Telemark Skiing is one of the most distinct forms of skiing that has intrigued both onlookers as well as skiing enthusiasts. The sublime grace with which Telemark skiers glide through the snow is a sight that is both beautiful and elegant.
The technique is a far cry from the carving and slashing of snow that is common in alpine skiing. Even the most accomplished alpine skiers tend to chip away at the snow when turning or sliding. But Telemark Skiers bring a more refined and agile way of skiing through the snow. It’s almost like they become one with their snowy environment as they gently slide and glide down snowy mountainsides.
So, what is Telemark skiing exactly? Is it a new technique of skiing? How is Telemark skiing different from regular skiing? Is it hard to learn Telemark skiing? These and many other similar questions usually come up when you come across this method for the first time. And you’re not to blame. A lot of people who are occasional skiers aren’t familiar with Telemark skiing, and naturally have questions about the technique, skill, and advantage of this type of skiing. Today, we will put those questions to rest by giving you a comprehensive understanding of what it is and how it’s different.
The Telemark technique
Telemark skiing is a method of skiing where your heel is not held down or bound to the skis. Unlike with Alpine skiing, only your toe is bound to the skis. This setup gives you the freedom of movement to ski upwards or even across the terrain.
Tele skiing, as it’s called sometimes, can allow skiers to perform a variety of maneuvers that are more graceful and agile. The gear includes either wax or skin that goes underneath the skis. This attachment gives you the traction to climb upwards or ski across mountains too. So, you can just as quickly go back-country skiing with the same set of skis and boots you use in resorts that have lift-services.
Initially, Telemark skiing sounds like it’s a new and radical method of skiing that goes against conventions. However, Tele skiing (or simply Tele-ing) is not a new phenomenon. It’s been around and evolving for a long time. To understand it’s purpose and structure better, it will help us to go through a quick background on how Tele skiing came about.
A Brief Background of Telemark skiing
Skiing as a means of travel and recreation is not a modern creation. Whether it’s for hunting, combat, or traveling in winter, skiing methods have been practiced for millennia. Ancient skiers would have made use of poles or spears to guide their movement as they descended mountain slopes. This crude yet innovative method of travel has evolved gradually into the modern recreational sport we know today.
Tele skiing is a combination of the regular Alpine skiing as well as the traditional Nordic technique. Back in the mid-1800s, this new technique was fashioned and demonstrated by a man named Sondre Norheim. Norheim would make his turns by deeply bending his knees as his abdomen faced straight downhill. His skis would be thrust outwards and facing the direction of the turn. It gave him more mobility and freedom of movement to not just maneuver, but pick up speed on command. His binding used birch-root to hold down his toe while leaving his heel free to rise and fall. This binding technique would later be identified as Telemark binding. Norheim operated mostly from the traditional Telemark region of Norway, and that’s how the method got its name too.
Around the same time, other parts of Europe saw the rise of a technique that kept both the skis parallel to each other while turning. Originally called the Arlberg Technique, this method would overshadow the Telemark by gaining wider use and popularity. Today, we know this method as Alpine skiing.
A resurgence in the modern skiing world
Although Alpine skiing got a more extensive reach among skiers, Tele skiing never really disappeared from view. It was especially during the 1970s that Telemark skiing regained a following in the United States. During this time, skiers wanted alternatives to the expensive lift tickets that were rising every year.
It was ski instructor Dickie Hall who engineered the resurgence of Tele skiing in the American mountains. He came across the Telemark technique while perusing through an old ski book in a lodge at Killington. After trying it on the slopes that same night, he was convinced that it was the way forward. He almost single-handedly brought a revival of this old technique to the modern skiing scene.
Dickie Hall founded and sustained the North American Telemark Organization (NATO), which continues to function to this day.
Telemark skiing: The difference and the advantages
By now, it’s clear that Telemark skiing is not only a distinct form of skiing but one that requires a slightly different skill and gear too. It is a technique that has evolved for more than a century and a half. This implies that there are elements that have been refined and polished over the course of time. Also, there would have been specific components that would have given way to newer, more efficient creations.
Given all of these factors, there’s no doubt that Telemark is almost a discipline in itself. And it comes with specific advantages compared to other more popular techniques of skiing. Let’s look at some of the features that make Tele skiing unique and the benefits you get from these features.
· Better back-country hiking
If you’re planning to go back-country skiing, Tele-ing gives you a faster and more efficient alternative to Alpine skiing. We all know the effort and energy it takes to traverse the back-country on regular skis. It’s a mode of travel that takes an excessive amount of energy from the skier. Needless to say, we all agree it’s not the most judicious use of energy when you’re out with a pair of Alpine skis. This is where Telemark skis come in.
