It was an enormously complex procedure, maybe even if all the participants had been wearing shoes.
The skiers of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Telemark program were determined to ski down the Preview run at the Steamboat Ski Area arm in arm Wednesday morning for a photo shoot - 10 skiers freeing their heels in unison as they coasted to the bottom of the hill.
Things didn't go as smoothly once the idea hit the snow. A skier in the middle lost balance and fell, dragging another to the ground. The formation exploded, and skiers swarmed everywhere.
Another try yielded similar results, skiers on the edges falling away that time as four or five in the middle hung tight for a few extra yards.
It didn't work, and the experiment in formation skiing was squelched. The giggles, however, were not, and the skiers laughed the entire time as they glided to a stop, their fallen comrades finally catching up with similar wide grins.
"We like to have fun," program coach Shane Anderson said later, wearing a wide smile of his own.
Goofy as they can appear, the Telemark program is home to some of the most decorated skiers in the Winter Sports Club. Five of those who tried so desperately to ski down Preview arm in arm hold spots on the national Telemark skiing team.
Their skills will be on display this week as the U.S. Telemark National Championships return to Steamboat Springs. The action begins Thursday and continues through the weekend.
"It's intense," said Lorin Paley, a veteran of several national championships. "It's also great just to get everyone together.
"There's some pressure this year just because it's our hometown. We want to do well."
Making the team
Program skiers are quick to point out that making the national team in Telemark isn't the same accomplishment as making the U.S. team in more traditional disciplines such as Alpine or Nordic skiing.
The accomplishments of local Telemarkers still stand out - of the six locals skiing with the national organization, four have day jobs as students at Steamboat Springs High School.
Paley, 16, is on the A team along with Anderson. Erika Walters, 16, and Ben Paley, 17, are on the B team with Steamboat skier Ken Recker. Jeffrey Gay, 15, is on the development team.
"We push each other," Lorin Paley said. "We have a great coach, and we're committed to it."
The pursuit of Telemark glory might seem odd when compared to the goals of other young competitors in the Winter Sports Club.
Team slots will be up for grabs again at this weekend's event.
There's no Olympic gold at the end of the free heel rainbow. There's no spot in the X Games and no college scholarships.
But the skiers prize the sport's laid-back nature. The kind of pressure that is always behind the race for FIS points in regular Alpine skiing is nowhere to be found.
"Sports has never been a big money-making thing in my mind," Lorin Paley said. "It's something you get to do for fun, and this way you get to put on a show for everyone watching.
"I just like it."
Some relish the challenge of something different - "There's only so fast you can go without getting your ticket pulled," Walters said.
Other said they appreciated the reduced joint stress that Telemark skiing offers.
Making the Telemark team offers plenty of thrills, too. Steamboat's skiers returned last month from a two-week trek across Europe where they competed in Telemark World Cup events.
A different kind of sport
The differences between Telemark ski racing and other forms of ski sports run deep. Even the events that sound the same - giant slalom, for instance - aren't.
Bode Miller skis a giant slalom course with as many as 70 gates. Telemark giant slalom involves gates, as well, but there's a jump in the middle of the course.
A classic Telemark race also includes a jump, plus an icy, sharp turn built into the snow and a lengthy cross-country skiing section.
Skiers haul the long, unwieldy skate-ski poles the entire way to make the final stretch easier.
"It's almost more like an obstacle course than an Alpine race where you're just trying to go down the mountain," Anderson said.
None of Steamboat's teenage phenoms have plans to make a career out of Telemark skiing.
They hope to continually better their position on the national team until college calls, then race whenever possible.
That process starts Thursday.
The four-day event opens with the classic race down Sitz and See Me at the Steamboat Ski Area. The giant slalom event is Friday on the same course, a sprint classic event is Saturday at Howelsen Hill, and the competition wraps up Sunday with a slalom at Howelsen.
- To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 871-4253 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org