Atlanta Telemark Prodigy Has Sights Set High

Reprinted with permission by the Atlanta Jewish Times

by John McCurdy
Staff Writer – Atlanta Jewish Times

It doesn’t bother 14-year-old Zoë Taylor, the youngest-ever member of the U.S. National Telemark Skiing Team, that the average person is unsure about the specifics of her sport.  She loves it all the same.

“It’s just three minutes of pure adrenaline,” Taylor said.  “Of getting out of the outside world, of focusing on the race, and of getting in the zone.”

She also doesn’t mind that there’s no place to ski close to her native Atlanta.  Her talent and a family-wide commitment have made a part-time move to Steamboat Springs Colorado possible, affording her five months per year of non-stop training and slope time.

“She’s picked up her life to move somewhere to try and realize a dream.” said Michele Taylor, Zoë’s mother.  “I think that goes a long way.”

“All the way to the 2011 World Cup, for instance.

Considering that Zoë’s parents met when when they were stuck on a two-person chairlift in a snowstorm, skiing might be in the Paideia  School freshman’s destiny.  She first tried when she was two and practiced just twice a year when she went to visit her grandparents in Colorado and California.

But she was good enough that, at age 11, she caught the eye of National Team racer and Coach Ken Recker.

“I was on the slopes with my parents, and a man [Recker} skied up to my dad and said “Is that your daughter? Have you ever thought about her competing?”  Zoë said.  “So I went to Nationals that year and loved it.”

In the nine years between her start and being spotted by Recker, younger Taylor learned the ropes of a technique called telemark from instructor Ned Ryerson.  The term refers to both a kind of skiing turn and the competitive events in which it is used.

With telemark, the skier’s heels are not locked down on the skis, as they are in alpine skiing.  The result, as Michele Taylor put it, is “more of a pivoting turn than a carving turn.”  This means telemark racing is lumped with all other Nordic events, like cross-country and Nordic jumping, though it is the only one in which the turn is utilized while going downhill.

Zoë Taylor embraces the style for a variety of reasons.  “In alpine racing, you have to be bigger built, so you don’t see anybody under 5’4″ do it competitively,” the 5’3″ Zoë said.  “Whereas with telemark racing, having a lower center of gravity is actually useful, so I can compete without having a disadvantage.”

“Also, I just have naturally strong legs and tele requires a little more strength and endurance.  I think it’s just all-around more athletic.”

And “athletic” Zoë is.  In the off season, she runs cross-country at Paideia to prepare for her real training – approximately 20 hours a week from December to April, when she’s in Colorado with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.  This gives her the opportunity to compete in the telemark World Cup when she becomes eligible at age 15.

Until then, she’s entering every race she can and cheering on her teammates at those events.  It’s that dedication that landed her on the Developmental Team of the United States Telemark Skiing Association (USTSA), has her aiming for the podium of the Women’s Elite division, and hoping that the International Olympic Committee chooses to include telemark in the Winter Games.

The sport is up for consideration again (it first rose to prominence in the 1990’s), but this time the International Federation of Skiing is backing it.

“Telemark’s definitely getting bigger in the United States, and it’s even bigger in Europe.” Zoë said.  “It would be amazing to be an Olympian.”

Read a related article:  Balancing academics, Judaism in Steamboat Springs