Telemark binding varies from regular ski binding in the way it holds the heel and grips the snow. Back-country terrains become more manageable if your Telemark binding comes with zero-resistance touring function. This feature gives you much better traction on the snow and more control over your leg-movement. Telemark binding leaves your heel free to move up and down according to your technique. This mode allows your leg to move and bend more freely than with regular skis. You end up expending less energy and saving more strength for the ski downhill. In addition to the ease of movement, the skis will also leave you free to explore and enjoy the view around you.
· Improves your general skiing skills
This is especially true if you grew up on more conventional forms of skiing, such as the Alpine technique. Because the Telemark gear is slightly different from regular skiing equipment, it prompts new users to change their orientation and balance. Skiers who typically lean back on the center of their skis will have to re-orient their posture. In trying to manage this new posture and balance, you’ll find that your overall center-of-gravity and skiing movement become much sharper.
For skiers who are adept with Alpine gear, Tele skiing should be an exciting challenge to take up. Most Alpine skiers reveal that they struggle with the free-heel posture of Tele skiing. Since this set up is a move away from traditional designs of ski shoes, it may take a few trips before you can confidently pull it off. But with enough time on the slopes with the Telemark gear, you should be able to find your place and posture in no time.
For newer skiers, the best part of the Telemark gear is the boots. The suspended and free-to-move heel allows beginners to walk and move about more freely.
· Great additional gear for instructors
Telemark binding and equipment are incredibly useful for people who regularly teach and train skiers. Once you get used to the binding, the Telemark Skis give users an added layer of mobility and flexibility. When you’re out training in the snow, new students can very often give you a variety of challenges when they’re still learning. This means you have to prepare yourself for quick ski maneuvers and fast turns whenever necessary. The Telemark gear gives you this extra versatility out in the slopes.
There’s the added advantage of keeping your legs and feet warmer. The cold does not take over because of the consistent bending you have to do. Also, performing Tele-turns on a beginner’s terrain can keep the sessions more interesting for you too.
· A possible option for the kids
Telemark skiing can be tailored for kids of almost all ages, provided there’s correct supervision. The versatile nature of Tele-skiing allows kids and beginners to start from fundamental and rudimentary moves.
One of the best parts of Tele-skiing is the general lightness of the equipment compared to other techniques. This makes it an ideal solution for children too, who may not be strong enough to bear regular snow gear.
Telemark equipment also gives you better and more natural mobility on flat surfaces. There is greater traction because of the skin or fabric underneath your skis. It allows younger skiers to move around more conveniently across the snow.
Overall, you’ll find that children will come to prefer the lighter gear and better mobility that Telemark skiing provides. However, you should remember that the children cannot be left to frolic with this equipment on their own. No matter how easy to learn, any equipment needs to be allowed only with trained supervision nearby. Once you take care of these safety concerns, you can give the kids an opportunity to have as much fun with skis as the adults.
· An ideal alternative for women skiers
Tele-skiing is also a suitable skiing option for women too. The Telemark technique sometimes requires more grace and control in terms of the turns and twists you have to perform. These maneuvers can easily suit women just as well as men. Some of the best performers of the Tele-turn during competitions are women.
Alpine skiing can, a lot of times, demand a heavier and more aggressive approach to movements in the snow. In this regard, Tele-skiing offers a route that requires more finesse and elegance that female skiers instantly learn.
Here too, the light nature of the skiing gear can be an advantage to women, especially when starting out. Since there’s more freedom of movement and flexibility, women can enjoy skiing across a variety of terrains and slopes.
· Refine your twists and turns
Compared to other techniques such as Alpine skiing, Tele-skiing gives you a more fluid and sublime transition during movements. This is especially true when performing sharper turns and uneven slopes. As you negotiate the whirls and twirls of down-slope skiing, the Telemark binding gives you a more stable position. This stability comes from the better fore-and-aft posture that you assume with the Telemark binding. Since your heels aren’t glued to the skis, your movements become more natural and free-flowing.
The refinement you experience with Telemark bindings is more prominent in deeper snow. There is a definite advantage with Tele-skis during these situations because you don’t have to redo your heel binding when you reach a flat area.
· Better exercise and fitness
Finally, one of the ways in which Telemark skiing stands out is the exercise it gives you. Some people consider Tele-skiing as the more athletic approach to snow movement. Although this is not the most accurate description, it is partly true. Tele-skiing can have you doing more lunges and squats as you move through the snow. This means your body gets a pretty good workout routine even as you’re enjoying moving across the snow.
This aspect of Tele-skiing, however, should not discourage the less-athletic among us from trying it out. The exercise element only kicks in if you want it to. This means you have a clear option to take a more laid-back approach to Tele-skiing. It just implies that it can become a workout session in a sense if you make it so.
Telemark Skiing Beginners: What gear to start with?
