailing ski, while the outside leg carves, taking 80 per cent of the weight.

This is known as the Telemark turn, and Poirier said it’s much more elegant to see that a standard downhill run.

“Downhill is choppy, Telemark is more like a dance.”

Telemark is a region in Norway, and for Poirier, it’s seems like the heartland of this most traditional kind of skiing.

“People in the Telemark region would travel from village to village, through the valleys — I do believe that downhill skiing evolved from there.”

In the past, skiers would use sealskins on the bottom of their skis to provide a grip during climbs; nowadays they use synthetic mohair.

Aside from the two Yukoners that competed in the championships, the rest of the Yukon crew donned pirate outfits for the costume relay, and two-person uphill/flatbowl/downhill race that covered all the Telemarking basics.

Although Telemarking is still something of an underground sport, the Yukoners are hoping to have more of a presence at the next festival.

One school bus is good, but they’re hoping for more.

“We’d like to get a convoy going next year,” said Poirier with a laugh.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Team Togo member Katie Moen sits in a sled behind a snowmobile for the ride from the airport to Chief Zzeh Gittlit School. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Coming together: How Old Crow became one of the first communities in the world to be fully vaccinated

Team Togo and Team Balto assembled with a mission to not waste a single dose of vaccine

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. If council moves forward with bylaw changes, eating and drinking establishments could set up pop-up patios in on-street parking spaces. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Patios may be popping up in Whitehorse this summer

City considers program for downtown restaurants and bars

The Yukon Coroner's Service has confirmed the death of a skateboarder found injured on Hamilton Boulevard on May 2. Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News
Whitehorse man dies in skateboarding accident

Coroner urges the use of helmets, protective gear, while skateboarding.

The new Yukon Liberal caucus poses for a photo during the swearing-in ceremony held on May 3. (Yukon Government/Submitted)
Liberal cabinet sworn in at legislature before house resumes on May 11

Newly elected MLA Jeremy Harper has been nominated as speaker.

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s baby bison, born April 22, mingles with the herd on April 29. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Yukon Wildlife Preserves welcomes two bison calves

A bison calf was the first 2021 baby born at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

A map provided by the Yukon government shows the location of unpermitted logging leading to a $2,500 fine. (Courtesy/Yukon government)
Man fined $2,500 for felling trees near Beaver Creek

The incident was investigated by natural resource officers and brought to court.

The site of the Old Crow solar project photographed on Feb. 20. The Vuntut Gwitchin solar project was planned for completion last summer, but delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it back. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Old Crow is switching to solar

The first phase of the community’s solar array is already generating power.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
One new case of COVID-19 in the Yukon

Case number 82 is the territory’s only active case

Flood and fire risk and potential were discussed April 29. Yukoners were told to be prepared in the event of either a flood or a fire. Submitted Photo/B.C. Wildfire Service
Yukoners told to be prepared for floods and wildland fire season

Floods and fire personelle spoke to the current risks of both weather events in the coming months.

From left to right, Pascale Marceau and Eva Capozzola departed for Kluane National Park on April 12. The duo is the first all-woman expedition to summit Mt. Lucania. (Michael Schmidt/Icefield Discovery)
First all-woman team summits Mt. Lucania

“You have gifted us with a magical journey that we will forever treasure.”

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

Whitehorse goings-on for the week of April 26

The Yukon Department of Education in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. The department has announced new dates for the 2021/2022 school year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Yukon school dates set for 2021/22

The schedule shows classes starting on Aug. 23, 2021 for all Whitehorse schools and in some communities.

Most Read