Brent crouched too low. I dragged my uphill hand so far behind me it looked like I was scratching my ass. Paul skied in this exaggerated hurdling motion reminiscent of Edwin Moses. And all of us had control problems—especially the Swede who called himself Ullr. Remember the boulder that chased Indiana Jones through the opening scene of Raiders? Ullr was that boulder: a gifted skier, but you wouldn't want to be within 20 feet of him while he's moving.
Nine of us had come to Jackson's Telemark Steep & Deep Camp hoping to refine our eclectic, learned-on-the-fly techniques. We could get down the hill all right, but our styles were all over the map. Another instructor might have fled the scene. But we campers—workaday schlepps from across the globe—were in luck. Athletically inclined gapers make instructor Scott McGee giddy.
McGee—a former Telemark World Cupper, Exum guide, and the camp's brains—designed the four-day itinerary to exploit Jackson's abundance of steep, challenging terrain. Each morning, we'd drill basic skills (hand and body position, balance) on moderate cruisers like Rag Run and Amphitheater. After lunch (coma-inducing buffalo burgers at the Snake River Lodge and Spa), we headed to the steeps of Cirque and Rendezvous Bowl, where we'd put our skills to the test. I worked on throwing my weight down the fall line. Ullr tried to rein in his speed. Ted tried to let 'em run. McGee broke us down and built us up again—one good habit at a time.
Each evening, we'd swill Snake River lagers, watch tele films, or practice avalanche-beacon drills to prepare for the last day's treat: a foray led by McGee, co-instructor Nate Carey, and Jackson Hole guide Dave Miller into the gaping, corn-choked bowls south of the resort. Standing above No Shadow couloir in Cody Bowl, I fought the pre-drop-in willies, focusing my mind on my newly tweaked stance. To my left, Ullr charged a steep shoulder. McGee jumped off to my right. I gulped…then followed him, dropping eight feet onto the sun-softened crud below.
The willies melted away the moment I landed. I'd revisited the basics of freeheel and—to my utter delight—my muscles did what my brain asked. Which is a nice feeling. I only wish that Ullr could have experienced it too.
THE METHOD: McGee helps you fine-tune your skills as a master clockmaker might repair an old timepiece: delicately removing individual parts, and carefully cleaning and polishing each one before reinstalling them. Of course, the onus is then on you to recalibrate the whole machine, and get your reconstructed skills working in synch.
THE UPSIDE: A destination camp like this one draws a diverse crowd. Any time you gather different habits and provincial idiosyncrasies in one place, it makes drinking—I mean skiing—together incredibly fun. (It helps that the first après pitcher each night came compliments of Jackson Hole.)
THE DOWNSIDE: I tried, but I simply couldn't get my legs under me again after my half-pound buffalo burger, spinach salad, and calamari at the Snake River Lodge and Spa. The real bummer, though, was that the "Spa part was just a teaser: Only lunches and dinners were included. Shed a tear for me. I really could have used a massage.
TAKEAWAY: I returned home with an arsenal of new tricks to help keep my bad technique in check. Commit McGee's suggestions to memory and you can continually self-service your own skiing. "I love skiing well—when things become effortless, he says. "And paying attention to the basics helps you get there.
JACKSON HOLE TELEMARK STEEP & DEEP CAMP STUDENT/TEACHER RATIO: 4 to 1FITNESS LEVEL: HighABILITY LEVEL: Intermediate to expertCOST: $795. Includes lift tickets.LENGTH: Four days CONTACT: jacksonhole.com
TELEMARK STEEP CAMP; ARAPAHOE BASIN, COLORADOCost: $60 a day; $100 for two days; plus $30 lift tickets Length: 1—2 daysSkill Level: Intermediate to advancedSynopsis:: This fast-paced camp is geared toward strong tele skiers who want to lose the groomers and toward solid alpine skiers who want to know what all the hype's about. Contact: a-basin.com
ALF ENGEN SKI SCHOOL TELEMARK CAMP; ALTA, UTAHCost: $486 (lift tickets not included)Length: 3 daysSkill Level: Intermediate to advancedSynopsis: Jimmy Ludlow is one of the country's best tele instructors. His camp includes video analysis, off-piste powder skiing, and gate running.Contact: alta.com
NORDIC SKI INSTITUTE; CANMORE, CANADACost: $900Length: 7 daysSkill level: Intermediate to expertSynopsis: A 15-minute helicopter ride drops you at the Blanket Glacier Chalet, where you'll learn to skin up and ski down glaciers, wide-open bowls, and steep tree runs.Contact: 403-678-4102
GASPÉ TELEMARK CAMP; CHIC-CHOCS MOUNTAINS, QUÉBECCost: $825Length: 4 daysSkill Level: Intermediate to expertSynopsis: Tele guru Dickie Hall will make you a better skier through customized games and video critique. The Chic-Chocs help make this camp worth writing home about.
ULTIMATE GROOVE WOMEN'S TELE CAMPS; MOUNT SUNAPEE, NEW HAMPSHIRECost: $190 Length: 1 daySkill Level: Beginner to expertSynopsis: For two-time National Telemark Champion Heather Paul, telemarking is a vehicle, used to explore the groove in life. Learn how to freeheel, or get even groovier with her secrets for better technique. Contact: ultimategrooves.com