Telemark skiing, otherwise known as “free-heel” skiing, is a technique that combines elements of Alpine and Nordic Skiing that originated in the Telemark region of Norway. The name of the sports technique comes from the founding father and a pioneer of modern skiing, Sondre Nordheim, who discovered the perfect heel strap in 1850 in his hometown of Telemark when he landed the historic jump over his father’s barn. He used birch tree root to create a heel strap with enough stiffness to provide sufficient control of the ski for steering and the elasticity for the heel strap to fit tight enough around the heel to keep the toe in the toe-strap. This strap made it possible to both downhill ski and go over ski jumps.
Some defining characteristics of Telemark skiing are that the heels of the boots are not connected to the skis. Bindings are only attached at the toe end. This allows the heel to come free from the ski base and separates the skis, by moving one back while the other moves forward. This type of action forces the knees to bend causing the typical “Telemark” position. Telemark skiing peaked in popularity in the 70s and 80s but is gaining traction again as a popular method of skiing in the backcountry to allow better flotation in powder. In addition to giving better access to deep snow, the Telemark gear allows for tours of longer distances on unpaved trails and undiscovered territory in the backcountry climate.
As you may have realized, Telemarking requires unique gear and in today’s sports environment, Telemark skiing is really more about the gear than the turn itself. There have been innovations in the shape of a telemark ski, design of the camber, and boot design updates that make it easier than ever for those new to the sport to learn. The boot and binding combination must be a free-heel system. Many regular alpine skis work for telemarking. It is important to note that you use relatively wide skis that are not especially long and to find skis that are less stiff than alpine skis. Veteran telemark pros have been known to love the freedom, comfort, and mobility of telemark gear. You will see skiers individual methods of utilizing the Telemark technique, as well, on a turn by turn basis when they opt to drop a knee or not.
Try something new this winter season and give Telemarking a try. There are full and half day lessons available at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort if you are up to the challenge. You may just have the time of your life practicing and perfecting the technique behind a natural “Telemark” turn. Jackson provides the perfect landscape and terrain to try this ski technique, either at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, in Grand Teton National Park, or on Teton Pass for more experienced skiers. Our reservation agents are happy to connect you with the trip best suited to your needs and that will be most memorable.