Photo by Skip Brown
Telemark skiing is one of the oldests form of skiing, dating back to Norwegian soldiers who traveled by ski during the Middle Ages. Fluid and seemingly effortless when executed properly, telemark skiing is trademarked by the flexibility both to climb mountains and rip downhill, all thanks to an unrestricted heel. Though not nearly as commonplace in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic as it is farther north, a community of telemark skiers is still dropping knees in our region one turn at a time.
BRO talked with two freewheelin’ free-heelers from the Deep Creek Lake area in Maryland— Matt Fithian and Ben Scoville—who have been ripping up the trifecta of Pennsylvania-West Virginia-Maryland backcountry for over a decade.
BRO: Let’s start off by telling our readers a little bit about your personal background in teleskiing.
Matt Fithian: My parents got me into skiing and riding. We did it on the weekend and after school. It was a great way to recreate in Maine. All of my grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles—everyone skied. Even now we have family reunion ski trips. I started on alpine and then traded them for a decade in the early ‘90s to snowboard. Terri Peterson taught me to teleski at the Adventure Sports Institute of Garrett College about seven years ago. But I guess in all, I’ve been sliding down mountains for over 18 years.
Ben Scoville: I started skiing for real back in 2002. I was in my mid-20s and realized sliding downhill on frozen water was as fun as sliding downhill on liquid water (aka kayaking).
BRO: What’s one of your earliest memories of skiing?
MF: Definitely a firelight torch ski with my dad at May Mountain in Island Falls, Maine. It was awesome to ski with a torch. I loved looking back up the hill and watching the torch skiers—looked like a fire snake sliding down the mountain.
BS: First memory: I was flying down the bunny hill at Ski Roundtop.
BRO: Any bad wipeouts?
MF: The worst wipeout I ever had was when I was 10 or so. The tip of my snowblade stuck into the lip of a jump, which then propelled me forward. I did half a front flip and landed on my face. Broke my ski goggles, blood was everywhere. It was pretty bad.
BS: Hit a head wall from Giant Boulder on to Giant Steps at Seven Springs. Had a pretty good head of steam. Blew up when I landed and tomahawked down the hill. Because I had teles, I stayed right on my feet. Ended up having a ski tip shred open my paddling pants (yes, paddling pants, they kept the snow out). from just above my boots up to my upper thigh. Almost ended up singing in the boys’ choir.
BRO: What about signature moves? I’m sure you guys have some.
MF: 360s and nose grabs.
BS: Hunting down a stash of pow in some esoteric corner of a ski mountain.
BRO: What’s the hardest part about learning tele?
BS: For me, it has been learning the transfer of edges. The flow from one edge to another is not an easy thing to master. There are so many things to put together. To link turns perfectly is a beautiful thing.
BRO: Describe teleskiers in one sentence, granola stereotypes aside.
MF: Gear nerds, go-getters, and stewards of the land who love dark beer.
BRO: True or false: once you go tele, you never go back.
MF: True—I’ll tele and I’ll board but I won’t go back to alpine.
BS: I’d say false. There are some out there who went back to the fixed heel. Sometimes there are just circumstances that dictate you have to get real and fix the heel. However, I haven’t found those circumstances yet.
BRO: Not that teleskiing is any reflection of a man’s manliness, but does length really matter?
BS: There is such a thing as the perfect fit.
BRO: Boxers or briefs? With that much movement in your turns, I’m sure this has to be an important decision.
BS: Boxer briefs?
MF: Boxers. But really tele guys wear polypro.
BRO: Who’s your telehero?
BS: Chipper and his boys. When you watch those guys ski, it is watching the embodiment of the purity of skiing. Uphill and downhill!
BRO: Teleskiers are pretty smooth. Have any good pickup lines?
BS: You dropped that knee right into my heart. You free that heel and I’ll free your heart. Teleskiers believe in free heels, free love, and earning turns. That takes commitment. Isn’t commitment sexy?
BRO: Surely with pickup lines like that, you work up quite an appetite earning turns and batting away the ladies. What’s your post-turn fuel look like?
MF: Steak, salad, mashed potatoes, and a glass of water.
BS: Cheeseburgers. Or Hellbenders’ burritos.