30 September 2023

Let's lurk [UPDATED]

In the course of my life there have been several things that I knew I would love the very first moment I saw them. That list includes:
  • my wife
  • our daughter
  • our home
  • riding singletrack on a mountain bike
  • making sweet dropped-knee Tele-turns
  • paddle-boarding gracefully across a lake
  • and skiing with a lurk

I've written about many of these subjects elsewhere on this blog. But never before about lurking. And if I'm being honest, as with the other things listed above, lurking has pretty much changed my life, entirely for-the-better.

It all started when I watched this video at some point in the fall of 2022. 

The video features a guy named Marshell Thomson testing Bishop Telemark's San Juan Stick during the 2021 season. The moment I saw him shredding the backcountry near Silverton on his Tele-skis, carving big turns with a single, long, two-ended ski-pole called a lurk, I was hooked.

Sadly, by the time I caught the bug, Bishop's website showed that the $275 (plus shipping) San Juan Stick was sold-out(1).

So, for a time, early in the 2022-2023 ski season, I just experimented with bamboo, which I had easy access to as a volunteer with the Courtesy Patrol at Arizona Snowbowl.  I spend a lot of time running bamboo around the mountain anyway, so in the process I just started holding it like Thomson had in his King of the Lurk video, often lashed together as a small bundle with a tele-strap, as I transported it to various projects around the hill.  Despite the 'boo's inherent flexibility, which isn't a desirable quality in a ski-pole of any kind, I could nonetheless tell that skiing Tele with a lurk made a lot of sense, as it equipped me to power my rear foot more and lean back into the hillside to initiate better turns and carve more aggressively and naturally into the ski's turn-radius.

Given that I wasn't going to be able to get my hands on one of Bishop's Sticks, I began searching the Internet for other fabricators of lurks, and likewise preparing to adapt a plan to hack together a lurk of own if my searching proved fruitless.  Which it nearly did. 

Not including an ancient, one-ended, peeled and seasoned natural pine Altai tiak ($44.75 plus shipping), which I didn't find nearly as enticing(2)  because, well, it is not a lurk it's a tiak, I could find only a couple legitimate lurk makers other than Bishop selling their products online: TreePole ($187 plus shipping), and an Etsy shop called MountainSports ($149 plus shipping) owned by a guy named Dennis. 

I've gotta be honest: TreePole's natural peeled pine lurk looked a lot like Altai's tiak, just longer and with two-ends rather than one, which I wasn't too stoked on for nearly $200.  However, I really liked the machined and lathe-turned look of Dennis' MountainSports lurk a lot, and was compelled to purchase it, not only because it was less expensive than the TreePole, but also because it shipped with three different tips plus a set of baskets, a sticker for my beer-fridge, and also featured a machined aluminum decoupler mid-pole, similar to Bishop's design (video).

Dennis at MountainSports makes lurks in three colors and three sizes, 7 feet, 7.5 feet, and 8 feet. I'm six-feet tall and tend to set my traditional adjustable ski poles at about 115-120cm when I'm Tele-skiing in the area. But when it came time to pull the trigger on purchasing a lurk, I wasn't really sure what length to get. Fortunately Bishop has a brief "Lurk Sizing" tab on their San Juan Stick page, which recommends that someone like me should use a 100-inch lurk, which is a bit over 8 feet end-to-end.  In order to be sure I got the right size for me and the kind of Tele-skiing I like to do, I eventually ended up ordering both a 7.5 and an 8 footer from MountainSports, which came to just a few bucks more than one San Juan Stick.

As a 30-year (1993-2023) Tele-skier, I am stoked to give my 100% tried-and-tested five-star recommendation to the lurks I purchased last season from MountainSports.  They're made of poplar wood, so they're not too heavy. They're super stiff.  And they're pretty dang rugged. I've whapped mine on more than a few trees, fallen on top of them a time or two, and basically put both through a season-long series of unforgiving on-the-job trials. They've never failed me.

Skiing with both lurks during my shifts over the course of some 75 days on my local hill during the 2022-2023 season, I can tell you: most days when I'm working with Snowbowl Courtesy Patrol riding my Blizzard Rustler 10s, I like the lighter weight and somewhat faster tip-to-tip operation of my 7.5 foot pole. However, on bigger, deeper days, or whenever I'm on my wider Blizzard Rustler 11s, the 8-foot pole makes tons of sense.

Everyone asks, "What is that thing," when I'm riding up the chair with my lurk. I like to make up a different purpose for it every time... "It's a wizard-staff for casting spells; you shall not pass!" or "I'm training for the summer Olympics in kayaking and my coach wants me to ski with a paddle." or "It's a COVID-distancing stick, please stand back." or "It's a porcupine-prodder for coaxing them back into the woods when they wander out onto the runs." Stuff like that.  People always go, "Ha, right... seriously?" and then I explain what a lurk is and why, especially as a Tele-skier, I like to shred around the mountain with it.

