People are sometimes puzzled by evangelism, but it’s really quite simple. In evangelism’s true form, you find something valuable and out of the goodness of your heart you try to convince other people to partake. Altruistic sales, if you will.
If the sport of telemarking had altruistic sales awards, hands down winner would be televangelist Dickie Hall. Replete with his life slogan “ski hard, play fair, have fun,” for thirty years Hall has been selling telemark through his clinics and videos.
An interesting and entertaining interview of Hall in the latest Off-Piste magazine gives an inside view of the man’s story. Written by Nils Larsen (a qualified televangelist himself), the article begins with a teaser about Hall and his 1970s ski friends living in a telemark hippie commune. Indeed, if you’ve ever felt a twinge of guilt about calling telemarking a hippy sport, fret no more. Here be the roots, and they be hip.
The root of telemark skiing is taking super-lightweight nordic gear out in the hills, enjoying the cruise across the flats or up moderate climbs, then forcing the gear to perform on the downhill by using a lot of technique and athletic ability. In my own background as a skier that was my main involvement in telemarking, and while ski alpinism called me out, I still have fond memories of moonlight tours through foothill aspen forests, running free with a shaggy wolfpack on Europa 99s. Those are Hall’s roots as well, and according to the interview that’s still where his excitement comes from.
Hall uses the common term “XCD” (cross country downhill) to describe rambling the hills on nordic touring gear, and says that “slope-style” telemarkers now basically “use randonnee gear” that limits their horizons as athletes. Like a Zen master of tele, he gets a call from a seeker who’s describes himself as the “best telemark skier…” but who’s “not challenged anymore and that was the fun part…” Master Hall sends the guy out on leather boots with toothpick skinny double camber touring boards to ski the “Vermont open trees, what we call open trees anyway,” (presumably stated with a sardonic grin), and to keep skiing “till it feels like fun.”
Wow, that’s like going to a Zen center and being asked to clean the toilets till you can describe the sound of one hand clapping. Well, maybe not that bad, but a bit out-there is it not? Perhaps, but if your reason for skiing is to forever experience athletic improvement, I’d say it’s a verity that eventually you’ll have to handicap yourself then try to rise above your self imposed challenge. Skiing Vermont forests on a pair of hippy sticks qualifies, and even goes beyond mere hardship. In the words of Hall’s protege, “I almost fricking killed myself!”
But is skiing about endless athletic challenge? Can’t we just get good at it then enjoy the fruits of glisse?
Thankfully Hall’s little digression into athletic repentance is a momentary lapse. What he goes on to talk about regarding XCD is that you can use XCD gear to enjoy a form of backcountry skiing that makes any small hill fun and gives you huge options for grins because you don’t have to ski at the resorts, and you don’t have to seek out the big peaks. It’s a viable form of skiing and could even be the next-big-thing in the industry as it’s such an easy sport to participate in compared to ski alpinism in mountain avalanche terrain.
Hall’s curmudgeon side also comes out in the interview as well and elicits a few chuckles. He laments that “from ’75 to ’85 it was skiers pushing manufacturers,” then the “manufacturers took over…”
From what I know of the ski industry, both telemark and alpine, I’d say Hall’s take on how the manufacturers operate is off. The ski industry is full of committed core riders who know the sport, love it, and push to make gear that supports the sport as practised. They push based on their own take, and they get pushed by non-industry folks as well. My experience is that industry people listen to people’s needs and respond if there is any chance of selling something. Sure, there is always some junk designed by PR people or wacko engineers because they think it might catch on, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. In the case of telemark, it’s been obvious for years that what people want is gear that’s equal to or even more beefy than alpine gear, and that the fun is was simply being able to make a split stride turn now and then (sometimes more “now,” sometimes more “then”). So that’s what’s being made and sold.
At any rate, we thank Larsen for an interesting and amusing glimpse into the mind of Mister Hall, and wish both men many excellent runs in Vermont’s “open trees.”
As for evangelism, in honor of Dickie Hall I’ll paraphrase a little slogan I like: “Share telemarking often, use words when necessary.”
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.