Telemark skiing uses boots and bindings that are connected only at the front of the foot. The heel of the boot is never attached to the ski, and so the sport is also known as "free heel skiing" which better describes the choice of techniques available with the latest telemark gear.
Why telemark? It’s great fun, and intensely satisfying. There’s really nothing like the sensation of linking telemark turns, that feeling of the body, both legs and both skis working and flowing together in good snow. Power, technique and grace combined at speed, it’s as good as it gets. It’s also more physical and more technically difficult that alpine skiing, with plenty to learn to keep you busy for years.
Of course the snow isn’t always perfect and, depending upon conditions and terrain, alpine turns can be the most appropiate. Modern telemark gear allows us to also use alpine skiing techniques, so that on the same descent we can combine telemark and parallel turns, plus jump turns and hey, let’s be honest, the odd stem and snowplough. No other skiing discipline offers such variety in technique.
Modern freeheel techniques and gear can be used both for resort skiing and for touring. There’s a huge range of skis, boots and bindings available, and you can choose gear specifically designed for either lift-assisted skiing or earn-your-turns touring, or a go-anywhere do-anything set up that will allow you to both with one set of gear. Don’t hesitate to contact us should you like some advice on which is the most appropriate choice for you, we’re here to help you get the best gear for your needs.
If you’re beginning it’s a good idea to take lessons, or ski with other telemarkers. There’s nothing like watching other skiers’ styles and tricks to bring your own on faster and it’s even more fun, and safer, skiing in a group. If you’d like to have a course then we recommend the Les 5 Saisons in the Ecrins national park.
There are a number of chat groups and ezines dedicated to telemarking. One of the longest established and most informative is telemark tips
Until the mid 1990’s telemark skis were narrower and longer than alpine skis, a sign of their cross-country nordic origins. As boots and bindings have become stronger and able to transit more force to the skis, telemark skis have become shorter and wider. At the same time developments in alpine ski design, such as dual radius sidecut, progressive tips and innovative construction to reduce weight, have meant that alpine and freeheel skiers now use the same skis and most brands no longer make telemark specific models. Most modern freeride and touring skis work equally well mounted for telemark. We’ve categorised our skis according to the terrain and use they work best in.
Modern telemarking really started in 1992 with the introduction by Scarpa of plastic boots. The lateral flex in leather boots used previously offered only limited power transfer and edge control, especially as skis were becoming wider. There is now a large choice of excellent plastic telemark boots adapted for resort skiing, ski mountainering and lightweight freeheel touring. All plastic telemark boots have a front bellows that flexes when the foot is lifted. There are two types of telemark boot, corresponding to the two binding standards. 75 mm boots have a wedge-shaped duckbill at the toe of the boot, that slots into the binding. The boot is held in place by a sprung cable or strap, that clips onto the heel of the boot. Some, but not all, boots still have the three pin-holes in the sole toe, to attach the traditional 3-pin bindings. Boots designed for the Rottefella NTN system do not have a duckbill but have a second rear-facing lug under the ball of the foot. The binding clamps the boot between the toe and lug, creating an effective boot-binding interface.
Modern telemark boots, whether 75 mm or NTN, offer excellent peformance. Freeheel skiing is a much more dynamic activity for your feet than fixed-heel skiing – flexing the boots by raising the heel means that the foot has to be very well anchored in the boot, so having the correct size is paramount. We’ve over ten years experience in selling boots online. We test every model and measure every size of every model to be sure that we can guide you as much a possible to the most suitable model and size boots for your needs.
Telemark bindings connect the boot to the ski by the toe or forefoot only. The heel is not attached to the ski and so the rear foot boot can flex and lift during the turn. This is the fundamental difference between telemark, or freeheel bindings, and alpine and alpine touring bindings.
The original and simplest telemark binding is the 3-pin binding. Three pins stick up from the base of the toepiece, the sole of the boot has three matching holes underneath the duckbill and the boot is held in place by an articulated metal plate, or bail. These bindings look like a mousetrap and this is the origin of the name Rottefella, the first manufacturer of telemark bindings.
Simple and lightweight, 3-pin bindings are ideal for moderate slopes using lightweight skis and boots. For skiing steeper slopes cable bindings offer improved boot-ski contact and so greater precison and power. These use a cable (or rigid rods) that articulate each side or under the toepiece and connect to a spring-loaded heel unit that slots into a groove around the heel of the boot. The spring-loaded cable is stretched onto the boot using a heel 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.
Cable bindings have been refined over the last 15 years and offer excellent control. Most bindings now use compression spring cartridges rather than extension springs. The force exerted by the compression springs increases with compression, so the power exerted upon the boot and ski increases with boot flex, increasing control and skiability. The position of the articulation point of the cables (or rods) has a direct effect upon the characteristics and performance of the bindings. Since the part of the boot between the toepiece and the articulation point is constrained from lifting up during the turn, the further back the cable guides are positioned then the greater the effort needed to flex the boot and the greater the area of ski-boot contact. A binding with cable guides positioned forward is called a “neutral” or “inactive” binding. Conversely a binding cable guides situated further back is “active” and offers increased control but also requires more skier input. The cable guides of the 22Designs Hammerhead can be adjusted between 5 positions to offer varying “activity”. These 5 positions are a rough-and-ready benchmark with which other bindings are compared.
When ski touring with 3-pin or cable bindings there is a resistance in the bellows of the boots that must be overcome with each step. This was minimal with leather boots but is much stronger with plastic, and results in the ski tips “diving” in deep snow when climbing. Within a few years telemark gear had gone from being lighter and more mobile than alpine touring gear, to being heavier and less efficient. Most manufacturers now make articulated touring bindings with a “free pivot” mode where the toepiece hinges up to allow resistance-free climbing. A simple lever locks the binding down for the descent and these bindings work very well.
Most telemark bindings do not offer a release function. With flexible leather boots and 3-pin bindings there was enough play to avoid injury. Even with modern more rigid gear there is still some margin since the boot is not pinned to the ski as in alpine skiing, and most telemarkers use bindings without a release function. Whether you should ski with release capability is a subjective decision. We’ve people here who always ski with release, and others who don’t. Should you prefer to have release capability then Voile and 7tm manufacture release bindings that work well once correctly adjusted.
Current 75 mm norm bindings can now offer excellent control, plus release or touring capability. No current 75 mm norm bindings offer all three in a lightweight easy-to-use package. The basic technology has not changed for many years and within the sport the idea of a new binding design standard arose offering the ability to perform telemark turns combined with touring-mode, step-in entry and safety-release features. In 2007 Rottefella introduced the New Telemark Norm (NTN) binding. The NTN binding has a spring loaded forward-pointing clamp under the ball of the foot, creating an effective boot-binding interface. The NTN binding offers good performance, has a touring mode and can release laterally in some situations.
There’s a bewildering choice of bindings available. Should you like any advice as to which bindings to choose then do get in touch – we’ve skied all models and are here to help.