Ski Telemark – Holly & Steve!
Holly Blefgen and partner Steve Kahn own and operate Ontario’s Ski Telemark Ltd.. It was really exciting to catch up with Holly and talk about their service-oriented business of 32 years!
Holly began skiing at the age of 8 after receiving a pair of skis as a Christmas gift from her parents. She taught herself how to ski on the small hills at the Donalda Club’s golf course near her home. She then progressed to skiing at both The Don Valley Ski Resort & Don Valley Golf Course in Toronto. She remembers her first instructor Twyla with much love and admiration “she gave me the joy of skiing and I will never forget her.” She also recalls skiing with the Podborski brothers at Don Valley!
During her teenage years Holly spent many a weekend in Collingwood “I had good friends whose families were members at Craigleith and Alpine, I used to come up and ski the weekend, it was a lot of fun.” Holly went on to University and during these years she would travel West to work and ski during winter semesters. “I worked at the first Japanese restaurant in Banff, they loved our beef, beer and snow, I experienced an incredible cultural exchange as a waitress.” She also recalls hitchhiking with her girlfriend (which she clearly states in this day and age would not be a good idea) and travelling throughout the Western United States to ski “at every ski resort we could find, it was a great adventure.”
In 1981 she went backcountry touring with a group of friends to the Bow Hut, an excursion that proved to be a turning point in her life. After a fresh snowfall, her friends dropped into the powder and left her behind as a “big snowball”. When she finally managed to catch up she discovered her friends had danced their way down the mountain – telemarking! This vision conceived an idea that would enrich her life and that of others many years later.
It was also right around this time that she became an alpine ski instructor. Unfortunately while she was instructing an adult beginner skier, he ran into her, causing a tear of her medial collateral ligaments in the left knee. Ouch. Her doctor advised surgery may not be successful and was unsure if she would ever ski again, this got her thinking about her experience in the Rockies! Perhaps she might not be able to alpine ski but what about free-heel skiing? This backcountry memory with her injury outcome, inspired her to take up the sport of telemark skiing!
Eventually Holly graduated from University with a degree in Kinesiology. She landed her first position at Sunnybrook Medical Centre as a researcher for the new trauma unit. After developing the Trauma Unit’s database she moved to the Addiction Research Foundation. During this period, her collaborative research demonstrated that “If a person’s behavior is to change, it has to come from within.” This outcome greatly influenced the course of her lifework. Holly moved forward in a new direction to help people who were actively seeking positive growth in their lives. This inspiration took roots and blossomed into the mobile ski school concept of Ski Telemark!
The business was launched in 1984 and the first club to take on the program was Osler Bluff in 1985. Once they accepted and approved the concept of an alternative form of snowsport it was only a matter of time before other resorts followed suit! Holly and Steve pitched the business model to General Motor’s and they sponsored the program for several years. Ski Telemark has been privileged to work with many corporations over the years with strong sponsorship support until the mid 1990’s (Unfortunately, many sports suffered the loss of corporate sponsorship support for respective programs). At this time they modified their business model to become self sustaining and entered the international adventure marketplace. Ski Telemark has thrived because Holly and Steve adapted & evolved to address changing market needs and climate. Love for the sport, clientele and having a great instructor team is the driving force behind everything they do, they live to deliver excellence in service which is a rare combination that results in success & growth.
Holly says that one of the many advantages of free-heel skiing is the weight of the equipment on the legs. “We want to keep snow sports alive for everyone, the skis, bindings and boots are half the weight of alpine equipment, it’s great for anyone who might be dealing with chronic injuries or general body wear & tear.” The lack of a fixed heel is also quite empowering and creates a natural full range of motion to work the skis. Alpine racers can really benefit from the free-heel experience “As well, we are firm believers in cross over, there is much greater foot sensitivity, the boots offer a more comfortable fit which results in being able to feel the snow and engage the performance of the ski. These sensations are important. We often hear ski racers say, “that’s what my coach was talking about, I can feel the ski and snow under my foot.”
Another goal of the company is to make skiing accessible to as many people as possible. They hold clinics at ski hills throughout Ontario and Holly is especially proud of the work they do at Toronto’s Earl Bales Ski & Snowboard Centre. “We want to bring free-heel to the city and to a broader demographic. We recently taught a woman to ski who had emigrated to Canada who had never skied before. Her son was registered in an 8 week program and she decided to give it a try. Yesterday, Holly found out that she attended her weekly instructional clinic despite the pouring rain, we were so proud of her accomplishments.”
Holly and Steve are incredible athletes, mentors and ambassadors for their sport. They have carved out a legacy in Canada for Free-heel skiing which includes helping to launch the not for profit Telemark Ski Canada organization, Telemark Ski Ontario (race series) and of course their own business Ski Telemark. They have managed to turn their passion into a livelihood which is a beautiful testament to the commitment they have for the sport and their clients.
“Free-heel is the zen & yoga of skiing, it’s a beautiful sensation, you can feel an internal rhythm on the snow and there is a fluidity, a finer line of balance, its mastery carving the arc of the oldest turn in the history of skiing.”
For more information you can visit the following links:
Telemark Ski Canada Canada Télémark
Telemark Ski Ontario