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The Tele Gospel

Each month, as I sit down to write Intro, I ponder the meaning of skiing and life and all things great and small, and I try to develop a message that’s inspiring, life-affirming, insightful, and occasionally, relevant to what’s in the magazine. If I strike out on all those counts, I at least aim for a little eloquency.

As I sit here this month, waiting impatiently for some chord of brilliance to strike, I realize there is nothing I could write that would be as inspiring, life-affirming, and insightful as this photo of Sam Hughes dropping off a cornice in Whitewater, B.C. Check it out: He’s as calm as could be, hands low, body compact. Look where he started, too—this guy streaked to the edge, and he’s not going to land until well below the bottom of the page.

OK, that’s big, you have to admit. But that’s not all. Check out his gear. He’s on pins. Yes, pins. Telemark gear. Free-heeled. Skinny skis and leather boots.

Sick. The man is sick.

I know Sam is sick because I just started learning to telemark, and, having worked my way through free-heeled flails, bails, and full-gravity body slams, it’s clear that only someone with a terminal illness would have the kind of disregard for life that would cause them to launch their body into that kind of air on that kind of gear.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Sam just has huge courage.

Although we didn’t plan it this way, there’s a lot of telemarking in this issue. We chose each story because…well, just because we liked it. There’s a piece on touring in the Wasatch, a story on a race seminar at Mammoth, a harrowing tale of danger and adventure in South America, an epic on Sweden, and more. Every one of these pieces has some connection to telemarking, but we chose to put them in Powder not because we’re closet pinheads but because of the universal things they said about skiing. The fact that a lot of the adventures took place on free-heeled skis is incidental.

I suppose I’m telling you this because I’m a little worried that all the die-hard alpine skiers out there will go, “Ugh, it’s a granola issue. Pass the cheeseburgers and get me a subscription to Snow Country.” I’m worried because there was a time when all I did was alpine ski, and I would have said, “Telemarking? That says nothing to me about my life.” I understand how easy it is to see the world as a series of labels: He’s a telemarker, she’s a snowboarder, he’s a monoskier.

Having snowboarded a lot the last few years and begun telemarking and continued alpine skiing, I also understand that the rush of speed, fear, and adrenaline is the same no matter how you acquire it. Given that that rush directly contributed to me becoming addicted to skiing, and given that that rush is generally more intense in the learning stages, I’m always willing to go our and try something new on snow.

If you’re thinking about trying telemarking or snowboarding, or even if you’re a telemarker thinking about trying alpine skiing, do it now. Don’t wait until next season. Spring is the best time of year for learning. The days are long, warm, and sunny, and the snow corns up for perfect ego turns. Your legs are strong from a long winter of skiing…or maybe you’re even starting to get burned out on the same old turns.

If you have no desire to try anything else on snow, that’s OK, I suppose. There’s nothing wrong with staying focused. Still, I can’t help but wonder what it might lead to if you ventured onto pins or a snowboard. I mean, you might end up in Sam’s shoes, which, sick as it might be, is about as eloquent as it gets.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 20.7, January 1992. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

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