By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent
If the country’s first rope tow wasn’t enough to put Woodstock on the map, next month’s FIS Telemark World Cup will surely do so.
The Jan. 19-22 event at the Suicide Six Ski Area will showcase the world’s best telemark ski racers who will be navigating courses with Giant Slalom gates, distance jumps, banked turns, and a skate section. Over 70 athletes from more than 11 countries are expected to attend.
“We are thrilled to have the FIS Telemark World Cup event,” said Tim Reiter, Suicide Six Ski Area manager. “We’ve embraced the event primarily because it is a way for us to showcase not only our mountain and the operations team, but also our community.”
The 1,200-foot host mountain not only boasts the well-known ski resort but also, on its backside, the place where the first rope tow was installed on a hill located on Gilbert’s farm. The rope tow was originally powered with a Ford Model T engine before a more reliable electric motor was used by former Dartmouth College ski coach Wallace “Bunny” Bertram who allegedly once joked that to ski down the other side of Hill No.6 would be suicide. Two years later, in 1936, the resort opened using this name.
Now, just over 80 years later, the U.S. Telemark Ski Association, the national governing body of telemark skiing in the country, has successfully bid to host two FIS World Cup telemark events in central Vermont in January 2018. The first three races will be held at Suicide Six.
“Suicide Six was a clear choice for us for a number of reasons,” said Garret Long, USTA president. “The Face is an amazing hill for a telemark race. The steep first pitch makes for a fun and technical gates section while the roller just up from the finish area is a perfect place for a jump. It is as good for spectators as well. Easily accessible and nearly fully visible from the finish, it almost feels like it came into existence for our race formats.”
Named after a region in Norway, telemark skiing is a technique that combines elements of Nordic skate skiing, ski jumping, and Alpine racing, Long explained.
Next month, the events will consist of a training day on Friday morning, Jan. 19, followed by three days of telemark races.
Saturday, Jan. 20, will kick off with an inspection of the course by the athletes, allowing them to see the course up close and to plan for and visualize the run. During inspection, athletes also practice going off the jump, helping to set the distance line for the race and to go through the Reipelokke (banked turn) to get a feel for the shape and contours of the bowl, Long related.
“When racers launch off the jump in the race, they’re required to travel a certain distance in the air (often about 20m at the World Cup level) or else they’re assessed a three-second penalty,” said Long. “Upon landing, competitors must also smoothly and immediately drop into a telemark stance or receive an additional onesecond penalty,” said Long.
At about 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, the first run will get underway. Saturday’s format is a Sprint Classic – a two-run event with moderate length, generally about a 150m drop and a skate section designed to take 20-30 seconds.
After lunch, a second but briefer inspection will occur before racing begins again. The times for competitors for both runs are combined and any penalty time, either from the jump, landing or turning gates, is added to get the racer’s total time that will determine his/her ranking for the day, Long explained.
Sunday’s events are similar but add an additional level of excitement for both racers and spectators.
“The parallel sprint incorporates all of the same aspects of the Sprint Classic but pitches racers against one another head-to-head,” said Long.
On a shorter course, starting midway up the Face, competitors will complete a shorter version of the Sprint Classic, the results of which will be used to seed the competitors in the Parallel. The top 16 women and top 32 men will then compete in single elimination runs in a bracket format to determine the fastest racer.
“As part of this course, athletes race down parallel courses, off the same jump, back into gates and then into one banked turn together before the skate to the finish,” said Long. “While no intentional contact is allowed, racers will often need to jostle for position in the Reipelokke, and occasionally a competitor will end up in the safety netting surrounding the berm.”
Monday will have the same format as Saturday, Long noted, again from the top of the Face. All events will be concluded on this day.
Telemark’s strong European participation is not quite matched in North America, Long related, although the merger of telemark freeski and racing under the USTSA banner are helping to raise the broader interest in telemark skiing in the U.S.
“These World Cup events are part of our efforts to show people what telemark racing is and how enjoyable it is to watch and also participate,” said Long.
FIS is currently working to support the creation of a Chinese telemark team ahead of the 2022 Olympic Games, he added.
This article first appeared in the December 28, 2017 edition of the Vermont Standard.