All-in-One-Skiing: Suicide Six to Host Telemark Event

  • Britain's Huan Davies speeds down the slope during a FIS Telemark World Cup Slalom in Tyon-Region, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008. (Keystone - Jean-Christophe Bott)

  • Beth Long, of Quechee, Vt. is a volunteer for the upcoming FIS Telemark Cup event at Suicide Six. Her son Garrett Long, is the organization's president. She was at work on Jan, 10, 2018 in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, January 11, 2018

As home to the first rope tow and ensconced as a pioneering ski area during the sport’s first wave of popularity in the 1930s, South Pomfret’s Suicide Six has no shortage of history. Later this month, another significant chapter will be inscribed in its annals as, for the first time, it hosts the FIS Telemark Cup.

Combining elements of alpine, ski jumping and Nordic skiing, more than 70 male and female athletes from 11 countries are expected to compete at the event, which runs from Jan. 20-22. The weekend will feature a pair of sprint classic races — sending one open-heeled skier at a time through alpine gates and over a jump before a cross country jaunt to the finish line — sandwiched around a day of parallel sprints, where two racers compete concurrently in an elimination format.

The most exciting part of the latter is typically contained in the reipelykkje (pronounced “rappa-loosha” and known simply as “the rap”), an approximately 300-degree berm turn installed to slow skiers’ momentum between the alpine and Nordic sections.

“Sometimes they get tangled up,” said Garrett Long, a part-time Quechee resident and president of the United States Telemark Ski Association (USTSA). “They’re jockeying for position, so if they get to the rap at the same time (there might be collision).”

Yet telemark skiing is about more than racing to the finish line. During the alpine section, skiers must execute each turn in the sport’s namesake stance: a lunge position, with the inside foot leading and at least one boot length between the heel of the front foot and the first toe of the rear foot. The rear heel must be lifted, and a smooth transition is required between turns. Faults in any of these areas result in one-second penalties per turn.

Beth Long, Garrett’s mom and a full-time Quechee resident, is in her 10th season as a USTSA judge. “Strategy is a big part of it,” she said. “The athletes get a practice run and have to try to figure out how to approach each gate.”

Then there’s the jump, installed somewhere in the middle of the course, preferably near its steepest section. A target line is put in place by officials prior to the race, roughly 80 to 130 feet from the launch, depending on the terrain grade. Athletes who fail to reach the jump line are docked three seconds, but they also don’t want to overshoot it too much, U.S. Telemark coach Keith Rodney noted.

“If you go too high or too far, you lose actual time in the air,” Rodney said. “You want to find that happy medium.”

After twirling through the rap, the endurance is tested with a cross country section that may include some uphill and typically takes about 45 seconds to complete.

“That might not sound like a lot, but you have to figure they’re already exhausted (after the alpine section),” Beth Long said. “It’s definitely not easy.”

While finding a last burst of strength for the Nordic section, skiers must also shift their focus from the adrenaline rush of downhill to a pace that is slower but equally challenging.

“It forces them to shift gears,” said Rodney, a former collegiate alpine racer who spent two years as an athlete on the U.S. telemark team he now coaches.

“You have to go all out physically, from top to bottom, all the way through. But your mental focus has to flip a switch because (the Nordic section is) a whole different setting and a whole different group of muscles.”

The sport’s wide-ranging disciplinary elements and skill requirements draw a unique breed of athlete to telemark, which originated in Norway about 150 years ago but has yet to gain Olympic status or inclusion in the United States Ski and Snowboard Association. The sport’s growing popularity in the Eastern U.S. helped Vermont land a two-stop stint on the FIS Telemark Cup; following the competition at Suicide Six, the series has a one-day layover before resuming Jan. 24-26 at Sugarbush Resort.

They’re the first Telemark Cup stops in the U.S. since the 2013-14 winter in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and the first time any Northeastern state has hosted the telemark World Cup series since Sugarbush 10 years ago.

Garrett Long would like to see more.

“I don’t want to say alpine skiing is lazier, but there are more components and more challenges to telemark,” said Long, who, like many of the sport’s athletes, began skiing primarily downhill before being introduced to telemark. “It gives you more of a full-body connection to skiing and to the mountain.”

Without USSA funding, many telemark athletes are forced to pay their own way through fundraising or independent sponsorships. That lends itself to a tight community of racers in the United States, participants say.

“One good example of the camaraderie in the sport is what coaches do during the Nordic section,” Beth Long said. “(The athletes) are using alpine-style poles, so they’re longer. If one of them breaks, coaches will hand (the racer) a new pole. Whether they’re on their team or not doesn’t matter.”

The sport’s layout also is generally spectator-friendly and should be especially so at open-faced Suicide Six. The entirety of the course should be visible from the base, said general manager Tim Reiter, as was the case during a USTSA event last year that was not FIS-sanctioned.

“That was sort of a test run for this event, and it went over great,” Reiter said. “You can actually see the entire course from inside the lodge, or get an even better sense of what’s going on from outside. We hope a lot of people will come out and show the athletes from Europe that there are a lot of ski fans here because, of course, there are.”

Vermont is an apt setting for international events because of its skiing history, Rodney noted.

“This might sound like the PR side of me talking, but there’s a long history of skiing in the state, and I think the World Cup athletes will be able to sense that,” he said. “There has been a lot of self-propelled growth of the sport in this area.”

Cory Snyder, a Franconia, N.H., native and two-time national champion who has traveled to Europe for equivalent events, is thrilled to have the Telemark Cup so close to home.

“To have it basically on my home turf is going to be amazing. My family is going to be there for it,” said Snyder, a graduate student at Montana State University who placed fifth in the parallel sprint the last time the Telemark Cup came to the U.S. “Anytime an international event like this is in the U.S., it has a different energy that I think the U.S. athletes feed off of.”

Jack Long, Garrett’s younger brother and a former telemark competitor, will serve as chief of course at Suicide Six. He too is looking forward to the enthusiasm of the crowd and the cacophonous sound generated by one famous element.

“There are always a lot of cowbells,” Jack Long said. “There’s nothing like lining up at the starting line and hearing all the cowbells ringing up all the way from below.”

Just the Facts

What: FIS Telemark Cup, the World Cup of Telemark ski racing.

Where: Suicide Six Ski Area, South Pomfret.

When: Jan. 20-22, race time 11 a.m. all three days (women followed by men).

About Telemark Racing

Named after Telemark region of Norway where sport was first performed in the 1860s.

​​​​​​Boot is attached to ski at toe and open-heeled.

Incorporates elements of alpine, ski jumping and cross country. 

Penalties for failing to make gate turns in telemark stance (boot length between heel of front foot and first toe of rear foot) or failing to reach jump line.

Popular feature is the reipelykkje (pronounced “rapa-loosha), an approximately 300-degree berm that slows skiers down between the alpine and cross country sections.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.