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Telemark skiing (also known as "free heel skiing") is a form of downhill skiing using bindings where the boot is attached only at the toe (similar to those of cross-country skiing), allowing the heel to come up from the ski. Because the heel is free, it allows the skier to go into a strided position at the end of a turn. This movement of the legs past each other from turn to turn is a technique called the telemark turn.
Telemark turns are led with the heel flat on the outside ski (which becomes the downhill ski at the end of the turn) with the knee at a 90-degree angle. The inside (and uphill) ski slides back under the skier's body with a flexed knee and raised heel. This ski position can be clearly seen in ski jumping, where the "Telemark position" is part of the requirements of a successful jump. The skis are staggered but not quite parallel, and the downhill ski is pushed forward by the skier’s lunge. Normally 50% to 60% of the body weight is distributed on the outside ski, depending on snow conditions.
The Telemark turn came to the attention of the Norwegian public in 1868, when Sondre Norheim took part in a ski jumping competition. Norheim's technique of fluid turns soon dominated skiing, and in Norway it continued to do well into the next century. Starting in the 1910s, newer techniques based on the stem gradually replaced Telemark in the Alpine countries. Newer techniques were easier to master and enabled shorter turns better suited for steeper alpine terrain and skiing downhill. The Telemark turn became the technique of ski touring in rolling terrain.
The technique is named after the Telemark region of Norway, just as the stem Christie turn was named after Christiania (now Oslo), Norway. As well as inventing the Telemark turn, Sondre Norheim and his fellow skiers used and refined Alpine skiing techniques. Thus, while the Telemark is part of early skiing's foundation, Alpine techniques are of equal importance.
The Telemark revival
The revival in the Telemark technique, after its decline from popularity in the mid-1940s, started in United States in the 1970s. Telemark skiing was a back-to-basics reaction to the high-tech equipment developments of alpine skiing, and the increasing reliance on crowded groomed pistes served by ever larger and faster mechanical ski lifts. The use of traditional clothing is associated with the Telemark skiing revival.
The Telemark revival started almost simultaneously in Crested Butte, Colorado and the northern part of the Green Mountains in Vermont. The Vermont revival was led by Telemark enthusiast Dickie Hall. At the same time, in southern Vermont, Filippo Pagano (aka Telemarkfil) was leading the revival with the opening of the first Telemark Ski School in the Eastern USA at Bromley Mountain. The Telemark racing series was also started. It came to the attention of a larger public with a demonstration by a team from the Professional Ski Instructors of America at Interski, Italy in 1983. It grew to prominence during the 1990s; however, although organizations such as NATO (North American Telemark Organization) and NET (New England Telemark) sponsor telemark festivals and Instruction as the sport continues to grow, it is still considered a minority sport.
While most modern telemark skis are virtually identical to today's alpine skis, they differ in one critical way; the heel of the skier's boot is detached from the ski. This detachment allows the skier to kneel as he turns, thus creating a deep smooth turn. Developments in shape and manufacture have seen skis get shorter and wider, taking design cues from both alpine skiing and snowboarding. The unique mechanics of the telemark turn could distinguish telemark equipment from alpine equipment, but advances in boot and binding technology have helped reduce the need to have the ski itself meet any such demands. Few manufacturers still have lines of telemark-specific skis, which are, in general, lighter and softer than comparable alpine skis. Telemark-specific skis may also entail a different shape. Most manufacturers just build skis classified as freeskiing which are equally adequate for Alpine touring or telemark skiing.
Leather boots are still used by some, but durable polymer ("Pebax") is now the usual choice. Polymer boots feature a bellows above the toes to allow the necessary flex for a telemark turn. Most standard telemark boots have a trapezoidal "duckbill" at the front, which interfaces boots with the binding. While most telemark skiers use cables to attach boots to bindings, the duckbill has three reinforced holes in the bottom to attach three-pin bindings. NTN boots are also becoming more popular, which instead of the duckbill, attach to the binding by a hook in the front and ball of the boot.
Bindings hold the Telemark boot to the ski by the toe only. The oldest version of manufactured bindings, 'three-pin bindings, had three pins pointing up from the ski to which boots attached with matching holes. The duckbill was placed on top of the pins and held down with a locking mechanism (the "bail"). This duckbill boot-binding interface is referred to as the 75mm Nordic Norm.
From the 1980s onwards, telemark equipment has become progressively heavier and more durable as manufacturers seek to answer the demand for telemark equipment offering greater downhill performance and durability.
During the 1980s cable bindings that have a spring-loaded cable to hold the boot in the binding became popular. These have a socket that the duckbill fits into, but usually no pins. The spring-loaded cable is stretched onto the boot heel by a throw. Cable bindings are stronger than three-pin bindings and offer more control in turns, but they are heavier and produce more resistance to flexing the boot, therefore are not as suitable for ski touring.
To address ski touring issues, since 2005, cable binding manufacturers have introduced touring-mode bindings. These switch between a "free pivot" mode (borrowed from randonnee binding design) for touring and a downhill mode with more cable tension applied to the boot.
