Park City business owner makes U.S. Telemark World Cup team
June 29, 2018
Birk Larson, a resident of Midway and a Park City business owner, was recently named a member of the U.S. Telemark Ski Association's World Cup team for the first time. Larson is in a unique position, even among athletes competing at the World Cup level: for one, he's 38.
He started racing Telemark in 2009 and made the U.S. team by 2011 – something he didn't expect at all – then this spring, the International Ski Federation recommended the International Olympic Committee adopt Telemark skiing as an exhibition sport for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.
"There's always a chance," Larson said of the likelihood of him going to the Olympics, "but when it does come around I will be in my 40s, and there aren't a whole lot of top competitors in their 40s."
Larson first came to Park City in 2003, after graduating from Montana State School of Architecture. He arrived in his Jeep Cherokee, sleeping in the back during the first months of a job he got at Deer Valley Resort.
In 2005 he flew to New Zealand to work as a snowmaker at Coronet Peak.
"I brought Telemark skis down there, and figured if I was going to learn I might as well just go all in," he said. So he spent the winter skiing on Telemark skis, a trend that continued when he returned to Park City the next year.
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Telemarkers say the sport is the closest thing to the original form of skiing, which was developed in the Telemark region of Norway hundreds of years ago. In Telemark, skiers' heels are not bound to the skis, and they turn by dropping into a lunging position.
"It's a little more work than turning in the Alpine world, but I find it to be a really flow-y, and almost like riding a snowboard where each turn has a little more fluidity to it," Larson said. "It's like you're riding one large edge."
In competitions, the races draw from the sport's roots and includes elements of the disciplines it eventually evolved into: Nordic and Alpine. Competitors race down a course alone or head-to-head, going around gates similar to an Alpine course. They also ski off jumps and drops and have to pole around flat or uphill sections. If jumps and turns are not skied correctly, skiers are penalized, with additional seconds tacked onto their times.
In 2009 a friend on the U.S. national Telemark team recommended Larson try racing, so he entered the U.S. Telemark National Championship race in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
"I kind of got it handed to me," he said. "I didn't do very well, but I loved it."
The next year he went to the U.S. nationals in Whitefish, Montana, where he performed better and was subsequently offered the opportunity to compete as an alternate on the U.S. team at the World Cup races in Steamboat and at Keystone, Colorado that season.
"To have only been in the sport for a couple years at that point and to be offered the position to go onto the biggest stage in the world for this sport, it blew me away," he said.
He ended up racing in seven races over two World Cups, finishing in the mid-20s out of 30 competitors in each of them.
Since then, Larson has been on the national team, competing at domestic World Cups and races across the U.S. Over that time he said the prospect of an Olympic Telemark competition has been a frequent topic among competitors.
"It's always been on everyone's mind," he said. "Every time we host a World Cup, everyone is talking about it, and thinking about it."
He said an Olympic debut would help bolster the sport, which, despite its long history, has a small niche in the modern skiing community.
This winter, Larson will travel to Europe for his first overseas Telemark World Cup races. Because racers receive no funding from USTSA, and generally have few sponsors, Larson finances his skiing through his day job as owner of Inov8 Architecture.
"It definitely is a labor of love," he said of competing in the sport.
Whether he's still competing on the World Cup circuit in 2022 or not, he said just having the opportunity to compete at a high level was an unexpected and fortunate turn of events.
"It was never something I thought I could compete (in) at this level," he said. "I never thought I would have the opportunity to race a World Cup, especially in skiing, and to have that opportunity relatively late in life, in a pretty amazing sport, it all came together for me."
He has set modest goals for this season, which are centered around improving and to staying healthy, so next year he can do the same.
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