As Mark Twain once remarked, the reports of the death of telemark are greatly exaggerated. Telemark is in fact alive and well. But is it for everyone? I would say no. Like any challenging physical endeavor, it is not for the timid or the easily dissuaded. Advancing in this discipline, like any martial art, demands rare levels of commitment and devotion.
If your primary concern is “efficiency of movement,” then conform to the conventional norm that is parallel skiing. After all, the fixed heel turn is powerful and readily learned. It is percussive, strong, easily replicated. But if your primary concern is sensation and fluidity, if you value the aesthetic qualities of being low and close to the snow, free your heel and ski for real. Fixed heel turns, certainly as practiced by top athletes, may be faster, but they are not the song—the deluge of notes—that is telemark. Locked heel turns cannot begin to match the panache, style, soulfulness, and freedom of tele-riding. (And what exactly do you achieve by getting to the bottom of the hill faster, anyway, other than abbreviating your joy?)
In his presumptive article announcing the death of telemark (RIP: Telemark, Powder Magazine, February 2017), Hans Ludwig reveals he is out of touch with the evolution and progression of telemark. He cites the lack of “tele specific” skis as proof of telemark’s decline, not realizing that dramatic advances in tele boots and bindings in the last decade have allowed us to adapt any ski to our purpose. Current teleriders, backed by burly bindings and beefy boots, are on everything from 4FRNT Devastators to Volkl Ones.
He is also far off the mark in his perception that telemark equipment suffers from a fatal lack of innovation, further begging the question of why he is offering commentary on tele gear in the first place. Binding manufacturers such as Bishop, 22 Designs, M-Equipment, and Rottefella continue to refine, improve and innovate in such areas as decreasing weight, increasing strength, and even, in the instance of M-Equipment’s Meidjo, allowing for both a free heel and fixed heel function. The latest development from Bishop Bindings, known as the BMF, will be both 75mm and NTN compatible, and is expected to have unsurpassed durability and strength to power even the most aggressive riders.
Additionally, with regard to boots, there are numerous 4-buckle options from Crispi, Scarpa, and Scott to take on the steep and deep. Think that the steep and savage is just for fixed heelers? Have a look at footage from big mountain telemark competitions such as the Free Heel Life Cup help annually at Grand Targhee.
Could there be more books on telemark? Certainly. More telemark schools? Yes. These things would certainly help promote telemark and make it more accessible.
The reality is the greatest challenge to getting into telemark is the gear. Yes, it is scary to scissor your legs, pushing one foot out in front of the other to turn, and yes, you will fall. Multiple times. But the physical challenges involved in learning are dwarfed by the challenges of locating equipment and knowing what equipment to get in the first place. Tele gear is not obtainable at your local sporting goods store or even neighborhood ski shop. Major resorts in North America commonly do not carry even a single item of telemark equipment. And you can forget about rentals.
But is telemark dead? You know it’s not. It may be dead to you. Because you don’t know much about it. Because you are in a comfort zone with your locked heels. Because you don’t know anyone that drops the knee. Because you’re not curious enough to find out more. Because you tried it once and found it too hard, too challenging, too difficult. But difficult is a far cry from impossible. After all, you learned to ski and to ski well. You learned to snowboard and to snowboard well. So why stop there?
Despite what Hans says, the sun has not set on telemark. Maybe you don’t know a telerider. But you see us on the mountain. We stop and rest sometimes. We’re easy to spot with our broken bindings. Chat us up. Don’t worry about seeming ignorant. What’s ignorant is believing telemark dead when you see us shredding past, dropping bombs for knees. Talk to us if you’re not sufficiently terrorized. Then get on Craigslist and Ebay. Look at some YouTube videos. Check out Free Heel Life, Telemark Down, Jake Sakson’s Telemark Freeride Camps. Find some beater equipment for $50 at a ski swap. And start dropping knees. Get low. Touch the snow. Play. Find some powder. Do a tele press. Jump off stuff.
Grow stoke on your windowsill and put some panache in your diet.
This is how telemark never dies.
Alex ‘Tele’ Limkin is an Army veteran, ski patroller and telemark instructor at Sipapu, New Mexico, one of the only tele patrols in North America. Stephen Eytel is a Navy veteran, big mountain telerider from Breckenridge, CO, and Bishop Bindings Badassador.
(This article was submitted to Powder Magazine for publication on 3/20/17.)