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‘Tele Devo’ youths set sights on the Worlds

Wendy Tucciarone/For the Steamboat Today
Madi McKinstry flies down Howelsen Hill Thursday during a telemark race in Steamboat Springs.
Joel Reichenberger

— When the Telemark World Championships come to Steamboat the week of Feb. 23, many local youths will consider it a chance in a lifetime.

It will be a chance to see the world’s best telemark racers right here in our own country, in our own town, on our local hills. This is only the second time that the race has been held in the United States. The fact that it is being staged here in Steamboat is testament to the success of telemark skiing in our community.

Enter Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC). Now in its 14th year, SSWSC’s telemark program is the largest in the state if not the country, and it is the only club in North America with a formal telemark racing program.



It has produced many of the country’s top telemark racers, including current top World Cup athletes Tanner Visnick and Madi McKinstry. Both will be racing in the World Championships on their hometown hills.

Visnick and McKinstry began their telemark racing careers in SSWSC’s telemark development – “tele devo” – program. This year’s 18 tele devo participants range in age from 9 to 14 and in ability from never-evers to those just one season shy of joining the prestigious telemark race program.



With such a broad range of ages and abilities, the coaches stay on their toes – luckily, that’s easy since their heels are not locked down.

Three coaches with diverse backgrounds and personalities divide the group according to ability, and skiers shift around as the season and their skills progress.

Coach Thomas Walker has been skiing for 60 years of which the last 12 have been telemarking. A former ski instructor with 40 years of experience, he is certified by the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) in both Alpine and telemark.

Coach Wendy Tomlinson has been teaching skiing since 1992 and also is certified by PSIA in Alpine and telemark disciplines. She has coached at SSWSC for 15 years, eight of those with the telemark program.

Coach Rusty Davison has been telemark skiing for more than 15 years and coaching with SSWSC for more than 10 years in both the Alpine and telemark programs. Davison comes from a competitive freestyle skiing background and competed on the Telemark Big Mountain/Freeskiing Tour for several years.

All of the tele devo skiers have opportunities to ski with each of the coaches, resulting in a group of well-rounded athletes by the end of the season.

The participants learn the most modern techniques of telemark skiing, a discipline that is ever-evolving. The coaches skillfully navigate their groups through a variety of terrain — groomed slopes, trees, bumps, steeps and race courses — keeping the youth engaged while providing instruction. Goals are to have fun and acquire telemark skiing confidence. In short, the tele devo program is creating the next generation of telemark skiers in Steamboat and beyond.

The group skis at Howelsen Hill one evening each week and on Mount Werner all day on Saturdays. Two additional programs, Telemark Devo+ Race and Telemark Devo+ Big Mountain, allow participants extra training sessions.

The Devo+ Race program is for those more advanced devo skiers who would like to experiment with racing. New this year, the Devo+ Big Mountain program is for those older and more advanced who do not want to race but want to continue to improve their skills.

“We believe the Big Mountain program will really take off,” said Davison, who has led the charge working with this group. “This is for telemark athletes who love skiing the entire mountain…and beyond. In addition to skiing all types of terrain within boundaries, we’ve done some backcountry avalanche training, and we plan to ski with clubs at other mountains to experience a variety of terrain. A highlight will be when we travel as a group to the Big Mountain Telemark Championships in Grand Targhee in late February.”

A few times each season the coaches film the developing skiers, and the group reviews the footage together, complimenting and critiquing each other.

“The comradery in this discipline is really unique,” Walker said. “We see it weekly in our small groups. We see it when the race group skis with the devos. We’ll see it when the world’s best come to Steamboat for the Championships. Perhaps because it is a smaller discipline, the athletes are very close and personal, and they are very supportive of each other at all levels.”

Skiers who master the skills in the devo program oftentimes move to the Telemark Race program. Under the direction of Ty Upson, who is also the current coach of the U.S. Telemark Team and overall director of SSWSC’s telemark program, these athletes train with the best and are proving to go on to be the best.

One of the highlights for both the devo and race groups is when everyone skis together. The devo skiers try to emulate the racers’ techniques; the racers share words of wisdom with the devos.

For more information on SSWSC’s telemark program or to talk with the coaches about enrolling for next year, call 970-879-0695 or visit http://www.sswsc.org.

This column was written by Wendy Tucciarone, a frequent contributor for the Routt County Riders’ “Spoke Talk” column. Tucciarone is also the mother of a tele devo athlete.


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