Someone telemark skiing down a snowy mountain. Photo by Ben Kitching on Unsplash

The Art of Telemark Skiing: Your Best Guide for 2024

Last Updated on 6 March 2024

Do you feel like taking on a new challenge this year, but aren’t sure which one to do? Have you ever thought about trying telemark skiing where the elegance of the free-heel turn meets mountain exploration?

This unique form of skiing promises not only an alternative technique, but also a distinct mountaineering experience. Fun and exhilarating, this outdoor sport will give your skiing a new lease of life.

Read on to uncover the gear essentials you’ll need, the finesse of the telemark turn, and the communal spirit that characterises this sporting discipline.

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Key Takeaways

  • Telemark skiing is a unique form that emphasises freedom with its free-heel technique, offering a distinct challenge and sense of liberation.

  • The equipment is important in telemark skiing, featuring specialised boots, bindings, and skis, and has evolved significantly with technology like New Telemark Norm (NTN) bindings.

  • Telemark skiing is gaining popularity among young skiers and communities, as seen in the rise of races, local events, and a global federation that reflects the sport’s growth and fellowship.

What is Telemark Skiing?

Someone telemark skiing with the mountains behind. Photo by Ben Kitching on Unsplash

Telemark skiing, with its free-heel technique and its iconic telemark turn, stands out distinctively from its alpine counterpart.

It’s not just about a different way to ski; it’s a philosophy — ‘free the heel, free the mind’ — that captures the essence of the sport and the liberating sensation it brings to its enthusiasts. The free heel is not merely a component of the equipment; it’s the soul of telemark skiing, offering unparalleled versatility and the joy of traversing uphill and downhill with equal grace.

For many, tele skiing, also known as telemark skiing, is a calling that satisfies the craving for a unique challenge and the pleasure derived from its distinctive style.

What is the Telemark Turn?

Executing a seamless telemark turn is akin to performing a ballet on snow.

It starts with the skier’s basic stance — feet hip-width apart, knees bent, and one foot sliding back as the other leads. As the forward ski carves into the turn, the rear ski follows, keeping the weight evenly distributed across both skis. With the torso facing downhill and a slight twist in the opposite direction of the skis’ movement, balance and control become second nature.

Linking one graceful telemark turn with the next requires a fluid transition, moving both skis simultaneously and mastering the art of the heel lift for navigating tight turns and narrow passages.

Experiencing the Joy That Free Heel Brings

Someone showing the free heel of telemark skiing. Photo by J G D on Unsplash

The free heel is fundamental to the telemark experience. It enhances the telemark turn and enriches the joy of mountain exploration in ways that fixed-heel skiing cannot replicate.

Imagine the thrill of off-piste skiing, where each turn is not just a change in direction but an expression of freedom, as the heel lifts and the body syncs with the terrain in a dance of snow and ski. This exhilarating experience is one that the International Ski Federation aims to promote and regulate for the enjoyment of skiers worldwide.

Telemark vs. Alpine: A Skier’s Dilemma

Telemark and alpine skiing might share the same snowy slopes, but the experiences they offer are worlds apart.

The free-heel technique of telemark skiing allows for a lunging motion that’s absent in the fixed-heel approach of alpine skiing. This difference in technique not only changes the way one skis, but also alters the physical demands of the sport, with telemark bindings specifically designed to facilitate the movement, offering benefits to overall fitness and muscle balance.

Telemark Techniques: How to Master the Mountain?

Someone skiing down a mountain flicking up snow. Photo by Hendrik Morkel on Unsplash

Perfecting the telemark turns and techniques is a process that turns each mountain into a canvas that the skier illustrates with every turn. Key to this mastery is the telemark turn, with its unique spine twist and counterrotation, demanding strength, balance, and coordination.

From Gentle Slopes to Steep Challenges

Progressing in telemark skiing means gradually taking on the steeper slopes and more challenging terrain. Starting on gentle slopes and working up to steep descents requires physical strength, balance, mental bravery, and a deep understanding of the sport’s tactics and timing.

