Telemark skiers hit Mt. Ashland slopes

Mt. Ashland celebrated its 13th annual Screamin' Tele Lizard Classic on Saturday, with eager telemarkers coming from all over Southern Oregon to participate in the event. The race, part giant slalom, part skills showcase, was organized specifically for telemark skiers, with the bulk of proceeds raised going to support the Special Olympics.

Telemark skiing is a technique in which bindings are fastened to skis only at the toe. This "free heel skiing" accentuates carves by placing the heel flat on the downhill-sided ski, while the upslope ski is pulled under the skier, with a flexed knee and a raised heel. This configuration of the skis makes skiing form essential.

This year's race theme was Star Wars, and the mountain was filled with plenty of aliens, Wookies, X-Wing fighters and even a few different Princess Leias.

"I am wearing the Princess Leia slave costume, and my friend Karen is Princess Leia with the cinnamon bun hair," said Rochelle Warner of Central Point.

Meanwhile, Rochelle's husband Adam was dressed as what he called a "Trekkie." He wore a red plaid collared T-shirt with a pocket protector. He had a fake plastic butt sticking out the sides of his snow pants, with Rochelle's name tattooed on one cheek. Sporting a pair of giant tighty-white underpants pulled over his head and coke-bottle glasses, Adam was ready to race.

"The visibility in this thing is not too good," said racer Michael Thirkill, who spoke from behind an enormous green space monster mask, complete with white blood-covered fangs and reptilian-green acrylic coursing across its square cardboard head. "My brother-in-law made this probably about 15 to 20 years ago for his kid in elementary school. I got the bright idea that if I got some Great Stuff expansive foam and embedded a bicycle helmet inside of it at just the right angle, I could strap it under my chin and ski with it, so we'll see."

This year marked both Thirkill's first Lizard Race and his 31st year telemarking.

"I've been looking at the Screaming Lizard for years, but I never entered," he said. "Every year I would say I was going to and every year, something would come up. Finally, I just cleared my plate."

While the race itself was exclusive to telemark skiers, they weren't the only ones that dressed up for the occasion Saturday afternoon.

"I came here to heckle the telemarkers," joked alpine skier Augie Schilling, who dressed in his "Wild Man" costume, a green suit with teal-colored moss stuck to him in every corner. "They've got that whole 'Free The Heel, Free The Mind' thing, well, this is proof that you don't have to have a free heel to have a free mind! I've done the race in the past and the best part is that we're all family."

Participants enjoyed cheering on their fellow free-heeling friends, as the race was all about having a good time on the Mt. Ashland slopes.

"This is not quite as serious a race like the other races of the season," said Mike Dadaos, Mt. Ashland's special events manager. "The 'tele' skiers are really fun-spirited. They don't take it as seriously as some of the downhill racers do. It's pretty casual."

"Mountain Peek," is a weekly column about the stories of the Mount Ashland Ski Area. To contact Peter Koelsch, email him at

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