8 Reasons Why You Should Try Telemark Skiing
Words by Tim Peck
You don’t have to look far to find an article declaring telemark skiing dead or arguing that alpine touring is killing tele skiing. As a tele-vangelist, I’m here to tell you that the rumors aren’t true. When you free your heel, you free your mind. Look no further than a mountain like Vermont’s Mad River Glen for proof that tele skiing is alive and kicking.
Telemark takes its name from the region in Norway where it was developed and combines elements of both alpine and Nordic skiing. Unlike alpine skiing, where skis typically remain parallel and in close proximity to one another, telemark skiers slide one ski in front of the other in a lunge-like position. If you’re already an alpine skier, learning how to telemark ski is fairly straightforward, but can involve unlearning some alpine habits.
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1. Mix It Up
Tackling your local mountain with your heels free can totally change the experience—making familiar trails feel new, adding challenge to otherwise easy terrain, and allowing you to see runs you’ve done a million times with fresh perspective. Telemark skiing also possesses the unique ability to make small mountains feel large and short runs feel long. And, if your legs get tired or you just want to make some alpine turns, simply put your heels down and alpine away.
2. Maximize Mobility
As a tele skier, one of the joys of the ski resort is watching alpine skiers and snowboarders awkwardly shuffle across traverses and through lift lines. Telemark skiing has some commonalities with cross country skiing. Namely, telemark bindings are not attached to the ski at the heel—which is why they’re also called free heel bindings—allowing telemarkers to gracefully glide across flats, dismount lifts, and maneuver around base areas. In the lodge or at the bar, the bending action built into telemark boots makes walking as easy as … well, alpine skiing.
3. Get Extremely Good Exercise
No matter if you’re extreme tele skiing or slowly making your way down the mountain, telemark skiing is a terrific workout. Freeheel skiing requires skiers to bend lower than their alpine counterparts, and the staggered orientation of the skis means one leg is almost always working harder than the other. Basically, tele skiing is like busting out a series of lunges down the mountain. As they say in Vermont, feel the Bern burn.
And so that you’re not the out-of-shape tele skier getting laughed at by someone in a 20-year-old jacket that’s equal parts duct tape and GORE-TEX, get serious about preseason ski conditioning.
4. Practice Patience
There’s an old joke about tele skiing that goes like this: “If it takes twice as long and has twice as many turns, it would be called telemarking.” While skiers like those at Mad River Glen prove that it’s possible to shred on telemark skiing equipment, it slows most mortals down. In other words, the perfect time to break out your tele gear is when you’re heading out with beginning skiers/snowboarders or groups of mixed abilities. It’s for this reason that free heel skiing is popular with parents skiing with their children.
5. Get Ahead in the Backcountry
In the battle of telemark vs. randonee, freeheel skiing is struggling. It’s true: lightweight alpine touring/randonee boots and Dynafit bindings have made telemark skiing in the backcountry an unpopular choice for many. However, telemark skiing advantages are still found in the backcountry. For example, in the Northeast, a lot of tours require long, rolling sections to enter and exit the most desirable runs. Telemark bindings (especially those with free pivots) and bellowed telemark boots allow you to kick and glide—like a cross country skier—across flats and easily overtake your alpine skiing friends.
6. Look Cool
Telemarkers will forever wax poetic about the nuance of the telemark turn. Phrases like it’s not a turn, it’s a feeling and it’s not a skill, it’s an art are commonly heard everywhere from the lift to the bar. The fact is, alpine skiing is about speed and power, while tele skiing is about fluidity and flow. Since there are so few freeheel skiers on the slopes, even an intermediate tele skier will evoke envy on the hill, so don’t be shy about telemark carving on the lift line.
7. Be Part of a Freeheeling Family
Unlike alpine skiing and snowboarding, telemark skiing is niche. There is no tele equivalent to Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White, or Jamie Anderson. Similarly, you’re unlikely to see telemark skiing depicted on TV or in the latest ski movie—it’s included in neither the Olympics nor the X Games. Consequently, the freeheel community is pretty close knit. Freeheel life is about being friendly and ready to welcome those looking to “free the heel and ski for real.”
8. Have Fun
Sure, there are a host of telemark skiing advantages, but the main reason you should try telemark skiing is because it’s fun. There’s a gracefulness and fluidity to the movement not found in alpine skiing or snowboarding. That, and it’s always knee-deep when you tele!
A former child model, Tim spent a portion of his youth gracing the pages of Sunday paper advertisements for many now-defunct department stores. Living responsibility/rent-free with his parents into his thirties, Tim pursued climbing, skiing, and biking while accumulating an impressive amount of time in the mountains (and gear). Relentlessly pursuing the dream, Tim’s modest life ambitions are to ski all 12 months of the year, to climb 5.12, and to live in a van.