Navigating deep snow is another nuance of telemark skiing, requiring a balanced weight distribution, a tight stance, and subtle movements.

Mastering turns in powder involves maintaining a centred stance, adjusting weight dynamically, and using less rotation for smoother turns.

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What Equipment Do You Need for Telemark Skiing?

Ski equipment. Photo by David Becker on Unsplash

Every telemark skier understands that having the correct equipment is integral to the overall experience.

The trinity of telemark gear — bindings, boots, and skis — is specifically designed to support the free-heel skiing technique that defines the discipline. With modern advancements like NTN bindings, telemark skiing has become more efficient and enjoyable than ever.

Telemark Bindings: The Connection Point

Telemark bindings, attaching solely at the toe to enable the signature heel lift, serve as the anchor of the setup.

Whether cable or spring-loaded, these bindings provide the tension needed for control on the descent while permitting the heel’s freedom on the ascent. Modern iterations, like the NTN bindings and the Outlaw X, incorporate a release mechanism for safety and offer increased tension for better control, all without the need for a heel strap.

With standards such as the 75mm and NTN, including models like the 2-PIN NTN, telemark bindings have evolved to offer skiers a variety of high-performance options.

Boots Built for Bending

S-LAB ski boot used for telemark skiing. Photo by Aaron Doucett on Unsplash

In telemark skiing, boots need to maintain a delicate equilibrium between support and flexibility.

This balance enables the sport’s signature knee-dropping turns. The evolution of telemark boots from soft leather to modern plastic designs has provided skiers with greater control and support thanks to:

  • Increased torsional stiffness;

  • A powerful bellows flex; and

  • Features like a strategically placed strap that can counteract heel lift, ensuring power and control during turns.

With a design hinged at the toe, these boots offer a comfortable walking experience, making them ideal for long distances. Some features of telemark boots include:

  • Heat moldable liners that personalise the fit;

  • Adaptability to the continuous movement of the foot;

  • Lightweight touring models; and

  • Stiffer, taller boots for downhill skiing.

There’s a telemark boot for every type of terrain and preference, including alpine boots.

How to Choose the Right Telemark Skis

Picking the correct telemark skis involves aligning your preferred terrain and skiing style with suitable equipment.

The current market offers a variety of ski shapes for different experiences, whether you’re carving a hardpack or floating through soft snow. Length and width are key considerations, with length typically mirroring that of downhill skis and width varying depending on conditions and activities.

The choice of tele gear most often comes down to stability versus manoeuvrability, lightness versus stiffness, each with its own merits in certain conditions. Seeking advice from seasoned telemark skiers and testing models like the Völkl Mantra 102 or DPS Pagoda 100 RP can lead to finding your perfect match on the mountain.

The Birthplace of Telemark Skiing

The Telemark region in Norway. Photo by Barnabas Davoti on Unsplash

The roots of telemark skiing are deeply entrenched in the snow-covered landscapes of Norway, particularly the Telemark region, from which the sport draws its name. Originating in the mid-19th century, telemark skiing captivated the world’s attention as the modern ski era dawned, showcasing a technique that was as beautiful as it was functional.

The Father of Telemark Skiing: Sondre Norheim

Sondre Norheim, hailing from Morgedal in Telemark, revolutionised the sport with his invention of the telemark binding. His innovative design introduced a free heel mechanism, liberating skiers with easier turns and greater control.

Norheim’s genius extended to ski design as well, crafting the first skis with sidecuts, which greatly improved manoeuvrability and established a legacy that continues to influence the sport today, including Nordic skate skiing.

Telemark Region: The Cradle of a Discipline

The undulating terrain of the Telemark region, with its wild slopes and uneven courses, naturally led to the development of the telemark turn — a sharp, fluid manoeuvre that has become the sport’s hallmark.

It’s in this cradle of skiing where the discipline we now celebrate as telemark skiing first took shape, forever changing the face of winter sports.

