Telemark skiing is hard. Beautiful, fluid and graceful, yes, but this hybrid of cross country and alpine skiing is the equivalent of doing lunges across the mountain. Is it a good workout? Absolutely. But without the proper technique, tele skiing can be exhausting. So we’ve put together some telemark skiing tips to improve your efficiency on the hill and make it more fun to free the heel.
Telemark Equipment - Old School vs. New School
Old School telemark ski gear refers to super skinny, 2 ½ to 3 inch wide cross country skis and 75 millimeter duckbill boots paired with three pin bindings. Back in the day, this is how the telemark skiing movement started. Hank Keil, Assistant Manager at Jans flagship store on Park Avenue, started on old school equipment by commuting to his house in Mount Reba, just south of Lake Tahoe, with his groceries in his backpack.
As tele bindings evolved and the heel throw came onto the scene, to pull the back of the boot toward the front of the binding, New School equipment came into vogue. Unlike clumsy duckbill boots, New School telemark boots feature a front toe similar to that of an alpine ski boot. Called NTN, for “New Telemark Norm,” these boots more easily accommodate crampons for mountaineering and are safer than their Old School counterparts since they completely release from the binding in the event of a fall. Mike Caldwell, who works at our White Pine Touring location, is a New School advocate who prefers NTN boots. Mike feels they allow him more power, so he can use his skeleton, rather than just his muscles, while dropping a knee.
First Time Telemark Tips
If you’ve never been on telemark skis before, be judicious in determining when and where to give them a try. While powder skiing on tele skis can be a truly awesome experience, it makes sense to start out on groomers until you get your technique dialed in. “Turn the skis in an alpine fashion for a run or two until you get used them and how they hold you in a firm position,” suggests Hank. Then go into the traditional “curtsied” telemark position.
Another tip is to try the sport in the spring, when the conditions are more forgiving and the weather is sunny and warm. According to Mike, “Corn snow is easier to mush around and carve on easily when you are first starting out. And since you fall a bunch at the beginning, you’ll dry off faster in the springtime.”
Telemark Technique Tips
Any telemark skier will agree that the sport can be downright grueling, without the proper technique. To reduce fatigue and have more fun, consider the following technique tips.
“The first rule of thumb is to put yourself into the telemark position,” says Hank. “Weight your forefoot and rear foot equally and go down into a curtsey position.” Each time you have a lead change with your foot, you want to do it equally, otherwise it won’t be controlled and the ski can wash out from underneath you.
Next, angulate your turns to maintain proper balance. Begin by pulling the skis from a flat position to the proper angulation of a carved edge by bending and twisting at the waist. Hank suggests pretending that you are trying to hold an orange between the top of your hipbone and your rib cage. “Bending over and angulating your body by breaking at the waist creates a kind of a V,” he says. "The lower legs move towards the hill and your upper body faces downhill and out over the ski.”
Timing is also key, in terms of anticipating when to change which ski is in the front. If you don’t make the lead change very dynamically, you are likely to be thrown off balance very quickly. “It’s kind of all or nothing, or else you end up on your keister,” smiles Hank.
Lastly, make sure to keep your upper body “as still and level as possible, with your chest down the fall line, just like alpine skiing,” suggests Mike. Think of it as holding a lunch tray level and not wanting to spill its contents on the lunchroom floor.
Telemark Skiing on Groomers vs. Powder
Groomers are an excellent way to fine tune your telemark skiing technique and build confidence because there isn’t as much variation in the snow. This allows you to focus on carving, pure and simple, by skiing on your skis’ edges. Powder skiing, on the other hand, is three-dimensional since instead of just releasing the edges, you must utilize the entire base of the ski. “It’s more of a porpoise motion,” says Mike. “The up and the down, the yin and the yang of the turn, so that you are dynamically moving in and out of the snow.”
Another way to think of skiing powder on telemark skis is the idea of taking both skis and making one long ski out of them. “This creates a much more soulful, elongated turn,” according to Hank. And it doesn’t hurt that your chance of face shots are increased because you are in a lower body position.
Don’t forgot that telemark skiing is, like cross country skiing, a really good workout. To alleviate fatigue, cross train in the off season by spending time climbing up hills on your mountain bike. Your hamstrings, calves and quadriceps will thank you for it. And to avoid overheating, always dress lighter than you think you should.
If this blog has inspired you to give telemark skiing a try, come in to White Pine Touring on Bonanza Drive in Park City and talk to one of our Experts about how to get started. After all, the best part about telemark skiing is “There’s no right or wrong. It’s just what feels right.”
Liz Yokubison, Editor, jans.com and whitepinetouring.com