By Indrek Kongats
Telemark skiing is not only a technique, it’s a lifestyle adopted by the purest skier, whose motto is ‘Free Your Heel, Free Your Mind.” It’s what meditation is to yoga— at peace with your inner self and connection with nature with minimal equipment in between.
The term “Telemark” originates from Norway from the region of Telemark, made famous by the film “The Real Heroes of Telemark.” This true story takes place during World War II when the resistance (The Real Heroes) used skis to travel through the mountainous backcountry of Telemark to reach and sabotage the enemy’s heavy water plant.
Telemark skiing is alpine cross country, not to be confused with alpine touring, which is more similar to alpine, while Telemark is a downhill version of the cross-country technique.
The trick to Telemark skiing is to weight the rear leg while you edge and carve your turn, at the same time shifting weight to your other leg as you complete the turn getting ready for the following one. This diagonal shifting of stance creates a very graceful dance down the hill.
Telemark is great for traversing steep slopes with large looping turns or blasting your way down the fall line with the small and quick to control speed and direction. The skier’s heels are not locked down to the ski, allowing the deep knee drop of the rear leg that identifies a Telemark skier on the slope.
Telemark bindings secure only the toe of the boot and have a cable type of binding that old timers used to call a bear trap that wraps around the heel, creating forward boot pressure. The boot has a bellows built into the toe section, so the boot bends or folds just above the ball of the boot, allowing for a natural flexing of the foot. As the skier drops his knee, the heel rises up and the boot flexes, allowing for the skier to exert downward force on the ski and edge it properly.
As in alpine touring, skinning is also very popular with the Tele skier, who always has a pack carrying his trusty skins strapped to his back. Because Telemark is as much as a cross country ski technique as it is an alpine technique, you’ll find the Tele skier on the flats on his way to less traveled slopes of the backcountry, where the powder is untouched, deep and fluffy. This is the Tele skier’s paradise and defines him, skiing many times on his own, contemplating each turn in a rhythm predetermined and visualized in his mind.
Ellicottville has been an important destination for the serious Tele skier in the east, with a long tradition in the sport, earning the town the nickname of Televille. Area ski shops, like City Garage on Monroe Street and Dekdrebruns on Washington Street, have been responsible over the years for supporting and nurturing the growing interest in Telemark skiing on local slopes at both Holiday Valley and HoliMont. The Free Heel Fling Telefestival has been held annually for many years on the first Friday of March.
The Telemark skier is a true pilgrim and will go on an annual pilgrimage that takes one from the infamous Mad River Glen in Vermont, whose motto is “Ski it if you Can,” one of the finest Tele skiing areas in the east, to combining Tele with Heli at Revelstoke in British Columbia, Canada. But the pilgrimage isn’t complete without a stopover in Ellicottville.
One of the great attractions to Ellicottville is that the area ski schools have well- trained and dedicated instructors for both the novice and expert skier, and host well- stocked rental shops that feature the latest Tele equipment from traditional cable style bindings to the newer Tele Norm step in bindings and boots.
Tele talk will be prevalent and loudly audible in Televille’s pubs and eateries, where Tele skiers recount their off-piste experiences of one of their favorite pursuits, skiing through the trees.
Once the lifts shut down and our season ends here in Televille, the free spirited free heelers will seek new Meccas. One place in particular, and a must on every Tele skiers bucket list, is to return to the birth country of Telemark skiing. In July, the Tele addict can ski the glaciers at Folgefonna Summer Ski Center or Stryn Sommerski in Norway. As many resorts close up, these two areas are just beginning to emerge from a winter’s grave, buried under deep snow; only in the summer do the lifts become visible and functional.
As in the movie the “Endless Summer,” were two diehard surfers chase that perfect wave around the world, the Tele skier has the opportunity to experience the “Endless Winter.” After Norway, one can cross the globe and visit New Zealand’s South Island, where the season has just started and lasts well into October. Renowned for their great Heli skiing, NZ is affordable and more in line with the Tele skier’s tight and meager budget. The mountains in New Zealand are sharp and pointy much like the Rockies and the European Alps— the NZ’s Southern Alps are an experience that is simply amazing. Tele skiers will have the opportunity to carve through rich and deep virgin snow.
Once the tour is complete, the circle of life begins all over again with Tele skiers returning to ski another season at Televille, USA.