Jason Krueger explains the basics of telemark skiing Friday at Steamboat Ski Area. Krueger was one of the driving forces behind the addition of "Free Heel Fridays" telemark lessons to the ski school's offerings. The daylong clinic has been available to skiers on a week-to-week basis, making it more flexible than traditional programs that require a longer commitment. The final Free Heel Friday session is this week.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Jason Krueger explains the basics of telemark skiing Friday at Steamboat Ski Area. Krueger was one of the driving forces behind the addition of "Free Heel Fridays" telemark lessons to the ski school's offerings. The daylong clinic has been available to skiers on a week-to-week basis, making it more flexible than traditional programs that require a longer commitment. The final Free Heel Friday session is this week.

Ski school's new offerings targeted at local learners

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Ski school offerings

Free Heel Friday

A one-day group telemark clinic aimed at beginners and more experienced telemark skiers. The last clinic is at 10 a.m. Friday. The cost is $89.

Men's Club Monday and Women's Club Wednesday

A high-level ski clinic aimed at competent local skiers looking to sharpen their skills. Includes First Tracks and a morning with the top instructors in Steamboat. Men's clinics are Feb. 2, 9 and 23 and March 2 and 9. Women's clinics area Feb. 4, 11 and 26 and March 4 and 11. The cost is $89 per clinic.

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Sylvie Piquet watches as Steamboat Ski Area ski school instructor Marc Sehler points out the parts of a telemark ski binding and explains how to clip the ski on. Piquet decided to take telemark lessons after a friend picked up the sport.

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Ski instructor Jason Krueger helps Jeannie Visnick pick up the art of telemark skiing Friday at the Steamboat Ski Area. Visnick was one of seven skiers who signed up for last week's Free Heel Friday. All the skiers were plenty competent on Alpine skis, but each chose to learn to tele for a different reason. Visnick hoped to follow in the footsteps of her husband and her son, who skis with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club telemark program.

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Free Heel Fridays, a telemark ski clinic that ends Friday, is one of several programs the Steamboat Ski Area's ski school has introduced this winter. Men's Mondays and Women's Wednesdays start in February, offering high-level skiers the chance to ski with the school's top skiers without having to shell out for a private lesson.

— There's nothing on the slopes of Mount Werner that scares Brenda Smith.

The ferocious skier has been teaching her craft for 12 years. She and her husband love snow so much, they spent several years teaching skiing full time, traveling to Australia during the northern hemisphere's summer months.

None of that could help her Friday, however, and her legs quivered like Bambi in the woods even on the most gentle of Steamboat Ski Area slopes.

"The hardest part has been not letting that fear take over," Smith said moments later while riding the Christie Peak Express chairlift with the objects of her frustration, a pair of telemark skis, dangling from her feet. "It's weird being a beginner again."

Smith was one of seven skiers who participated in the Steamboat Ski Area's Free Heel Friday, a weekly telemark skiing clinic offered this winter by the ski school. The program was initiated in December after years of urging from veteran ski school instructors, including Jason Krueger.

"I noticed Crested Butte and Steamboat were probably the two resorts with the largest group of resident tele skiers," Krueger said. "It seemed odd our company wasn't trying to address that population. I approached them about it a few years ago, and this year, management was open to the idea, so we started Free Heel Fridays."

Alliteration gone wild

Free Heel Friday is just one of a number of ideas the ski school has drummed up to help drum out a slow season. The telemark program was the first such effort and was successful enough to warrant a return for every Friday in January. The idea was to offer lessons in the popular style without forcing anyone to commit to a long, five-week program or fork over the considerable sum a private lesson demands.

"We thought there was enough emphasis on tele right now, enough people wanting to do it, and we were right," ski school director Nelson Wingard said. "We wanted to give people options that allowed them to come as they please, something for someone who maybe just wanted a day or two of lessons."

Men's Club Monday and Women's Club Wednesday, which are set to begin in February, will follow a similar format.

For the same $89 that bought a day in the Free Heel Friday clinic, participating skiers will be able to ski with the ski school's top instructors. The program runs from 8 a.m. to noon and includes First Tracks, a program that usually costs $50.

What it doesn't include is any standing around.

"It started with a group of guys I ski with, directors and vice presidents from here at the company. They asked if I'd go ski with them," Wingard said. "After the first day, they said, 'Wow! This isn't what a ski lesson is usually like.' We will ski hard, then talk on the ride up the chair. We don't want to have big, long times where we stand around and give feedback."

A wide audience

The second-to-last Free Heel Friday brought together a wide cast of characters. All were experienced - even expert - Alpine skiers, but all struggled on the safe slopes at the bottom of the ski area.

Small children skiing without poles blew through the group without discrimination, but each skier came with different goals.

Smith said she wanted to learn to telemark to help her conquer the backcountry.

Sylvie Piquet opted for the lessons after a friend learned and recommended it, and Jeannie Visnick wanted to learn to keep pace with the rest of her family. Her husband can tele, and her son competes with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club telemark program.

"I have been a little stagnate with my Alpine skiing and have reached a level where I'm not going to get any better at it," Visnick said. "I figured I might as well learn something new. It's easier learning to do this because I already learned to ski."

Diane Capps also attended the lessons to help her ski with friends and family. She wasn't looking to go any faster, though.

"I love Alpine skiing, but the people I ski with only want to ski groomed blue runs. I think those are really boring," Capps said. "This will give me something more interesting to do when I'm with them."

Free Heel Friday returns for the final time this week. The $89 lesson runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The class often is split to accommodate more experienced telemarkers looking to refine their turns and beginners who still are learning how to snap on a ski.

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