Telemark Training intensifies at Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club

Steamboat Springs telemark skier Madi McKinstry trains at Howelsen Hill this week.  Photo by John Russell

By John F. Russell Sunday, October 31, 2010

Steamboat Springs – Thursday seemed like any other day of training for Steam­boat Springs teenager Madi Mc­­­Kinstry as she bounced on and off a training box in the parking lot of Howelsen Hill.

The melting snow from the most recent storms left trails of water streaking across the asphalt, and in the distance, the snow-covered slopes of Mount Wer­­ner reminded Mc­­Kinstry, and the other members of the Steam­­­­boat Springs Winter Sports Club’s Telemark program, that the start of the racing season is quickly approaching.

It’s not just the seasons that are changing at Howelsen Hill, however. There has been a change in thinking for one of the club’s newest and most successful programs.

“The workouts are a lot harder, and I feel like we are going to be better prepared when we get back on the snow,” McKinstry said while catching her breath between exercises. Coach Tee Upson said the training has been a little more structured this fall, and he hopes a sharper focus on the technical aspects of training and racing will extend the team’s success – which has been fueled by the talent of club members Lorin Paley, Erika Walters, Shane Anderson, Jeffrey Gay and Charlie Dresen the past few years. All of the skiers are on the U.S. Telemark Assoc­iation’s “A” team, and the Steam­boat program is represented by 12 of the 18 athletes on the national team.

Upson, who worked as a development coach last season with the Telemark program, is stepping into a new position as the head of the race team this season. Anderson left that position after last season to focus on his own athletic goals.

Upson’s background is rooted in the Alpine racing program. He also has a strong connection to Telemark skiing and hopes his 20-plus years of coaching experience will move the Winter Sports Club’s Telemark program to an even higher level this winter and in the future.

“Racing is racing,” Upson said. “The most important thing is to make sure our athletes are in shape.”

To do that, Upson has started the new, more structured dryland training program. He said skiers also could expect to revisit many of the fundamentals of racing when they get back on snow in Summit County this week. During the winter, Upson plans to focus on areas where the already strong Telemark racing team can improve. This will mean an increased focus on cross-county skiing, jump techniques and ways to cut down the time spent between the starting gate and finish line.

Competitive Telemark skiing includes a giant slalom section. But in many of the events, the athletes must be able to negotiate a pro-style jump and a cross-country portion at the bottom of the hill.

The Winter Sports Club’s Tele­­mark racing program is one of the best in the country, and it might be the only Telemark program in the country with a race-specific program. Places including Alta in Utah, Jackson in Wyoming, Tahoe in California and Crested Butte and Vail in Colorado have development Telemark programs, but they don’t offer a race-specific program.

Upson and program Director Chad Bowdre hope that will change in the future, but they also want to make sure Steamboat Springs is leading the way and keeping the United States competitive with the better-funded and more advanced programs in Europe.

“I think we have taken the program up a level,” Bowdre said.

But he said Telemark skiing needs to continue to move forward in the United States, and to do that there must be more competition and more programs focused on racing. This year, the Steamboat racers will compete in seven race events, including at Steamboat Springs (Dec. 28 to 31); 49 North Mountain Ski Resort, Wash.; Schweitzer, Idaho; Whitefish, Mont.; and Sunlight and Ski Cooper (or Eldora) in Colorado.

Steamboat will host a ski camp and races Dec. 28 to 31 and the U.S. Telemark Ski Association National Championships from March 23 to 27.

Some racers also will get a shot to compete in World Cup events in Switzerland, France, Spain and Norway. But that will be for only the elite-level racers in the national program.

Bowdre said the number of races has increased this year, but he wishes there were more regional events and lower-level races for the members of the Winter Sports Club’s program.

Some of the younger skiers also might have a chance to qualify for World Juniors, which will be in Norway in March.

Bowdre is hoping the growing popularity of the sport on the ski slopes will result in more programs and maybe even the addition of Telemark skiing to the roster of Olympic events.

“Our goal is to pick it up and raise the level of Telemark skiing in the country,” Upson said. “Right now, we are the only game in town, and it might seem funny, but it’s tough to be the only game in town. We want to drive the competition and the sport.”

Upson is optimistic that Tele­­mark skiing will find a place in the Olympic Games either in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, or at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

If the sport does get to that level, Upson said he thinks several athletes with ties to Steamboat Springs would be natural choices for the U.S. team, and he wants to make sure the Steamboat program is in a position to produce Olympic-caliber athletes.

“The sport is certainly grown overall,” 15-year-old Rick Walters said. He started out as an Alpine racer, but gave Telemark a try a few years ago and discovered that it was the perfect fit. He is a member of the national development team and has his sights set on moving to the next level.

“I just love to race,” Walters said. “Hopefully our sport will continue to gain support and someday it will be an Olympic sport. My goal, someday, is to race in the Olympics.”