In march of 2001, telemarker ben dolenc (doe-lence) was about to begin his run in the slopestyle competition at the U.S. Telemarking Association's freeskiing championships in Crested Butte, Colorado, when he noticed something odd.
"I was the oldest one competing," says Dolenc. "And I was 24."
That's a major shift from the makeup of the sport of telemarking 10 years ago, when participants were more middle age than young punk. But this is a different telemark universe, and Dolenc is one of the sport's brightest young stars. As a sponsored Nike ACG athlete, Dolenc may be the only free-heeler in America who actually gets paid to tele. Not just free skis or pro-deal tele boots, but cash-an unheard-of sponsorship commodity in the ski world. But Dolenc earns his keep.
"We had a program up in Seattle a couple weeks ago, and Ben stayed for over an hour afterward signing posters for every single kid," says Nike ACG communications manager Nate Tobecksen. "He's into elevating not just his name or our brand but the sport itself."
Dolenc moved to Leadville, Colorado, in 1998 and spent two seasons patrolling for Copper Mountain. It was within Copper's burgeoning pipe-and-park scene that he flourished, becoming one of the first telemarkers to hit the pipe consistently. By the following year, he was the sole free-heeler on Copper's freestyle team. And before long, the filmmakers were calling.
"One of Ben's biggest strengths," says Josh "Bones" Murphy, producer of the Unparalleled series of telemarking movies (Dolenc has been featured in all three), "is that he's balanced. He may not be as strong a big-mountain rider as BJ Brewer or as strong in the pipe as Max Mancini, but he does all of it well."
Dolenc's creativity extends beyond freestyle ski moves. He is currently studying graphic design at The School for Visual Concepts in Seattle. "I love doing anything that involves new ideas and concepts," he says. "Besides, you've gotta have some plan for when your body starts falling apart."
Born: February 18, 1977, Boulder, Colorado
Big-Mountain Plans: Dolenc spent most of the past year competing in freestyle events before heading to Bella Coola for the filming of this year's Unparalleled production: Soul Slide. Influenced by Seth Morrison, Dolenc says he'd like to do more big-mountain freeriding because "that's where the sport is headed."
"Here's a story...": "Ben knows how he'd like to be filmed, but he also knows what's important, overall, for storytelling," says Warren Miller cinematographer Chris Patterson, who followed Dolenc around Europe last season. "Plus he's got a great loud laugh, even when he's laughing at himself."
Recovering Snowboarder: Unlike many top telemarkers, Dolenc doesn't have an alpine skiing background. He started cross-country skiing when he was three, and he snowboarded for seven years before taking up tele.