Martha Burley is an enigma. The Australian-born free ride competitor originally moved to Canada after college to ride snowboards in half-pipes. Since then she has completely changed gears and found harmony dropping knees and skiing uphill. We were able to get a few moments with the SCARPA athlete to figure out a little about what makes her tick.
How does an Australian wind up being a podium-finishing free-heeled, Freeride competitor living in Fernie, BC? I tried to learn to ski in Australia when I was in college. I had no clue what to do, so I just threw myself down the mountain and hoped for the best. There were a few bruises along the way but overall I managed to come out in one piece. From there, I got into snowboarding and went to Canada because I heard they had good half pipes, and that’s what I really wanted to ride.
Instead, I found deep powder, which was okay too, and somehow found the place with the best snow in Canada: Fernie! [That is where] I tried telemarking—I thought it might be faster to get around in the deep snow (and it looked like a lot of fun)—and the cycle started again: throw yourself down the mountain and see what happens, try not to fall too much, and try and work out how to turn both ways in control. When you are at the top of a mountain and the powder turns to ice or rock you need to know instinctively what to do. The best thing about telemarking is you can’t be lazy; it’s a continuous learning experience.
Big Mountain competitions are a way for riders to get together and challenge themselves on the mountain, and encourage and learn from each other. [We] hike to the top of a peak, and then go down one by one, choosing our own path down the mountain depending on how we like to ride—fast and big cliffs, or jibby jibby—everyone is different. Judges watch with binoculars, and give scores, which depend on how difficult your chosen line is and how well you ride it.
My dream is for these competitions to be really inclusive so you will see snowboarding, skiing, telemarking, sit skiing and even the occasional monoski altogether. Everyone has their own style and it’s so nice to watch, and especially nice to be a part of.
How does NTN (New Telemark Norm) vs. other binding systems work for you in predominantly alpine-dominated competitions?
I converted to the NTN system last year when I dialed in the right cartridge to the right boots (TX Comps with green springs), and immediately had so much extra control over my skis compared with any other binding system I have used. Yes, I worked out how to have control with other bindings, but with NTN there is an extra level of security; you need a lot less energy to control your skis, which leaves more strength for more skiing. The main thing is that you can transfer power directly to the ski instead of losing power to the slight boot twisting effect, which I always get in other binding systems. Everyone has their own style and preferences though. I am just stoked to have this extra control—and free pivot for easy ski touring—without having to sacrifice one for the other. In competition it still comes down to how you ski on the day, but I think having equipment you trust definitely helps.
What boots are you using for comps? Why?
I use TX Comps for comps; the name says it all. The plastic is nice and stiff, and I get a lot of control from these boots. But I am excited to finally try the new Women’s TX Pro this year, and it could end up being my boot of choice. Girls’ boots always seem to fit me a lot better. I find there’s usually less wasted room around the ankle, which works for my foot.
How did ski mountaineering races become a part of your overall training?
When I was in Switzerland we used to look down from the gondola at all the people ski training uphill with spandex and little skis, and then riding the gondola down to save their legs. It was the strangest thing I had ever seen. We started to name them “Up People”, because they would only ski uphill. Then I worked out that their races are a bit like “fun runs”, as there will always be serious people that train lots and sprint to the end to beat their ideal time, but also people just out for a jog to get some outdoor activity in a nice environment.
I love mountains and skiing, and the exciting thing about ski mountaineering races is you ski up and down mountains from one village to the next, so you actually get incredible views and experience all of the mountain. I still call them “Up” races though because you do spend most of the time going uphill.
What’s the allure and/or rewards you get from the free heel binding, the free heel turn?
Riding down mountains is amazing on all forms of equipment, but telemarking is my favorite because you are doing something all the time. It’s a bit like running down the hill, and I like running. If I try downhill skiing it feels like I am just standing, and it’s a bit confusing (mostly due to lack of technique I’m sure). The other awesome thing about free heel equipment is I only have to carry a pair of skins to be able to go up with my bindings, which is pretty convenient.
What are your upcoming goals for this season?
I read somewhere that the ultimate goals for an expedition are something like, in this order: everyone comes back alive and healthy, everyone comes back friends, and you all reach the peak/destination. So looking at the season as some sort of expedition, my main priority is to simply return with my friends alive and healthy.