As I said before, Tele-skiing with a lurk puts you in an more advantageous position to use the slope angle and your momentum to engage solid turns, stay in the sweet-spot on both your turning edges through the entire turn, and then initiate confident, precise, fast transitions turn-to-turn as you work your way down the hill.  Once mastered, it really is an amazing sensation, flipping the lurk left and right, like a kayak paddler does with their oar, as you rail the skis' edges around the long-pole's tip.  

Some practice is required to transition your Tele-skiing style from traditional poles to a lurk. And, while it's definitely most ideally suited to open runs and big open terrain (video), it doesn't really matter if you're working it on hard-pack groomers, a few inches of early-morning freshies, or deep, deep pow. You learn pretty quickly to smear it across the fall line on the piste, and rudder it like a canoe paddle in the deeper conditions; it doesn't punch into the snow if you're doing it right, which is why standard ski pole baskets are unnecessary. The ball tip (see image below) is what works best, and the one with the pointed end is particularly nice when polling across the flats becomes necessary.

Even in the trees (video), the lurk is a great snow-tool with few, if any, liabilities, particularly for an experienced Tele-skier who's practiced with it a bit.  In fact, I think it's enhanced my meadow-skipping just as much as it has my on-piste activities. Remember: when you're using the lurk correctly, both in and out of the trees, you're placing it on the hillside behind and beside you, just a bit above your turn (not in front of you and your turn as with standard ski poles), so it doesn't get in the way of sticking to your path in and around the trees.  

Transitioning quickly between left and right fall-line turns in the trees, however, requires the most practice with the lurk and demands that your situational awareness spatial monitoring systems be set to optimal. More than once I've gotten sloppy or inattentive and clipped a tip on a tree or a low hanging limb which, depending on your speed, will cause the lurk to recoil in your hands with little warning. But again, it's not that hard to figure out how to avoid these situations. With a little practice, tree-lurking quickly becomes just another skill to master and put in your Tele-skier's toolbag.

I'm also convinced the lurk helps you reduce Tele-fatigue and conserve energy, too. Because of it's rigidity, you learn to put some of your weight onto it as you're dropping down into your turn. Then, as you're unweighting your body mass toward the bottom of your turn, you can push against the stick to raise your body upward into a more upright position to complete your turn-transition, taking some of the strain out of your legs.  

Using the lurk in this way has helped me extend my days as well as my ability to get down long sustained runs from the top to anywhere on the hill capably and quickly without my legs blowing up. I've got a lot more gas in my tank since switching to lurking full-time. My six-run days have now become 12 to 15 and sometimes 20+ run days, almost always with enough juice leftover to get up and do it all again tomorrow, which for me equals nothing less than stoke-factor: maximum!

Bishop's site echo's my observations, citing the following as "Lurk Benefits" for beginner to expert Tele-skiers: 
  • Creates a strong upper body posture
  • Allows you to lean into the hillside and carve aggressively
  • A solid tool to improve back foot weighting issues or losing balance

Turns out, the aluminum coupler that both MountainSports and Bishop install in the center of their lurk sticks isn't all that useful, at least not to me.  Initially I used it a lot when loading the lift, so that I could shove the decoupled poles beneath my thigh as I've always done with my standard ski poles.  But in fairly short order, after a few days getting used to lurking, I found that this "extra step" really wasn't necessary. 

These days, when loading the chair, I just cradle the lurk inside the elbow of my arm, raise the rearward tip enough that it clears the back of the seat and any footrest apparatus, and seat myself when the carrier comes around as usual.  I hold the lurk between my body and my arm, gripped with one hand, as we travel uphill.  It's easy.

Finally, after thorough experimentation, I've settled on using the thermoplastic ball-shaped tip with the stainless point which Dennis provides with every order. With it installed on both ends of my lurk I'm ready to "pole" to and from the chair when we load/disembark just as well as the skiers with traditional poles, and of course, much better than the one-footed snowboarders.

Update: March 2024

The other day, I bought an almost-new carbon-fiber 3pin.ski lurk from a buddy for, like, a buck-fitty. It's long (102") and light (about 1 pound) and (super) stiff.  

Sadly, I'm getting a 404 error when I ping the 3pin.ski webpage today, so it looks like maybe they're not available any longer, which is too bad. 

I think it's rad.


1. When this post was first published in late September 2023 Bishop's website indicated there were just 9 San Juan Sticks in-stock at that time prior to the start of the 2023-2024 season.  As far as I can tell, MountainSports lurks are all custom made-to-order, therefore Dennis appears to have a more than abundant supply!

2. I did end up purchasing an Altai tiak, just to try it... And, I was right: it's okay as a snow-tool, but definitely not as intuitive or inspiring as a lurk. A tiak works more like a drag-brake, slowing and controlling the skier's progress down the hill. But it's not a lurk, which is thing for making better and more satisfying turns and transitions. The tiak hangs in my garage alongside my ski quiver and looks interesting, but I rarely if ever use it.

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. -- Ed Abbey