Also available are hinged plate bindings, combining the lateral stiffness of a traditional alpine binding with the flexibility of a traditional Telemark binding. Despite performance benefits, these bindings have failed to gain a significant following during the late 1990s and early 2000s, and most manufacturers have withdrawn models from production. Examples include the Voile VPII, Bomber Bishop (both USA) and Linken (Norway).
Since the 1990s Telemark news media have referred to the concept of a telemark binding "holy grail". This is a vision of a telemark binding design that offers the ability to perform telemark turns combined with touring-mode, step-in entry and safety-release features.
An international consortium of Fritschi and Black Diamond produced the first binding to address this ambition with the hinged plate "Skyhoy" binding. Production ceased when equipment from the first production run displayed faults that were uneconomic to rectify.
The 7tm binding, manufactured by German company Rezotec GmbH, is a commercially successful design that offers the "holy grail" feature of safety-release feature.
In late 2007 Rottefella introduced the New Telemark Norm (NTN) binding, a departure from the 75mm Nordic Norm, which uses a different boot sole, co-developed with the Crispi and Scarpa boot companies. Current NTN systems are at the heavier end of the boot/binding spectrum, primarily aimed at maximizing downhill control and creating a smoother transition on turns. However, the touring-mode feature is considered by many users to off-set the additional weight penalty.
22 Designs "Hammerhead" bindings are a popular alternative for maximizing downhill control using 75mm Nordic Norm boots. They are a cable binding that offer variable "activeness" or "stiffness" of the binding by allowing the user to adjust where the cable exits from under the plate at the front of the binding for adjusting the ease of turning vs. power of the binding. Since the release of the hammerhead binding, they have also come out with the "axl" binding, which offers a touring mode. Both bindings have been widely acclaimed for their power and control while maintaining adjustability.
For those taking to the wilderness, climbing "skins" are the only practical alternative. Wax can offer enough grip to climb fairly steep grades but take away all glide for the descent. Skins in recent times, (synthetic or mohair rather than the traditional sealskin) are attached to the bottom of the ski with an adhesive that sticks to the base of the ski but when peeled off the adhesive remains on the skin for subsequent use. The fibers on the fabric are all oriented in one direction. This allows the "hairs"or fibers to collapse and offer little resistance as the ski is slid forward but stand up and grip the snow as the ski is pulled back. This allows the skier to climb very steep slopes with little back slip. Warmer conditions and softer snow reduce the efficiency of the skins. Special wax is available to reduce the bonding of snow to the fibers. It is rubbed directly on to the skins as needed.
Once removed from the skis the skins are folded so the glued sides are put together. This is to prevent any contamination. The glue is extremely tacky and will pick up any dust, dirt, pine needles or other debris.
The adhesive also allows the base to be treated with a glide wax that maximises the downhill performance of the ski.
"Harscheisen" (ski crampons — also called "couteau" or "cortelli") mounted below the boot are sometimes used to assist when skinning on hard, icy surfaces where skins do not perform as well. Skins perform most effectively on newer snows with intact crystalline structures. On ice or wet corn snow the skins do not perform as well.
The edges used in a Telemark turn are the same as with a parallel turn, but a Telemark turn involves leading the turn with the outside ski while trailing the inside ski. When initiating a turn, the skier edges the outside ski (which becomes the downhill ski at the completion of the turn) with a flat heel while simultaneously lifting the heel on the inside ski to shift the ski to the back of the Telemark stance. Through the turn, between 50 and 80 percent of the skier's weight is shifted onto the outside ski depending on snow conditions, and rests primarily on the toe-half of each foot—even the outside foot, which has its boot heel in contact with the ski. Inexperienced Telemark skiers often find it difficult to place enough weight on their trailing, inside ("heel-up") ski to force it to turn, or "carve" in unison with the outside ski. When skiing off-piste in light powder the weight ratio can be different than the suggested 50 to 80 percent on the outside ski. Developments in modern telemark technique subsequent to the release of modern, highly responsive boots and bindings have demonstrated an increasing preference toward a turn made in an aggressive, carving fashion that closely resembles the modern alpine turn; as such, the modern technique emphasizes a side-to-side weight distribution that closely resembles that of alpine skiing. Often having the majority of the weight on the inside trailing ski can help compensate for poor technique, as it allows the skier to use the outside ski as a 'buffer' to control the snow, and to help keeping the outside ski tip above the snow.
There is no agreement on the respective angle between the skis during a Telemark turn. Increasing the angle increases the amount that both knees are bent and brings the skier's torso closer to the snow. Some Telemarkers enjoy an extremely low stance with the trailing knee almost in contact with the ski top, while others prefer a taller stance, with a consequently smaller angle, that allows quicker transitions between turns. As a general rule, the back leg should be tucked in, with the knee of the trailing leg aligned vertically over the leading foot. Telemarkers who turn with their trailing knee considerably behind their leading foot are often referred to as "dog-leggers" because their rear leg resembles that of a wounded dog. "Toe-dragger" can also be used to describe Telemark skiers who do not tuck in their rear leg. It is possible to make parallel turns using Telemark equipment, which is why penalties are assessed if the boots are not staggered by at least a boot's length in FIS Telemark competitions. This element of technique is up to the skier, although a very low stance is to be avoided where hard uneven snow might cause the lowered knee to collide with the ground or ski. Some Telemark skiers, therefore, use kneepads to reduce the risk of injury.
