Free-Heel Force

February 2004

Ben Dolenc is driving telemark skiing to new heights.

The kid is about 10 years old, dressed as a smaller version of Tanner Hall or J.P. Auclair or any of freestyle skiing's new-school masters. He stands at the drop-in above the first jump at the Copper Mountain terrain park. Reflected in his goggles is the image of Ben Dolenc, who is now skiing backward, or "switch," down the ramp toward the jump. Arms held out to his sides like a bird prepping for flight, Dolenc looks behind him as he approaches the lip, body coiled for the jump.

On take off, Dolenc rotates his arms from right to left to start a lazy 360-degree helicopter spin, described in a high arc above the snow, before landing again in switch. An appreciative cheer rises from the small group gathered on the hill.

"He's on the Copper freeride team, isn't he?" the kid asks. "I saw him in that Warren Miller movie." He then drops in himself and launches the same trick, albeit with not quite the same amplitude. The Switch 360 is a good trick, sure, but several people on the hill are launching bigger, more audacious air. Why the cheer for Dolenc? Because he did it on telemark skis, the drop-knee variant of alpine skis without heel pieces on the bindings.