Scarpa North America Blog

Going Deeper: A Free-Heel History

Dec. 11th 2014

It used to be for stability – dropping one knee provided better fore and aft stability than the parallel position, especially when wearing soft, leather lace-up boots. With good telemark technique, the backcountry became a ski playground long before AT gear became as reliable and lightweight as it is today. Only recently, with the invention of ultralight Rando-racing technology, does fixed-heel ski gear compete with the weight advantage of old school tele gear.

With the invention of high-top, high-performance tele boots, telemark skiing took on the trappings of a fashion statement. The gear weighed about the same as downhill gear, and the boots and bindings grew so robust as to allow the parallel turn to be quite easy. The tele turn became a choice, not a necessity.

Then shaped skis made the parallel turn a lot more fun. The telemark turn is inherently a playful technique: bouncy, variable and fluid. With shaped skis, the parallel turn grew more playful and arguably closer to the righteous ride shared by telemarkers and snowboarders for decades.

So what is it about telemark skiing that inspires timeless enthusiasm when many of its original advantages have been quieted by the advances in technology? Any telemarker will have a pile of reasons why they telemark, but one of the best is this: you can spend more time deeper in the pow.

Amy Pertelez dropping a knee in less than 10 inches of the fresh stuff, Columbia Mountains, BC.

Today, people still love tele skiing. Heli-ski guides telemark on their days off, many ski patrollers choose telemark gear for the comfort and ease of movement sideways and uphill in the line of duty, and even some hard-core downhillers switch to telemark for fun in some snow conditions.

In this age of superfat skis, the face shot is almost an endangered species and the telemark turn is the ticket to going deeper. Do you like powder flowing over your shoulders when you ski? It takes two feet or more of champagne fluff to get this effect with your heels locked down. Get a little in the backseat on a pair of superfats, and even in three feet or more of fresh pow you’ll be missing the face shots. Sure, if it’s -30 it can be nice to keep your face out of the snow, but most of the time a meaty face shot feels mighty fine. In tele mode (full drop knee, not that weak sauce paramarking/telerelling stuff) you can get face shots in a foot of new snow. Stay low between turns in the really deep and you can submerge for as long as you can hold your breath.

That said, the whole discussion about what style of snow riding you prefer – be it cross country, snowboarding, alpine or telemark – reminds me of a famous Robin Williams scene in the Fisher King. At one point, Williams is dragging his naked rear end across the grass in New York’s central park. He says, “Do you know why dogs do this? Because it feels good!”

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