Accomplished Telemark skiers, like accomplished alpine skiers, keep their torsos vertical and oriented downhill while linking turns, thus avoiding turning too far. This position also allows greater control over the fine-tuning of weight distribution. When skiing in thick powder it is important that the skier not lean back; staying forward and facing downhill allows quicker response to changing conditions. The lack of a fixed heel means that it is easy to go head-first into the snow when hitting a hard patch, but if centered on the skis and facing downhill, the skier is less likely to fall. With or without poles, the skier's hands should be in front of the body.
Some Telemark skiers continue to ski with a single long pole or lurk held in both hands in traditional style. The lurk should only contact the snow on the inside of the turn, though some find better balance results if the lurk contacts the snow on the outside of the turn.
As a competition event, the sport is governed by the International Ski Federation Telemark Committee. The Telemark disciplines are:
- Telemark giant slalom
- Similar to giant slalom, but including a jump marked for style and distance.
- Telemark Classic
- Classic involves a super-g section, a giant slalom section, a jump (with time penalties of up to 7 seconds for short jumps as well as error in the landing), a 360° turn (Reipeløkke, or loom), and an uphill sprint.
- Telemark Sprint Classic
- The same as Giant Slalom but with a 360° turn and a short cross-country part where the racers sprint for about 200 m using the free style or skate cross-country skiing technique.
- Mountain Telemark
- Telemark competitions in unprepared snow. Gates and reipelykkje (360°). Telemark equipment. Backpack (5 kg senior, 3 kg junior), helmet. Free style. Most famous is the Norwegian Tinderittet, host of the first Norwegian championship ever in 2005, Galdhøpiggrennet, both in Jotunheimen, and Alperittet in Stranda (Norwegian championship in the year 2006), Norway.
- U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Telemark Championships
- Similar to the like-named alpine skiing event. This event is held in Crested Butte, Colorado.
- Sun Valley Tele Series
- The Sun Valley Tele Series is the longest running telemark series in the USA. It host numerous events throughout each ski season.
- Slopestyle/Half Pipe/Big Air
- With the popularity of Telemark skiing in younger crowds, contests and events are popping up around the world for "Newschool" telemarkers. Including the Breckenridge "Spring Massive" festival, which includes a telemark division in Half Pipe, Slopestyle, and a Rail Jam. And new in February 2012, Vail Mountain will be hosting the first ever "Winter Teva Games", which will include a "Big Air" event for telemark skiing.
- Wasatch Powderkeg
- A ski mountaineering event in Salt Lake City, UT with a mix of telemark and alpine touring(AT) participants. In the past, there were separate divisions for AT and telemark participants, but in 2012 they created men's and women's divisions for racers, heavy metal (participants not using ultra-light race gear), and recreational participants.
Telemark festivals are traditionally a gathering of telemark skiers at popular ski areas. The idea for a telemark festival was originally started by NATO (North American Telemark Organization) at Mad River Glen in Vermont and organizations such as NET (New England Telemark) and others now run festivals all around the U.S. and Canada. Québec has several festivals throughout the winter, at both small and large ski areas. These include the téléfestival at Mont Comi which has run every year since 1983. As well as the Kare Anderson telemark festival at Bromley Mountain in Vermont, it has been going on for 28 years. Festivals generally offer free lessons and gear as well as races and other telemark competitions. There are a number of telemark festivals in Europe, including one of the world's largest, held at Livigno in Italy. It usually takes place during the end of March/first week of April. Earlier it was known as 'La Skieda', then it changed its name in 'Free Heel Fest'. In 2009, it was again called 'La Skieda'. The International Telemark Film Festival Livigno runs concurrently. Another noteworthy event is California's Bear Valley Telemark Festival typically scheduled the weekend before Presidents Weekends in February.
- Krcmar, S. (2006). Fast track to Telemark skiing. Men’s Fitness, 22(9), 54.
- Blikom, A., & Molde, E. (n.d.). Sondre in the history of skiing. Sondre Norheim - the skiing pioneer of Telemark. Retrieved November 25, 2012, from http://www.sondrenorheim.com/history.htm
- Weber, M. (n.d.). Telemark skiing feature story on telemarktips.com. Telemarktips.com--The Telemark and Backcountry Skiing Online Magazine. Retrieved December 14, 2012, from http://www.telemarktips.com/WhatsTele.html
- "Wasatch Powderkeg".
- "Bromley - Vermont's Sun Mountain." 28th Annual Kare Andersen Telemark Festival. Bromley Mountain, n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2013. <http://winter.bromley.com/school/telemark/28th-annual-kare-andersen-telemark-festival>.
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