The Evangelist of Telemark Speaks

Post by blogger | March 2, 2007      
Backcountry skiing magazine.
Off-Piste is an artistic and interesting backcountry skiing book. But what’s that other mag in the mail stack? Some truck goodies for springtime perhaps?

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.”


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8 Responses to “The Evangelist of Telemark Speaks”

  1. Mark March 4th, 2007 8:46 am

    E99: The prime ski if you hail from Vermont and go by Telemon. Went to the Banff Film Fest last night and saw another reductionist/purist approach with the No Board. Some core boarders go backcountry with binding-free snowboards to have the (ack!) soulfulness return, much like surfing. Soulful…kinda overused these days like “extreme” became years ago.

  2. Dave Johnson March 5th, 2007 5:58 am

    Lou – I laughed myself to sleep last night reading Dickie’s article, imagining digging out my Karhu XCD’s & Asolo Extreme’s…..not!

  3. Cory March 5th, 2007 9:42 am

    Utilizing the 4×4 metaphor, it seems the original leather-booted pinheads are like the WWII Willies Jeep. Fat skis, compression springs and plastic boots are like adding a small-block chevy, a muncie rock-crusher and detroit lockers to that Willies. A Dynafit A/T setup is like going to the local Jeep dealer and buying a brand new Rubicon.

  4. Lou March 5th, 2007 9:46 am

    Nice metaphor Cory! I love it! I guess I get my tele ya-yas out by owning the Willys, and get my Rubicon fix with my Dynafits — or something like that (grin).

  5. gmon March 5th, 2007 2:07 pm

    I saw the no-board movie also. Pretty good. Needless to say, you didn’t see the guy who states in the film “that I will never use bindings again” “no-boarding” a 45 to 55 degree boilerplate no-fall pitch. In fact every clip of the no-boarders was in over the head bc pow.

  6. Lou March 6th, 2007 8:11 am


  7. Stevie Trinder September 20th, 2011 3:23 pm

    For me true mobility on skis in the mountains I like using lightweight backcountry telemark skis (I have a clean but old pair of Kazama Couloirs at the moment), Rottefella pin bindings, and an old pair of Asolo Snowpines. I have been telemarking and ski touring in the Cairngorm Mountains in the Scottish Highlands for 25 years including teaching skiing for 7 of those winters. Much to my wife’s dismay I have bought and sold a considerable number of sets of gear to ski on over the years but I have always come back to my favourite and original skinnies for true satisfaction! Inspired by Vic Bein’s book in the mid 80s and then of course Paul Parker’s original “Freel Heel Skiing ” book a few year’s later I would skin or hike up the hills in some quite appalling arctic weather just for the possibility of a dozen decent turns! Of course I have had some longer runs than that, great days over the back of Cairngorm in powder and spring snow, riding in the ski area with family who were learning to ski and snowboard, with friends or just cruising about on my own. Even skiing in the woods across the road from us in the village is great fun when the hill is stormbound.
    I do agree with the article above that in the future folks may well get in to local backcountry skiing more than ski area skiing. It is getting really expensive (although great fun) to travel and pay for uplift and it can get so busy at the weekends it can drive you bonkers at times. Perhaps it is best to have one set of gear for everything, “live a simple life” and just be flexible and open minded about your skiing. As Paul Parker said in an article I read recently that it is your attitude towards your own skiing which is the important thing whatever you are using. For me now it is the wee moments of excitement and flow that you can experience from a 101 different things in the mountains that draw me back: making some nice turns, the texture of the snow crystals, hearing the croak of a Ptarmigan as it flies off, the patterns of light, the frosted trees, the feeling of the sun warming the back of your neck on a long climb, the disdain of a mountain fox being disturbed by your run, the satisfaction of completing a challenging ski tour in good style., you know .. just basically being part of it all just for a moment of time. Easier on the skiinies I believe!!

  8. Patrick June 21st, 2016 8:40 pm

    Ah yes, I had many fine times on XCD-Comps with Alpha boots beefed up by Voile plate bindings. In the zone in the Valhallas.

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