12 Women Who Pioneered Snowsports In Canada
Research shows that, “women make 80% of the buying decisions in a family, regardless of their background.
Telemark skiing dates back hundreds of years to Sondre Norheim of Norway, but it was Holly Blefgen who introduced Canada to the benefits and beauty of the technique, the ‘tele gospel’, or as she calls it, “skiing for life.”
Thousands of skiers up and down the Niagara Escarpment – and across Canada – know Holly Blefgen as the woman who taught them how to have fun skiing again.
Holly fell in love with skiing while teaching herself to ski on the golf course behind her parent’s Toronto home, as a young girl. “The desire to go downhill has always been there, it’s inside me … we had a golf course close to us with a great tobogganing run so I was determined to teach myself to ski. I would climb up the hill and ski down, thrilled by every run!”
Many years later, in a happenstance situation on a back-country trip in Banff National Park in the early 1980s with a group of friends, she had her first exposure to Telemark. “It snowed over four feet and it was magical,” she said. After struggling to get down the hill on X-C equipment and resorting to ‘alpine maneuvers’ and becoming a snowball, Holly was struck by the technique, especially the visual presentation on the snow. “What captured my heart were the lines in the powder.” When asked their technique, their response was ‘Holly, that’s the Telemark’.
Couple that with an accident while teaching alpine skiing, when an errant pupil skied into her and shredded her MCL, Holly was in need of a new way to rehabilitate her knee without the stress on her joints of alpine skiing.
Both of these moments had a significant and lasting impact on Holly and changed the course of her career direction. Over the coming years, Holly and her partner, Steve Kahn, would eventually start Ski Telemark, a mobile instructional snow school and fleet which offered the first alternative to alpine skiing at Ontario’s resorts and private ski clubs. “These opportunities sometimes just happen – right place, right time, right people.”
With a degree in clinical kinesiology from the University of Guelph, Holly was able to further embrace her unique interest in ‘human movement’. So as Holly and Steve continued to master the craft – picking up some suggestions from US tele legend, Dickie Hall at Mad River Glen, Vermont – they took their Ski Telemark training on the road, and travelled from resort to resort in southern Ontario and Québec, exposing more and more people to this traditional approach to downhill skiing.
Said Mark Kinoshita, a longtime telemark instructor and former Canadian team captain for World Cup and World Championship ski races said, “My introduction to the sport of telemark skiing came in 1987 when my sister showed me a newspaper photograph of a telemark skier – it was Holly. After one lesson with her, I was hooked and bought a complete system of leather boots, skinny skis and bindings immediately … soon my brother and sister were on telemark skis too.”
Holly and Steve’s program also gained commercial interest, with companies such as General Motors, Volkswagen Canada, Nissan Canada, Rossignol, Patagonia, Sierra Designs, Spyder and many others, providing sponsorship and support for their events and efforts.
Their approach was grounded in the enjoyment of skiing, but it came, at times, with trepidation. “One of the first clubs to host us was Osler Bluff, the club had us demonstrate to their board of directors that we could ski safely and in control. So that opened the door when they approved and accepted our services it was wild, the level of interest and enthusiasm to learn something new and different from alpine came alive.”
Mastering the telemark style turn is a liberating experience for skiers, says Holly, matching elegance, technical and aesthetic excellence. “That repertoire of skills allows you to go anywhere and everywhere with total freedom,” she said.
Over the next 40 years the couple would provide telemark instructional programs for many public and private clubs, including: Chicopee Ski Club, Centennial/Earl Bales Ski & Snowboard Centre, Mt. St. Louis Moonstone Resort, Alpine Ski Club, Beaver Valley Ski Club, Brimacombe Ski Club, Caledon Ski Club, Craigleith Ski Club, Devil’s Glen Country Club, Georgian Peaks Ski Club, Mansfield Ski Club, Osler Bluff Ski Club and Skyloft Ski Club. In addition, they would also serve groups of the High Park Ski Club, Toronto Ski Club, Five Winds Ski Club and West Wind Touring Association.
Holly and Steve were also the founders of Telemark Ski Canada and Telemark Ontario, which paved a path for Canadian skiers to race in international sanctioned telemark competitions.
Ultimately, Holly’s goal has always been to educate the public in their knowledge and understanding of their own physicality on-snow, to derive enjoyment of on-snow activities and embrace winter. To acquire the sensitivity of rhythm and balance is to achieve the mastery of the slopes. Most of all to help Canadians re-engage in winter fun to “ski for life” with one set of skis to do it all.
“It’s been the ultimate joy,” Holly said. “Who would have ever of thought we could adopt telemark skiing and bring it to Canada to allow people to experience the freedom, the beauty and the mastery of skill on one set of skis.”
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