Dickie Hall puts a decidedly different spin on the term "televangelist." While most of America might picture Jimmy and Tammy Faye Baker, voices raised, mascara running, skiers know Hall as New England's patron saint of the telemark turn. A quarter-century ago, Hall married downhill, or alpine skiing, with Nordic skiing, jump-starting today's thriving telemark movement. These days, the 51-year-old Waitsfield, Vermont, resident runs the North American Telemark Organization (telemarknato.com), making free-heel turns every chance he gets.
NESJ: Describe the transition from out-of-work ski bum to telemark evangelist.
DH: [Laughing] It's the same. What transition? I used to be out of work, but when I turned 50, I started calling it semi-retired.
NESJ: When did you first "rediscover" telemark?
DH: It's a long story. In a nutshell, I was on ski patrol at Killington as a teenager, and then discovered Nordic skiing in the 1970s. I saw the telemark turn in an old ski book from the 1940s, and started teaching it to my Nordic customers. I'd take my woodies up to Killington on powder days, and started bugging manufacturers to make equipment that had edges and boots that were more substantial.
Then, to get the word out, I found a ski area that would let me have a telemark ski school. I traveled all around Vermont - Killington, Sugarbush, Stowe. They all laughed at me. But Ken Quackenbush at Mad River Glen he said, 'That's a great idea.' So we started a telemark school, about 1979. I was working for PSIA as the certification chairman/chief examiner for Nordic, and was trying to convince them to take on telemark as a real, legal way to ski. They weren't interested, so I left PSIA and started North American Telemark Organization.
NESJ: Did the obstacles to telemark surprise you.
DH: You have to remember that, in the beginning, there wasn't a sport called telemark skiing. It was an ancient turn that was long forgotten. The second big barrier was that there was no gear. You'd show up at a ski area on a powder day or a corn day, and they'd look at you like you were a nut-ball. The ski school director at Sugarbush told me 'You can't take cross-country skis up there.' He thought I was a crazy guy hell-bent on hurting himself. At Stowe, I got thrown off the lifts.
People were saying, 'Why would we want to go all the way back to the beginning, when we've got all this great alpine gear now? Why would we want to take the heel binding off, get on light gear, and flop around?' Which is what we did. There was a lot of falling back then …
NESJ: Why were you enamored with this ancient turn?
DH: I grew up an alpine skier, and I loved the thrill of coming down a mountain on skis. Then I discovered the magic of Nordic skiing, the sense of adventure and fun, the freedom to go up Mount Washington, or across Lake Champlain. However, there was a big chunk missing, and that was coming down the hill. The best you could do was a snowplow. I was lamenting and missing the thrill of coming downhill on skis.
There had to be a way to connect alpine and cross-country. Lo and behold, I found the old picture of a telemark turn. This guy was on Nordic skis, and the caption said, 'Not used anymore.' I went right outside, did my first telemark turn, and said, 'Here is the completion of this sport. To be able to have the freedom and fun of Nordic skiing, the adventure of going anywhere in any direction, and then being able to enjoy coming down the mountain with the control and thrill of alpine skiing.' So that became my mission, to develop that as a sport and to go out and spread the word.
NESJ: Then you really are the Johnny Appleseed of the telemark movement?
DH: Absolutely. I started teaching the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Adirondack Mountain Club, L.L. Bean staff, Eastern Mountain Sports, REI – I went after anybody, any organization, retailer or manufacturer. The first pair of skis that I had with edges was a pair of skis from the Finnish army made by Karhu.
The next year, there were three companies making skis with edges – Karhu, Rossignol, and Fisher. I got some money, and I went to each state, from Maine to West Virginia, and ran a telemark festival. I also went out to Colorado, to Copper Mountain and Breckenridge, and to Sun Valley, Idaho.
NESJ: Looking over the past 25 years, are you surprised by telemark's success?
DH: I'm not done yet. What would I do when I'm finished, go skiing? That's what I do anyway ...
NESJ: Seriously ….
DH: It makes perfect sense that this sport has taken hold like it has – it's here to stay. And I have a tremendous feeling of satisfaction about that. This sport is the perfect fit for the modern outdoor enthusiast, because it's so versatile. You can ride the lifts at Mad River Glen all week, and enjoy powder skiing in the glades, and when it gets crowded on the weekends, you can ski up Camel's Hump and find untracked powder.
It's been really wonderful to watch it grow. For years, I just thought it was going to be a bunch of knucklehead old hippies who were doing this crazy thing. But now it's actually become very mainstream. And there's another phenomenon - we're getting people in our clinics who went from alpine to snowboarding to telemarking.
NESJ: That's because post-holin, to be blunt, stinks.
DH: Exactly. Snowboarding looks like a lot of fun, but when you take it into the backcountry, it's like mountain biking without a chain – you've got to push it up the hill to ride it down.
NESJ: A quarter century ago, could you have imagined telemark skiing taking you all over the world?
DH: No, absolutely not.
NESJ: The most beautiful place you've ever skied?
DH: I've been fortunate. I've skied in Italy and Japan, Ruth Glacier on Denali in Alaska. But my backyard is my favorite, believe it or not. Nothing makes me feel better than looking outside my barn office and seeing my skis with the bindings up, waiting for me.
North American Telemark Organization
PO. Box 44
Waitsfield , VT 05673