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Telemark Today: The Evolution of an Art Form

Someone skiing gracefully down a mountain. Photo by Glade Optics on Unsplash

Telemark skiing has evolved into a modern art form, balancing its traditional spirit with cutting-edge technology and techniques. As the sport continues to grow, it has also found its way onto the competitive world stage, with specialised racing formats that showcase its unique blend of skills.

Modern Equipment Milestones

The evolution of modern telemark equipment has been marked by milestones that have made the gear lighter, more durable, and higher performing. From introducing advanced bindings to adapting alpine touring technology, today’s telemark skiers benefit from equipment that enhances their experience on the snow.

Telemark Racing: The Competitive Edge

Telemark racing brings a competitive edge to the sport, combining elements of alpine racing and Nordic skiing in various race formats. From the classic downhill to the sprint classic and the parallel sprint, telemark racing is gaining prominence, even aspiring to join the ranks of the Olympic Games.

Embracing the Backcountry: Telemark Skiing Off-Piste

Backcountry skiing. Photo by Chris Holder on Unsplash

Telemark skiing’s link to the backcountry extends beyond skiing; it involves welcoming the wilderness and its challenges. The sport’s versatility makes it especially suited for off-piste adventures, with gear that’s adaptable for both climbing and descending.

The Call of the Wild

The call of the wild beckons both alpine skiers and telemark skiers to the backcountry, where the use of skins for uphill movement and the freedom of a free heel for natural motion define the sport’s origins and appeal. This connection to nature fosters camaraderie among practitioners who share a passion for exploring beyond the bounds of traditional skiing.

Equipped for the Ascent

Equipped for both the ascent and descent, telemark skiing gear is optimised for off-piste conditions. The gear includes:

  • Specialised boots and bindings that enhance comfort and performance;

  • Climbing skins and heel risers for efficient uphill travel; and

  • A backpack for balancing the load during backcountry excursions.

Telemark ski gear, including alpine skis, is designed to provide a great skiing experience in the backcountry, especially for those who enjoy the unique telemark ski technique.

Telemark for All: A Community on the Rise

Skiers and snowboarders relaxing in the mountains. Photo by Joan Oger on Unsplash

The telemark community, supported by the International Telemark Federation, serves as proof of the sport’s lasting appeal and its capacity to evolve with the changing times. As a community on the rise, it attracts young skiers looking for new challenges and fosters a sense of camaraderie among enthusiasts.

Young Skiers Joining the Telemark Tribe

Young skiers are increasingly drawn to the telemark tribe, seeking the unique challenges and physical benefits the sport offers. As they switch from alpine skiing to the freedom of telemark’s free heels, they find a less constraining and joint-friendly form of skiing that appeals to their adventurous spirits.

Final Thoughts

As we conclude our exploration of telemark skiing, we’re reminded of the sport’s unique blend of tradition and innovation.

From the historical roots in Norway’s Telemark region to the evolution of gear and techniques, telemark skiing offers a deeply enriching experience on the slopes. Its community continues to grow, fueled by the passion of skiers who cherish the freedom and versatility that only the free heel can offer.

Whether you’re carving through fresh powder in the backcountry, (which we love) or mastering turns on a groomed run, (which is just as fun for us) telemark skiing remains a vibrant and evolving art form, inviting skiers of all ages to join the dance with the mountain.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the point of telemark skiing?

The point is to improve fitness and balance muscles, offering a more complete exercise than alpine skiing and potentially reducing common issues such as aligned rotula. Try it out for a new fitness challenge!

What is the difference between Alpine and telemark?

The main difference between telemark and alpine skiing is in the binding and boots. Telemark binding locks down the front of your foot and has an adjustable cable for different terrains and descents.

Can I use my alpine skiing gear for telemark skiing?

No, you’ll need specialised telemark gear, including bindings, boots, and skis designed for the free heel technique. So, your alpine gear won’t work for telemark skiing.

Is telemark skiing suitable for beginners?

Yes, beginners can learn telemark skiing with practice and by starting on gentle slopes before progressing to steeper terrain. It may take some time to master the telemark turn and get used to the free heel technique.

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