First I should apologise to any genuine telemarkers for presuming to write on the subject. I'm a total novice and can claim no particular expertise or knowledgeability. However, I've taken the plunge, I've tried it, I enjoyed it, and I will be back for more. Who knows, I may even persuade others to follow my example.

This year I had my first Telemarking lesson from Pietro Barigazzi of Alpine Experience in Val d'Isere. I joined a group lesson which turned out to consist of myself and two other Telemark total beginners. After an hours tuition on the nursery slopes we ascended Solaise and attempted our first (easy!) blue run on the Madelein. One run and I was hooked. As the afternoon drew on and the sun sank behind Bellevarde we retreated lift by lift as the resort gradually shut down. It was... once more the great adventure, a return to youth, every bump a challenge, every steepening gradient a lurking nemesis, every completed turn a gold medal triumph. You remember the feeling, one's first ski trip all over again. Under the benign eyes of the pisteurs we retreated, last down the mountain.

I guess that there will be people who adapt immediately to telmarks. I found the radically different reactions and body posture irritatingly difficult to achieve. Like moving from a bicycle to alpine skis for the first time one has to unlearn long developed skiing reactions. Tuition, I would guess, is essential. I doubt if one would pick it up easily simply by observation. It may be easier for some than others. Pietro said that those with a lot of nordic (langlauf) experience adapt more easily. Certainly my two fellow beginners got off to a faster start than me and both were skilled at both alpine and nordic skiing. Its also possible that snowboarders may find it relatively easy to learn. Langlauf is basically a fore and aft sport, unlike alpine, which, like cricket is a sideways on game.

Beginners Guide to a Beginners Guide

By now everyone must have seen telemarkers. Their graceful curtsying style is an eyecatcher all over the mountain. But there are more significant differences than the repeated genuflections. Many basic moves are radically different. For example, in the traverse the down-hill ski is in advance of the up-hill. On also has to learn to use the skis independently. In other ways its just like learning alpine, no single detail is impossible or even difficult, its the problem of putting them all together at the same time. Get the front foot right and somehow the back ski develops a life of its own, correct that, get both legs obeying orders and then suddenly one realises that the instructors has been screaming "batons, batons" for at least three turns. The skis (at least superficially) are not that dissimilar to their alpine cousins but bindings and boots are very different to an orthodox traditional alpine ski. A little shorter (perhaps that's because I was a beginner), not much of a waist and very light (that was a major advantage before we even reached the lift). The batons were much the same (but about 5 cms longer). The boots are midway between cross-country and alpine boots. Stiffer than the former, particularly laterally, but nowhere near as masochistic as the average (front entry) alpine boot. Mine were plastic, light, with a lace up inner and a clipped outer. The biggest difference is in the binding, which was a plate hinged at the toe with a lifting heel. The lot cost me about 60-70FF to hire for an afternoon. I didn't enquire about purchase costs, I think that I'm good for a few more years alpine skiing yet and a pair of telemarks won't fit in the same bag together with my all-terrain softs and my 2 meter super-G's. (That was a joke, my wife and I once did take two pairs of skis each in our shared double ski bag but an airport baggage handler did his back and sued us so we never tried it again).

So what of the future? As I said above, the challenge of the (moderate) steeps and improving my off-piste technique still has its hold on me. I'm not willing to give up the couloirs yet and there are still lots of deep snow conditions that I find exasparatingly tricky even if I only rarely actually fall over. However, aside from the bumps, piste skiing long ago lost its attractions. Telemarking suggests a possible way forward during declining bravery in my old age. I foresee that the challenge of acquiring basic competence on Telemarks could occupy several weeks of declining physical competence. I think therefore that the sensible course will be continue taking the regular lessons whilst still young so as to pick up the basics. Perhaps I'll then have the confidence to ask Amata to buy me a pair of Telemarks for my 60th birthday.


Copyright©Dennis Summerbell, 2003, (Link to full copyright notice)

Updated 25th Jan 2003