I am a skier. Skiing is my passion and it’s been a part of my life for 30-plus years. In that time, I’ve seen fellow skiers leave the sport or turn to different disciplines. Not me—I have always considered rigid boots and two-piece bindings as the only choice. I have never strapped a snowboard to my feet, and until this past season, an alpine ski setup had been my only means of getting down a snow-covered mountain.
Norwegian Sondre Norheim introduced telemark skiing to the world in 1866. This skiing discipline, which is distinguished by the telemark stance—where a skier bends their knee at a 90-degree angle while turning, has seen peaks and valleys of popularity over the past century-plus. There has been a recent surge in the sport’s popularity primarily thanks to equipment advancements and the increased interest in backcountry pursuits—for which telemark gear is uniquely suited.
Telemark skiing initially intrigued me about 15 years ago, shortly after I sustained a serious knee injury from a forward twisting fall where my ski boot didn’t release from my alpine binding. Had I been telemark skiing at the time, I might have avoided that injury, as tele bindings allow for greater range of motion because your ski boot is only bound to the ski at one point (the toe) as opposed to the toe and heel for traditional alpine bindings.
Since then, the reasons to try teleskiing—a new challenge, greater aerobic exercise, less chance for another major knee injury, etc.—continued to pile up. Finally, I decided this past season was going to be the year that I “freed my heel” and gave tele skiing a try. The following documents my journey from telemark neophyte to free-heeled convert.
Rottefella of Norway changed the telemark game back in 2007 when they introduced the New Telemark Norm (NTN) binding system. NTN bindings offer greater ease of use, increased torsional rigidity for precision edging and more safety features than traditional duckbill telemark bindings. After the first couple of times clicking in and out of my Rottefella Freedom bindings, I became quite comfortable with them.
NTN bindings require NTN compatible boots. For that, I turned to Scarpa—the brand that made the first plastic telemark boot back in 1992. The Scarpa TX Pro is lightweight yet burly, easy flexing yet powerful and one of the most comfortable ski boots I’ve ever worn. With a heat moldable Intuition liner, these boots required next to no modification and provided pure comfort right out of the box.
Unlike tele boots and bindings, you don’t need special skis to telemark—you can mount your tele setup to any alpine ski. I chose to mount my NTN bindings to a pair of Dean Cummings’ H20G Kodiak skis. Cummings named these skis after his son, and despite a 120mm waist, they perform just as well on-piste as they do in the deep stuff. I decided to go with the Kodiaks for my tele setup because they’re the go-to tele ski for the guides at Cummings’ heli-ski operation in Alaska: H20 Guides.
My telemark journey began at Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin for a lesson from “Tele Tim” Stroh. Stroh has been telemark skiing exclusively since 1981 and was able to school me in the ways of the tele technique. I spent much of the morning shuffling my feet down beginner trails while managing pressure and maintaining balance. This exercise really had me focus on keeping my weight equally distributed across both skis.