U.S. Telemark ski team headed to Europe

World Cup races in five different countries will challenge Whitefish racers

The U.S. Telemark ski team, featuring three members from Whitefish, will be embarking on a trip to five European countries in January to compete in World Cup races. Their motto, according to the team’s unofficial Web site is “Free your heel and your mind will follow.”

For Whitefish resident Kelsey Schmid-Sommer, the 2006 and 2007 U.S. Telemark Ski Racing champion, telemark skiing has become a lifestyle. She gets to travel the world, meet fun people and stay in shape.

Now in her third year on the team, Schmid-Sommer is hopeful about her opportunities in Europe.

“I have a lofty goal of bringing a World Cup medal home,” she said.

Schmid-Sommer and her teammates are currently training six days a week at Whitefish Mountain Resort, honing their skills before competing with the best telemark skiers in the world.

The team, consisting of nine total skiers, will be traveling to France, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Norway before returning to Whitefish in early February.

“We are really excited to be going,” Schmid-Sommer said. “I’ve been training since May, and we finally got back on the snow on Dec. 8.”

Her best finish in World Cup races was fifth place, and Schmid-Sommer knows this year will bring some tough competition.

“The skiers from Norway, France, Switzerland and Germany are always tough,” she said.

Telemark racing consists of two events, the Classic race and the Sprint race. In the Classic race, there is a gate portion and a skating portion. The race is approximately three minutes long.

Schmid-Sommer said that while she is thrilled to be traveling to places she has never been before, the Europe trip will be mostly work and very little play for the team.

“It’s going to be serious,” she said. “It’s going to be eating dinner and going to bed at nine.”

When the team returns home, they will attempt to recoup all the money they spent by hosting a fundraiser at the Great Northern Bar on Feb. 7.

“We’ll be giving away a bunch of equipment, like skis as well as SnowCat-ski trips,” Schmid-Sommer said.

Three members of the team currently live full-time in Whitefish. Captain Eric Lamb, also a Whitefish townie, is one of them, and he is seeing big things in the future for his team.

“We want to go in and be No. 1,” he said. “But I guess, realistically, we are hoping for a No. 2 or No. 3 when we go over there.”

Telemark skiing has been described as a cross between Nordic skiing, Alpine skiing and Nordic jumping. Lamb said telemark races are designed to represent the traditional role of skiing.

“Telemark skiing originated in Norway in the 1800s, and it was a way of life there. It was how you got into town and went to the store,” he said. “So there is downhill, there is jumping, which you would have had to do, and skating represents the uphill section,” he said.

Lamb said his team is in a sort of rebuilding phase because so many members have retired in recent years.

“This is definitely the youngest team we’ve ever had,” he said. “We have a 16-year-old, an 18-year-old and a 19-year-old. But I also think this is one of the strongest teams we’ve had. However, the competition seems to get more and more difficult each year.”