Telemark skiers say it’s a whole new skiing world when you free the heel.

Trapped in downhill skiing boots and bindings, the heel is rendered immobile and powerless. But offer freedom of movement in a telemark boot, which connects to the bindings only at the toe, and suddenly it’s less like downhill and more like dancing.

“(Telemark) takes skiing to almost a movement of dance coming down the slope,” said Biff Higgison, co-director of New England Telemark. “People watching will say that — ‘You looked like you were dancing.’ It’s a very fluid, very athletic way of skiing.”

To introduce telemark skiing to folks who have, until now, skied heels down, New England Telemark is bringing the Maine Telemark Festival to Sunday River on Saturday. The event will include free lessons in telemark skiing, equipment demos, a mogul competition, raffles and an after party. To take advantage of the freebies, skiers have to buy a regularly priced lift ticket that day at Sunday River’s Whitecap lodge.

Telemark skiing has its perks, according to Higgison. “It’s personal. It’s a lot more fun.” It’s also more of a workout than downhill, for folks looking to get fit, and gives skiers access to the back country, where alpine skiers don’t often get to go.

Alpine skiers tend to be the most likely to cross over to telemark, said Higgison, but lessons are open to all levels of skiers, even the “never evers.”

Getting New Englanders to try telemark is the goal of Higgison’s group. “Most of our clinics are filled by beginners and beginner/intermediates,” he said. “They’re always our biggest clinic participants.”

So experience isn’t a requirement, he said. “If you’ve never skied before, we’ll teach you.”

Private lessons are also available from $50 an hour.

No advance registration is required for a free or private lesson. Skiers can sign up the day of the festival at the Whitecap lodge.

Lessons will run at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and will include crossover clinics for alpine skiers coming to telemark, master clinics for telemark experts to improve technique, and mogul, kids’ and women’s clinics.

“We have found some women like to have women instructors. We cater to that,” Higgison said.

Skiers who want to try out new equipment can take advantage of free product demos. Equipment will be lent out for two-hour intervals, so skiers have time to really try out the skis.

For experienced skiers who don’t mind flaunting their skills for prizes, there’s the Eastern Telemark Mogul Championship at 12:30 p.m.

The competition will take place in front of the Whitecap lodge on the Tempest trail. Competitors can sign up at the New England Telemark table in the lodge.

The skiers will try to impress a panel of judges with their tricks, turns and ability, and Higgison said there also will be good-natured “goof” prizes.

Awards will be given out at a ceremony and party from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Shipyard Tavern. Attendees can enter raffles to win skis, bindings, clothing and other freebies.

Legal-age festival-goers can also take advantage of the free drink ticket to sip an apres-ski Shipyard — and perhaps raise a glass to pay homage to the power of free heels.

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

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