Turning Over to Telemark


A Guide To Tele Gear, Better Face Shots and Another World

By Josh Madsen

Photo credit: Simon Peterson

It is the best turn on snow, the telemark turn that is. But maybe you haven’t figured that out yet. I’m sure you’ve seen those freeheelers dancing down the mountain in a sort of alternating lunging motion. To most it’s intriguing, yet for many the desire to try it is met with obstacles, like: Where do I find gear? Who will teach me? Is it difficult? The answers are simple, and you might find yourself on a set of telemark skis sooner than you expected.

Myth Busting is priority number one when you are thinking about taking up tele turns. Yes, the turn is more dynamic and requires more motion than an alpine turn, but any semi-athletic person can easily pick it up. It’s not as hard as it looks. Next time you’re sitting at home or your office stand up and do a lunge. Then from that lunging position step forward into another lunge. Repeat and continue and you have yourself the makings of the telemark turn. Adding snow to the equation requires balance in motion, which like most new things only requires a little practice.

Renting Tele Gear is simple in Utah. For example, several shops in Salt Lake City, including Wasatch Touring and Wild Rose, can get you completely outfitted for around $35 dollars. Be sure to ask questions about proper fit and performance as you are being outfitted, and seek out the gear for the type of skiing you do. Someone coming from a hard-charging alpine skiing or snowboard background may be looking for a completely different experience in terms of performance than someone who wants to make carving turns on a groomer. There is telemark gear to fit every type of situation and skier.

Buying Gear is like choosing a significant other. Something that looks good at first might be something you are fighting with later. So take the time to get to know what is on your feet. This is especially important with freeheel gear since each binding and boot has a completely different flex and feel to it.

Another important thing to consider is technology. Most boots and bindings you see are based on the traditional 75-millimeter square toe on the boot that shares a Nordic or cross-country ski background. These continue to improve and are completely adequate for any type of skiing. However, in more recent years companies like the Norwegian brand—Rottefella—have challenged the traditional norm with the NTN binding and boot system. This newer system incorporates adjustable tension, brakes and the ability to release. Whatever tickles your fancy, take the time to demo the gear before you buy it.

Backcountry vs. Resort is a common topic of conversation when it comes to telemark, and for good reason. The telemark binding can open up the endless possibilities of the backcountry and all the untouched powder that Utah has to offer. But don’t let this fool you into thinking that telemark and backcountry are synonymous, because they’re not. Telemark turns can be enjoyed below the depths of overhead powder or laying down deep carves on the corduroy. In fact, learning to drop your knee at a resort may be easier, as groomed runs—and the repetition of lifts—could help reduce the intimidation factor you may find hiking and skiing soft snow in the backcountry. If you do go into the backcountry, be sure to have the proper training and equipment that go along with being in avalanche-prone areas.

Acquiring Instruction is key to having a great freeheel experience and can help avoid any confusion about technique. “A lesson can provide confidence and give you a new bag of tricks to use on the mountain,” says Beaver Mountain Tele Instructor Darin Swenson. Beaver Mountain, like most resorts, provides instruction for those seeking information on how to telemark. They even host an annual telemark festival that takes place this year February 25–27. Participants can take lessons and meet telemark skiers from around the area.

At whichever resort you decide to visit, expect instruction to cost anywhere from $60 for a group workshop to $200 for a two-hour one-on-one lesson. There are even two fully-functioning kids’ programs for youngsters looking to drop knees at Canyons and Alta.

Whether you are looking for a new challenge, or just another way to enjoy the mountains, 2011 might just be the year to venture into a new world and see what the hype around freeheel skiing is all about.

Josh Madsen is the Editor of Telemark Skier Magazine and started freeheeling in 1994 when he decided to read a book called Cross Country Downhill. He travels most of the year promoting, writing and filming telemark culture around the world.


About Author

Jenny Willden is the Managing Editor of Outdoor Sports Guide and a self-proclaimed gear and grammar nut. She's a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the Adventure Travel Trade Association. A lover of adventure and travel, she's happiest when riding horses or snowboarding in Utah’s mountains. Follow Jenny’s exploits on Twitter @jennywillden or Instagram @jlwillden.

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