What is Telemark Skiing?

Mary McMahon

Telemark skiing, also called free heel skiing, is a ski technique focused around the Telemark turn. Telemark skiing was introduced in 1868 by Sondre Norheim of Norway. Telemark skiing has remained popular, although the sport briefly fell out of fashion in the 1970s. When practiced by a skilled skier, Telemark skiing is graceful and beautiful to watch.

Telemark skiing was introduced in 1868 by Sondre Norheim of Norway.
Telemark skiing was introduced in 1868 by Sondre Norheim of Norway.

Telemark skiing is often incorporated into cross country skiing, because the Telemark turn allows skiers greater control over their movements. The Telemark turn provides better balance for the skier, allowing him or her to travel on ungroomed snow with a greater sense of safety. Telemarking is challenging to learn, although skiers with previous experience will be able to acquire it fairly quickly.

Cross country skiing often incorporates Telemark skiing.
Cross country skiing often incorporates Telemark skiing.

The Telemark turn is a skiing technique for making smooth, fast, stable turns on a variety of surfaces. If a skier wants to take a left turn, for example, he or she leads with the right ski, putting it before the left ski and balancing a little over half of his or her weight on the right ski with the heel flat. While the right ski leads, the skier tucks the left knee up, pulling the left heel off the ski. Meanwhile, the left ski pole is used as a marker on the left side of the skier for the skier to turn around. After completing the turn, the body returns to normal skiing stance.

Telemark skiing sounds complex in text, and does require some skill. Skiers usually take a few falls while learning to Telemark. A growing number of skiers are exploring the technique, which has resulted in equipment improvements and a growing number of Telemarking classes. Once a skier has become accustomed to the technique, Telemark skiing is a fun, rapid, and graceful way to descend a slope.

Telemark skiing uses unique bindings to connect the ski boots and ski. Because the heel needs to be free, the bindings only connect at the toe. However, the foot still needs stability and traction. Therefore, most Telemark bindings have a feature to stabilize the foot on the ski while still allowing the skier to disengage the foot from the ski. Some Telemark bindings use a cable which goes around the foot, while others use a series of grooves in the boot and ski that match up to provide traction.

Two common types of bindings used for Telemark skiing are NNN bindings and three pin bindings. NNN bindings use a single metal rod in the toe of the boot which clips into the ski, and have a series of grooves for traction. Three pin bindings use a series of three pins in the ski which connect to corresponding holes in the boot. A plate or wire is used to lock the boot down in the front, while a heel plate provides traction without holding the foot to the ski. Some three pin bindings use a cable around the foot instead.

Telemarking also requires specialized ski boots, because of the bending and flexing of the foot which is part of the Telemark technique. Telemark ski boots are designed to support the foot while still providing flexibility. Telemark skis are similar to Alpine and cross country skis, although some companies have released ski designs specifically for Telemarking.

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