Paul Parker. The man, the myth, the legend. If anyone is qualified to speak on the current state of freeheel skiing, it's Mr. Parker. His background? One of the early American tele skiers in the early 70s, author of Free-Heel Skiing, first edition 1988 Chelsea Green Publishing, second edition 1995, The Mountaineers Books. Member PSIA Nordic Demonstration Team 1980-88, developed the first backcountry ski product line at Chouinard Equipment (now Black Diamond) in the early 80's, worked with Tua in development since those days, about 1985, innovating ski developments that became classics: Toute Neige, Tele Sauvage (very wide and very sidecut for its day), Magnum Sauvage, Montets, Mega, Mito, Excalibur Plus, Big Easy, etc...
And, of course, he conceived the first plastic tele boot, the Terminator. On a napkin in a restaurant over a bottle of Nebbiolo.
After years with Patagonia, Scarpa, and Black Diamond, Paul now works as a Ski Product Manager for Garmont, Tele and Randonnee development for Tua, and a Brand Consultant for Marmot.
Descender: You've been seen a lot of freeheel evolution. What's your take on the current freeheel vibe?
Paul Parker: In the big picture I'm glad to see freeheel--and skiing in general--get some attention. Skiing is cool again. Unfortunately along with that attention--always--goes hype. Personally I don't care for that part; too much hype can obscure the soul of it. But peel that hype away and I think that there is a lot of good energy today in freeheel, a lot of skiers following tele as an alternative, a challenge, many of the reasons that we've been doing it for years. I just hope to keep sight of that.
D: How has the culture of telemark skiing changed over the years?
PP: We're talking about 25-30 years, so telemark has changed at least as much as our American culture has changed. In those days our generation was full of anti-establishment sentiment, Woodstock, hippies, the Vietnam war. Telemark had practical roots, being good transportation to backcountry powder, a viable survival technique on scrawny little skis and boots. But I think it was attractive as well because it was alternative, another way to buck the establishment. Alpine was very flashy and hyped up then-it seemed tastelessly so-and telemark was a sort of cool hippie alternative. Not for everyone. Today tele is more mainstream, for sure, with much less of that tie-dye feel. But it's still different, still cool, still not for everyone. From the culture standpoint, the not for everyone is important, and that hasn't gone away.
Photo: Scott Cramer
D: In your book "Freeheel Skiing" you say that skiing on skinny skis can be like "driving a 55 Ford with bald tires - skiddy, unsure, and imprecise" Now that the skis aren't so skinny, but freeheeling is still skiddy, unsure and imprecise, what's the new analogy?
PP: I wrote that for the first edition, which was published in 1988. So it was written in the mid-80s. When gear was like driving on bald tires: soggy leather boots, skinny skis. Pretty skiddy. Just putting a buckle on the boots was a revolution. We got a lot done on that gear, but there were those of us who occasionally - against the tele dogma - went out on Alpine gear. I wanted to feel that precision and control and then try to apply it to tele. That's what I've looked for in my gear development through the years, and today, tele is very precise, very high-performance. Some would argue that it's lost some of its soul with our new hardware. But on the other hand, what you can do on this new gear is awesome. For me, being able to go anywhere you want, with an element of precision and control, has been the goal.
D: You discuss the importance of setting goals in your book. What are your goals for this season, and long term?
PP: One item on my agenda is simply planning trips, setting them as goals, something to look forward to. Early in the season I sit down with my work schedule and plan a couple of fun trips, usually to Canada and Europe, to places that are "on the list". Climbing peaks for turns, Haute Route type trips. When I'm out skiing through the winter, those upcoming adventures inspire me to identify what I should be thinking about technique-wise to make them more fun. This sort of skiing involves a lot of junk snow skiing, so I'm thinking about using the right turn for the right terrain and snow, skiing with a pack, conserving energy. For the past number of years I've been working a lot on parallel turns, as they are really efficient effective with a pack. These days I'm swinging back toward a few more teles. Challenging snow is one of my favorite kinds of skiing, and I like being able to switch techniques at liberty.
D: Do you think telemark skiing benefits from a "scene"?
PP: As a market, yes, absolutely. People want to be a part of scenes. Especially hip, niche-type scenes like tele. Personally, I don't care for it, because I'm a reclusive person and avoid scenes. So I'm torn. Professionally the scene is good, personally it's not my gig.
PP: What do you think when you see guys pulling 50ft front flips on this
PP: I'm impressed. Very impressed. I am blown away by today's athleticism in skiing. I can't do it, I don't particularly want to do it, but I do think it's very cool.
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