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Celebrating the Free Heel Life at Powderhorn Resort

Celebrating the Free Heel Life at Powderhorn Resort
Guest post by Kristin Lummis who blogs at

I was standing next to a blue balloon and feeling nervous. Not a bad nervous, but the kind of nervous one feels after raising one’s hand to answer in the affirmative the following question: “Who feels like learning how to ski bumps on their teleskis?” I was nervous because while of course I feel like learning how to ski bumps on my teleskis, I wasn’t sure I could actually do it.

It turns out I could, sort of. Well, at least I made a good start of it at the 6th Annual Telefest at Powderhorn Resort. I was one of about 100 teleskiers out for a good time, lots of laughs, a beer or two and the opportunity to improve our skills. According to Kate Belknap-Bruchak, the Ski School director at Powderhorn, the resort began hosting Telefest six years ago when they noticed more and more free-heel skiers on the mountain. “We thought it would be a cool thing to do,” states Belknap-Bruchak. “For several years after I started tele-ing, I pretty much knew everyone who was telemarking. Suddenly, I began to notice more and more people I didn’t know. Telemark skiing was clearly growing in popularity, so we decided it was time to hold a Telefest.”

The first year’s event drew about 25 telemark skiers. This year about 50 people participated in clinics, with 12 hearty souls competing in the early morning Uphill/Downhill race. And this doesn’t count the teleskiers who showed up to ski on their own and then enjoy the aprs ski party and costume contest with everyone else.
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But back to the balloon. I was standing next to a blue balloon because that is how we divided ourselves up for the clinics. The yellow balloon was for complete beginners, the green balloon for those most comfortable on green slopes, the green and blue balloons together, well you get the idea. I ended up in one of two blue balloon groups with five other intermediates willing to tackle bumps. Our instructor was Pete from Purgatory, a PSIA telemark and alpine instructor who has a night job as a musician. While the rest of us were shivering on a chill, grey morning, wearing our warmest ski coats, he was decked out in a yellow Hawaiian shirt with a disco ball around his neck. Perhaps when you come from Purgatory, you are just naturally a little bit warmer than the rest of us.

Anyway, as we rode up the resort’s quad chair, I peppered Pete with questions. Who are you? (Pete.) Why are you here? (Because we telemark instructors stick together and help out at each other’s Telefests.) How in the heck am I going to turn in moguls? (I will teach you.)

One of the first thing Powderhorn skiers will tell you when you ask about skiing at Powderhorn is that the lifts are really slow. They are. There is no way around this fact. Usually, a Powderhorn skier will phrase it something like this. “We have great glade skiing, tons of powder, all sorts of fun terrain, but really slow lifts.” All aspects of that statement are true. And while a slow lift can seem at first like a bummer, there are some advantages. One advantage is that if you are in a lesson your instructor can dispense a lot of tips on the ride up the mountain. The other advantage to a slow lift is that if you happen to be with friends, you can talk and talk and talk and then ski and ski and ski. None of this stop mid-run to chat stuff at Powderhorn.

The first thing Pete had us do was practice sideslipping over moguls. “What?!” We all wondered. “Why in the world are we side slipping. Side slipping is something annoying people in over their heads do to get down the mountain.” Well it turned out there was method to Pete’s madness and by having us practice our side slip technique, he actually taught us how to slide through the end of our turns and buy ourselves enough time to make a tele- turn in the bumps. The slide technique keeps us out of the backseat, with our momentum moving forward, and allows a tighter turn. Once we’d mastered slipping, we started turning. As he said at the end of the clinic “First I had to mess up everything about your skiing, but it all fits back together in the end.” Well, sort of. I hope with some more practice, and possibly a few more Telefests, it will at some point all fit back together quite neatly.

In the afternoon, my husband showed up on his teleskis, but with skins attached. No taking the slow lift up for him. Instead, he chose one of two uphill routes on the mountain and started to climb. Unlike some resorts, Powderhorn doesn’t require uphill travel to take place early in the morning or restrict it at all throughout the day. Uphill climbers are asked to stick to one of two runs, Bill’s Run off of the Take Four lift from the base, or Red Eye off of the West End lift. Just stick to the right hand side of the run as you climb (or skier’s left) and you are welcome to wear yourself out.
Now while Powderhorn is by some measures a small mountain, it really isn’t that small, especially when you are climbing up. With 1,600 acres of permitted terrain, 600 of which are groomed, the resort has a vertical drop of 1,650 feet. When you are climbing uphill, that takes about an hour, which is considerably slower than the slowest lift. But to each his own. Some like the lifts, some like the climbs, but at Telefest, everyone liked — as I heard one person describe it — “the free heel life.” When I find out exactly what the “free heel life” is, I’ll let you know. But until then, I think it has something to do with funky clothes, slipping through turns and quite possibly, a disco ball or two.
When You Go….

Powderhorn isn’t the only Colorado Resort with a telefest this winter. If you missed your opportunity for the “free heel life” at Powderhorn, check out the websites for Ski Cooper and Purgatory.

Powderhorn is a popular “local’s mountain” with festivals, town races and special events all season long. During the past two seasons, the resort has emphasized its three terrain parks, having built an “all natural” park with features made out of local aspen trees in the Top Cut Park, a large jump in the Maverick Park and a variety of rails, boxes, wall ride and rollers in the Rustler’s Park

Although much of the clientele is local, Powderhorn definitely welcomes visitors. For more information on skiing and lodging at Powderhorn, please visit their website. Powderhorn has its own lodge, the Inn at Wildewood, and a variety of condos, some of which are part of timeshare giant, RCI. Other lodging options are found in nearby Palisade at the Wine Country Inn and at a number of large national chain hotels, such as Doubletree and Courtyard by Marriott in Grand Junction. You can find more information on local lodging at the Grand Junction VCB website.
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There is a restaurant and bar in the Wildewood at Powderhorn and in the day lodge, but otherwise dining options are limited. Coolers and sack lunches are allowed in the day lodge lower level. The nearby town of Mesa has a nice coffee place, Blink, and a Mexican restaurant, Mesa Grande. Palisade and Grand Junction have many more choices, including Inari’s in Palisade that has an eclectic menu combining Asian and American favorites with an emphasis on local ingredients and the Red Rose cafe that somehow successfully marries Italian and Vietnamese cuisine.