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Steve Barnett - Cross-Country Downhill


Among the author's advisors were Joan Firey ("an experienced wilderness skier") and Matt Broze ("for directing me toward the open turn").


p. 11: "The dream of the wilderness skier is to cover ground as quickly and rapidly as the Nordic racer and still have the capability of skiing downhill as powerfully as the Alpine skier. He wishes to ski long river valleys and steep chutes, huge glaciers and powder-covered forest slopes, long access roads and wide-open bowls. Once a unified sport, skiing has evolved into two distinct forms--Alpine (or downhill) and Nordic (or cross-country). As their names imply, each is a response to the problems posed by a specific type of terrain. It is in the mountains of the American West, which combine great untracked horizontal expanses with steep alpine terrain, that the desire for free wilderness travel has stimulated the synthesis of a new way of skiing that combines the pleasures and strengths of its predecessors."

p. 13: "Alpine equipment, with calf-high boots and arm's-length skis, has evolved in the direction of having enough power to blast through any snow condition. Nordic gear, on the other hand, must be used with craft and a subtle awareness of the snow's condition."

Chapter 1 - Nordic Equipment

p. 17: "The days when mountain ski tourers had to plod along on equipment that--because of its heavy weight, unreliability, and poor downhill abilities--severely restricted the kinds of mountain tours the skiers could experience are on their way out. Versatile, light, mobile pin-binding gear is now making possible a variety in mountain touring that was scarcely imaginable in the past." The author discusses Nordic skis, boots, heel plates, bindings, and poles.

p. 21: "This book emphasizes that it is possible to substitute technique for equipment to an extent thought impossible by most Alpine skiers addicted to their sophisticated gear. [...] Experiment! No one yet knows the full capabilities of Nordic gear and cross-country downhill skiing."

Chapter 2 - Telemark Turns

p. 23: "The Nordic skier's greatest assets for downhill skiing are the flexibility of his boots and bindings, and the light weight of all his gear. The techniques that take advantage of this mobility are quite different from those used in Alpine skiing." The author discusses concepts underlying the telemark turn, getting started, angulation, handling variable snow, speed control, step telemarks, two-step telemarks, and linking turns.

p. 26: "The strength of the telemark turns becomes most apparent when skiing difficult soft snow, such as mashed potatoes or breakable crust. In these conditions, skidded turn techniques fail completely. With the pin bindings and soft shoes, you cannot blast your way through as you can with rigid, plastic boots, but by telemarking, you can steer through such snow with relative ease. This is because you carve a thin path through the snow with your giant curved ski instead of trying to push the snow aside by brute force."

p. 29: "Telemarking is such fun that some people become fanatics about it and try to use it everywhere. 'Why did it die out?' they wonder. As lift-based skiing spread in the 1930s, hard-pack and quick-turning capability became preeminently important; touring ability was secondary. Once locked-heel bindings (best for skidded christie turns) replaced loose-heel bindings, telemarking was impossible. [...] The American West--with its powder snow and vast expanses--is ideal for telemark skiing and has thus supported the rebirth of the telemark among a new generation of Nordic skiers."

p. 30: Ten photo pages illustrate movement sequences in various telemark turns.

Chapter 3 - Alpine-Style Turns

p. 41: The author discusses skidded turns, unweighting, anticipation, stemming, abstemming, and carving.

p. 46: Four photo pages illustrate movement sequences in various alpine-style turns.

Chapter 4 - Open Turns

p. 51: "The heart of the open turn is that when the skier has passed the fall line, he then transfers weight and turning responsibility to the uphill ski. This is a way of finishing a turn. You can imagine the feel of it as handing off the turn from the outside ski to the inside ski." The author discusses getting started, strengths of the open turns, and using the open finish in combination with the telemark start.

p. 56: Six photo pages illustrate movement sequences in various open turns. "The open turn can be thought of as a stride, with the inside ski steering toward a traverse. This stride is sometimes continued quite strongly, carrying the ski into the fall line as the outside ski of the new turn. Then the telemark and open turns, and their combinations and variations, become part of a continuum that is uniquely Nordic--striding down the fall line (p. 59)."

Chapter 5 - General Principles

p. 63: Steps and jumps, pole handling, and an overall strategy for powerful, error-tolerant skiing. Stepping and jumping sequences are illustrated on pp. 66-67.

Chapter 6 - Special Skiing Conditions

p. 69: Summer hiking trails, bumps and moguls, crust, ice, steep slopes, and powder snow.

Chapter 7 - Touring: Climbing and Tour Selection

p. 77: Skinny skins, wax, and making the best of available snow conditions. The author describes touring during the 1976-77 snow drought in the Cascades.

Chapter 8 - Safety

p. 85: Avalanches, falls, crevasses, and tree skiing.


p. 90: "High-speed controllability is certainly the strength of Alpine skis. The limits, however, are both clear and strict--Alpine skiing is good for only gravity-powered travel. The main difference between the loose-heel and Alpine techniques is not power or grace, but primarily this high-speed capability. [...] Speed, of course, has never been an objective of the touring skier, in fact slow speed maneuverability, in which the Nordic techniques are very strong, is supremely important. But it is exciting to ski fast and unfettered, and if it can be done without sacrificing other desirable goals, why not do it? [...] Clearly, the limits of loose-heel, lightweight skiing have not yet been reached."

Further Reading

p. 94: The Cross-Country Skiing Handbook by Edward R. Baldwin is "probably the only book in print that recognizes the power of the telemark turn, and devotes a short but informative section to its use."

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Last Updated: Thu, Mar 19, 2020 6:25:03 PM