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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Off the Grid: Who ruined the telemarker’s reputation?

By Ammi Midstokke

I tend to be a transparent writer. I’m not sure if it is because shame is lucrative or I’m bad at keeping secrets, but there’s really not much about my life I’ve decided to keep from the public eye. Except this one detail …

I am a telemark skier.

It’s true. In all fairness, I am a telemark skier who does not know how to ski. I’m not sure which part of that sentence is more embarrassing.

When I moved back to Idaho from my decade-plus stint in Europe, where sophisticated snow sports escaped my budget and so I sat in warming huts and drank spiced wine instead, I didn’t know how to ski. Or the other sliding-over-snow things either. This is, of course, unacceptable in the Inland Northwest and before I was allowed into social circles, I was peer pressured into identifying myself with a winter sport or being outcast as a suspected Floridian.

So I picked telemark. My justification was simple: I’m mostly Norwegian and I figured it was in my genes to love reindeer, have a high alcohol tolerance, and free-heel ski like it’s a commute. I was only right about the reindeer.

Trust me, a lot of people tried to talk me out of it. In fact, everyone tried to talk me out of it. They had good reasons. It requires a measure of grace (not a quality myself or my brethren are known for), years to learn, is much more difficult than alpine skiing, and on and on. Also, lunges. Infinite lunges. Some at high speed. All of them on snow.

Snow is also a substance I knew little about at the time. I grew up shoveling it and pouring chocolate syrup over it in the food-bank-raised kid’s version of Ben & Jerry’s.

What no one told me, the only thing that mattered, really, is that apparently no one likes telemark skiers.

This was evident when I popped into the ski shop this week to ask if my boot was supposed to slowly asphyxiate my leg at the calf and if excruciating pain is part of the ski experience. The hip young man in a baseball cap looked at my boot with disgust and said, “I can’t help you with that kind of boot.”

I thought it was because they are pink, which is basically the criteria by which I purchase all sports equipment. Well, color and whether it has enough pockets for all my snacks.

He told me there was no one there to help. They hadn’t seen a telemark skier all year. The implied message was we were a dying breed and this was perhaps for the better.

I tried to explain my suspected issue was not related to telemark skiing specifically: Was it possible that my squatty Norwegian calves require a boot adjustment?

I basically have a rump roast growing above each ankle.

Had I crashed with the Uruguayan rugby team, they would have been well-fed for most of the winter on my calves alone. (If they knew I was a telemark skier, they probably wouldn’t have even waited for me to die.) I’m well aware that I look like a cross between a WWF wrestler and a garden gnome. If only that gave me an advantage in learning how to ski.

While the gentleman did not say as much, I’m sure he mistook my massive muscle girth for excess scone consumption. Admittedly, this could be part of the problem. In some circles, scone eaters are as detested as telemark skiers. I don’t know what the telemark skiers did to ruin their reputation. They seem just like everyone else, only better.

I tried to defend myself.

“I don’t really tele,” I said. “I mostly pie-slice my way down the hill.”

This isn’t entirely true because, occasionally, when I think someone might be watching, I do a sort of awkward split lunge thing that would horrify orthopedic surgeons and could easily be mistaken for bowel discomfort. Afterward, I congratulate myself by thinking about putting a telemark bumper sticker on my car, but I wouldn’t want my tires to get slashed.

The young man literally waved his hand at me. The back of his hand. As we know, that is the dismissive side of the hand. I took a deep breath and whispered a curse of decadeslong socialist policy that would have him paying for my health care and retirement while suffering from crippling student loan debt.

Then I marched over to the ski school and booked a telemark lesson. If he’s going to pay for my knee replacements, I might as well get busy ruining both of them.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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