Now that we’re aware of what Telemark skiing is and the advantages it offers, let’s talk about the gear. With the unique approach that Tele-skiing gives, you’ll find a wide variety of equipment that can be very high-end and expensive. Some product manufacturers provide Telemark gear that is built not just for durability, but style and aesthetics too.
However, if you’re a beginner foraying into Tele-skiing, it’s advisable not to splurge on Telemark gear just yet. Instead, experts recommend going for basic equipment that works, and not beyond. It’s best to invest in some old gear (functional, of course!), which can aid you while learning. Once you’ve learned the technique, you can then move on to equipment that is on par with your skill level.
The basic Tele-skiing kit will require the right boots, skis, binding, and whatever additional accessories you may want to add.
· Tele Boots
As you begin your journey with Tele-skiing, you’ll find that your feet have a lot to do as you learn the tricks and nuances of the technique. If you can get your hands on some old plastic boots designed for Tele-skiing, go for it!
Older plastic Tele boots will be soft enough to handle the pressure of your back foot, but hard enough for modern lateral skis. So, you get both mobility and stability, without investing too much money. You can choose a Duckbill design because they are more readily available and better suited for beginners. Experts agree that the Duckbill boots are more suited for movements that are taught during the early Tele-skiing lessons.
An essential element of choosing your Tele boot is the size and fitting. Going for old pairs can tempt you to settle for an ill-fitting boot since it’s only temporary. This mistake will cost you later when you try to learn the turns and moves on the slopes. Tele-skiing requires your heel to be free and mobile, because of the flexible way in which you have to control your skis. Boots that are a size too small or big will rob you of the comfort you need when performing these moves. The best option here is to get your boot re-fitted before you hit the slopes. Yes, it may mean some extra expenditure initially. But you need a Tele boot that will allow you to stand or lunge on it the whole day.
· Telemark Binding
Just like with boots, you’ll find that there are a lot more binding options to choose from. The problem with too many binding options is that it may become confusing for beginners. Regardless of the multiple options that are available, your Telemark binding should be a type that supplements the design of your boot and skis.
If you’ve arranged an old plastic boot, the ideal option would be to go for cable binding. With cable binding, you can use the spring tension to adjust and balance your weight across points while moving.
You may come across 3-pin Telemark bindings that look like a better choice. But unless you have leather Tele boots to accompany them, you’re better off with the cable binding.
If you’re planning on treading the back-country terrain, then there are a few more factors you need to consider. The first feature to have is a Telemark touring binding. This design gives you the freedom to switch between a pivoting toe and a free heel. Each mode gives you varying degrees of resistance as you ski, allowing for better movement. If you expect to go through surfaces that require more ‘aggressive’ actions, go for a cable binding that has three pivot positions. It should give more power against your weight. If you expect excessively cold terrains, go for bindings that are heavier. Bindings that weigh between 1 – 1.5 pounds will keep from icing up.
· Tele Skis
As a beginner, it’s most advisable to go for older/used skis. The good thing here is that you will get tons of options in the used-ski markets. Because people like to upgrade based on their skill and technique, you should not have trouble finding a used set that fits your purpose. The waist of your skis need not be smaller than 80mm across. With back-country skiing, people can go for 76-78mm skis because you may run into narrower stretches on the slopes.
Used skis may come with edges that are blunt and dull from use. But you can always get them tuned up and sharpened before you set out on the snow. It’s more economical than going for a brand new set of skis which you don’t know how to use yet. As long as your skis measure less than 100mm across the waist, you should be good to go.
· Other essential gear & accessories
There are some necessary components of gearing up that we haven’t described in detail because these should be available easily. Helmets, for example, can be arranged based on what your lodge or instructor recommends. Also, ski apparel and clothing depend more on preferences than the utility. As long as you’re warm and protected, these elements really depend on what your tastes and preferences are.
Additional safety equipment such as knee-pads or poles depends on the terrain and nature of training you want. Each resort or instructor may have different prescriptions for what is ideal. Since these are items that have localized relevance, it’s best to listen to your instructor on these matters.
Finally, for traversing icy or backcountry terrain, you might need specialized gear such as ice picks, ropes, or crampons.
So, what is Telemark Skiing? To summarize, it’s freedom on the slopes! With the flexibility, skill, and versatility it offers, Telemark skiing is a natural choice for skiers who want to try something new. The prospects of Telemark skiing as a sport is growing, albeit slowly. There were talks of including it as a sport in the 2020 Olympics. This initiative, unfortunately, did not materialize. But the fact that it was even considered proves that it is as relevant today as ever.
With multiple advantages and accessible gear, no skier worth his snow should turn down the chance to try Tele-skiing. It is a discipline that unites skill and elegance while providing a new way of enjoying the snowy slopes in any terrain.