Telemark Skiing: What Is It And How Do You Get Started?

Published by Harry Sowers on

The world of skiing is a wide and varied one. Skiing has been a part of human civilization for thousands of years and in many different forms. It has traveled its way to every continent across the world. There are many different types of skiing styles, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. If you’re tired of downhill skiing and want something new and invigorating to get you out of your skiing rut, why don’t you try Telemark skiing? It has a unique and engaging style all its own, and you’ll connect with other people who practice it and make new friends. Plus, you’ll get stronger and develop a greater command of your movements when you switch from regular skiing to Telemark skiing.

What Is Telemark Skiing?

telemark skiing

In a nutshell, Telemark Skiing is a unique skiing style that originated in Europe, specifically Norway. Skiing historians consider Telemark Skiing to be one of the purest forms of skiing left in the world. This skiing form was born in the 1860s, and it was invented by a man named Sondre Nordheim. Since it was his private invention that no one else knew, he used his self-made style to win many championships and competitions his town regularly hosted.

If this is what Telemark skiing is, then what is regular skiing called? The skiing style that most people participate in is called Alpine skiing. Another name for Alpine skiing is called downhill skiing.

What are the main differences between Telemark skiing and Alpine skiing?

To the untrained eye, Telemark skiing looks like regular skiing, and there is no differentiation. Still, to ski enthusiasts or to people who are quite good at noticing small details, the difference between these types of skiing is apparent. For starters, someone who practices Telemark skiing does not have the back of their foot bound to the ski. Only the front of the foot is bound to the ski. Since the heel is not bound to the ski, this type of ski binding is called the Freeheel position. Because the skier’s back foot is not bound to the ski, the front bind must be the anchor. The front foot bind on a Telemark ski is longer and wider so the Telemark skier can feel stable, but they are still able to move their back feet and walk or ski down or across the snow.

What is the purpose of not binding the back of the skier’s foot? 

telemark ski racing

Although it may seem kind of dangerous to not have your entire foot completely attached to the ski, without this backing, Telemark skiers can make quick and best turns, shorter turns, and more types of turns than if the entire foot was bound to the ski. Many techniques in Telemark skiing cannot be replicated in Alpine skiing, but many Alpine techniques can be used and even enhanced in Telemark skiing.

Another difference between Alpine and Telemark skiing is that when you practice and push off to start building speed down a hill, the skier must bend down and position their body into a squat.

The third difference between Alpine skiing and Telemark skiing is that Telemarking looks more graceful. Because the back of the skier’s foot is not bound to the ski, the skier’s movements are more graceful, and their movements are more fluid. 

The last difference we will highlight in this quick guide is the weight of Telemark skis. Telemark skis are significantly lighter than regular Alpine gear. It is because of this weight difference that Telemark skiers can wear their skis as they walk uphill. 

Skiing Telemark equipment

If you’re interested in Telemark skiing, I have some bad news for you. It is not easy to trade your regular Alpine skiing equipment for Telemark skiing equipment. Everything in skiing has to be adapted to Telemark skiing. The ski only has one front clasp, so you won’t be able to use your current skis. Plus, your regular Alpine boots will not fit into ski boot binding because it was made to bind to both the front and heel.

Of course, you can rent Telemark equipment from any winter activity store or sports store if they have it.

Since Telemark skiing is different from Alpine skiing, you may want to get an instructor who can help you develop the correct stance and Telemark skiing techniques. 

You can read more about how to choose a size for your Telemark Skis here.

Beginner Telemark Skiing

Whether you’re on your own or with an instructor, you must learn a few fundamentals so you can start practicing Telemark skiing right away. You start off by learning the Telemark position, the Telemark, practicing Telemark shuffles to improve your positioning, and the Telemark turn. Plus, you must also get used to not having your heel secured onto the ski. The ability to freely lift your heel throws many Alpine skiers off the first few times they set out on a full ski. But like anything else, you’ll get used to it as long as you practice consistently. 

The Telemark position

Slowly lower your body towards the ground like your knees are folding in half. When your body is almost in a squatting position, slowly spread your legs out a few inches, then bring your outside leg forward and put your weight on it. Your leg should not spread too wide and don’t position your back leg behind your body. This position must be firm but also fluid.

Telemark Shuffles

If you do the Telemark position more than once, congratulations, you have already completed your first Telemark Shuffle. The Telemark Shuffle is just a way to swiftly and precisely practice positioning your body into the Telemark position. If you see someone practicing Telemark shuffles, it looks like they are performing lunges while wearing ski gear.

How To Telemark Ski

The Telemark turn

If there’s one Telemark skiing technique that you should know right when you start practicing these new skiing ways, it is the Telemark turn. The Telemark turn is similar to the Alpine turn, as the skier must switch edges and poles with every turn. But the main difference in this turn is when the switch is done, the ski on the inside should be behind the outside ski. The skier must also raise the heel of their unsupported leg. While the heel is raised up on the unsupported leg, their support leg should have all of their weight on the ball of their foot.

One major mistake many Telemark beginners make when performing the Telemark Shuffle is to go as fast as possible. They want to get their foot in front of them fast so they can round to the next turn. But performing any maneuver too fast when you don’t have the fundamentals down can cause injury, or you could break your skis or poles. While practicing the shuffle, try to go slowly and do it correctly. Then you can gradually pick up speed after you perfect the stance and positioning.

Telemark Skiing Tips

The first tip any aspiring Telemark ski should know is that after the first few days of beginning Telemark lessons, your body will be sore. If you are not used to doing dozens upon dozens of squats per day while skiing down slopes and hills, then you will have to build up the stamina needed to perform all the maneuvers properly. Telemark skiing is significantly harder than Alpine skiing, and this is one of the obstacles you will have to overcome. So, if you are waiting for the winter season to start so you can rent your first pieces of Telemark gear, then practice doing squats and lunges several times a day. This will help improve your stamina, so you don’t burn with muscle aches on your first day.

Tip number 2: Even though your heel is free to use, lifting up your heel must be intentional. If you catch yourself raising your heels when you are not supposed to, you must immediately stop this action. Lifting up your heel is reserved for techniques like turning and curving down the snow. You should not instinctively start lifting your heel if you are just standing in a straight line or performing another technique where raising the heel is not necessary.

Like everything else in this world, practicing consistently and with a knowledgeable coach or trainer can help you develop your record time skills. Remember to practice any new techniques slowly and then gradually add speed. Telemark skiing is a fun skiing style that developed more than a century ago in Norway, and it has been quite popular ever since. Telemark skis are light, so skiers can walk uphill while wearing their skis. Telemark ski is different from the regular Alpine Ski because the heel is not bound to the ski. The skier can lift up their heel, enabling them to perform more curves and turns than Alpine skiing. Telemark skiing is hard on the thighs and back, so practice doing lunges and squats during the summer and fall, so when the winter comes around you’ll be ready.

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Harry Sowers

Harry grew up outside of Denver Colorado and has been skiing and snowboarding since he was 3. He is most passionate about skiing and when he was in college at UC Boulder he even participated in the olympic trials for the USA Olympic Downhill Ski team.