How to Telemark Ski

Learn how to Telemark ski - hugely enjoyable, widely underrated

Published on Wed 10 Apr, 2019

Telemarking or telemark skiing is the snowsport industry underdog. It's hugely enjoyable, yet widely underrated. Essentially it's a cross between Alpine Skiing and Nordic skiing, and is often overlooked by those who start to learn how to ski.

But wait… let's rewind a step. It's confusing enough to get our head around 'skiing' let alone terms like 'alpine' and 'nordic'. So what's the difference? 

Alpine Skiing is what you would immediately think of when it comes to 'skiing'. Putting it simply, it's moving downhill with the whole foot attached to the ski via a binding. 

Nordic skiing, on the other hand, consists of moving with a 'free heel'. The foot can rise out of the ski binding to allow a fluid walking movement. 

Combine the two together and you get telemark skiing, a graceful technique where turning downhill is accompanied by a lunging motion. The toe of the ski boot remains fixed to the binding in a way that allows the heel to rise up off the ski.

A Brief History of Telemark Skiing

Telemark skiing is named after the Telemark region of Norway. Sondre Norheim, a Norwegian skier from the C19th is known as the father of telemark skiing, which dates as far back as 1868!

The sport had a full renaissance in 1971, when a group of American skiers began to re-examine the telemark ski technique. It then began to gain global significance throughout the 70s and 80s.

Today, it's not nearly as popular as alpine skiing. However, Telemark remains to be an international world cup sport, recognised by the Federation International de Ski Telemark Commitee.

Key Telemark Ski Techniques 

The telemark technique is like a 'squat' or 'lunge' motion, repeated again and again as the skier turns. During the turn the outside ski becomes the leading ski, projected in front of the other ski in conjunction with that forward lunging leg. This differs to the upright and parallel stance of alpine skiers. 

The Lead Change is the telemark skier's transition during the turn, where the front ski becomes the back ski and vice versa. To make a smooth lead change, the telemark skier will match the rate and range of the lead change to the radius and speed of the turn. 

When approaching telemark skiing, the terrain becomes a key element in decision making. It challenges your every move and requires a visual focus towards surroundings that alpine skiers need not have.

How Hard is Telemark Skiing and How Strong do I Need to Be?

So it all sounds very physically demanding and technical. This is a big misconception and is definitely why a much smaller proportion of mountain riders telemark in comparison with skiing or boarding.

Before you talk yourself out of telemark skiing it is, in fact, no harder to learn than skiing itself. The challenge merely revolves more towards technique and attention to terrain.

Fitness is something that often puts people off the idea. Yet it goes without saying that one's physical condition impacts every sport. In fact, telemark skiing is actually easier on the body than alpine skiing during the first few days.

Having a good level of fitness will of course help when learning how to telemark, but it is not a pre-requisite. The same as any snows sport, a lack of technique when you first start will likely make it strenuous. So yes it can be tiring at first. But the great advantage of telemark is the level of fitness you will gain doing the sport. It is not only an awesome cardio workout, but it balances your muscles and favours an aligned rotula (aka a straight rather than twisted knee joint). This is one of the most common problems that alpine skiers face.

What kit do I need?

Instead of ski boots and bindings, you'll need telemark ski boots and bindings! It's that simple. With such a small market, the good news is most telemark ski gear is of extremely high quality. You can usually rent all the equipment at a resort ski shop. There are a couple of types of binding systems to note for telemarking: **The Classic 75mm duckbill** - the old-school binding system, invented almost 100 years ago. **The recent NTN binding** - a newer telemark binding design. These use different boot soles so know which setup you are using to match up boots and bindings.

How can I advance with Telemark skiing? 

The sheer variety of different ski techniques, styles and terrain is no secret. From groomers (pistes) to off-piste powder telemark skiing is no different. Once you get started and master the technique there is no limit to where you can take the sport. To name a few, there's telemark Carving, telemarking steeps, telemark skiing in bumps, telemarking switch (backwards skiing) to Telemark powder and powder in the trees. Learning how to telemark should never to be overlooked. Fitness? Technique? Lack of knowledge? Excuses are no longer necessary. Telemark skiing is incredibly rewarding and out there for anyone and everyone to enjoy!

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