It’s a frequent occurrence in the winter: I wind up in conversations about the roots of telemark skiing with random folks. Oftentimes it is with old American tele-dudes spraying like snow blowers about the golden days of leather boots, skinny skis and steep mountaineering-style descents. You know whom I’m talking about. Every ski hill or BC stash has one lurking around ready to preach the words of cowhide and farmed-turns. I’m perfectly fine with this. I learned on skinnies and leathers myself. However, in general these people are also adamant in exhorting that the word backcountry is synonymous with tele skiing. Beware of following these mistruths too closely.
It’s a fact that backcountry tours and ski mountaineering are surely part of our roots, but if you dig a little further down to when drop-knee turns first started in the mid-1800s you’ll find it was once all about jumping off of big booters, jibbing off of houses and stylish turns as well. Surprised? Don’t be. Telemark has roots that reach into more places than most people would lead you to believe. And, often, one person’s ignorance plays into another’s perception of what the sport is or should be. Tele isn’t just backcountry and it isn’t just jumping or turning. Telemarkers range from dirty hippies to weekend Patagucci warriors to young tele-jib kids with their pants below their protruding rumps because the roots include us all. We all look and ski differently. But we all have free heels and we all make tele turns. So who’s to say what telemark should look or feel like? Not me and definitely not anyone else out there because it is whatever you want to make it.
I see this wide variety of turns and people every year at events that are put on by groups of die-hard tele-fanatics that have taken personal time to create a venue for sharing our shared turns and culture. If it weren’t for all of these wonderful people and events, it would be difficult for the rest of the winter world to see how diverse and fun telemark skiing truly is.
Freeheel skiing is just as much about individuality as it is about making turns. The turn was made to manipulate, customize, and change like a recipe. And it’s up to the rider to bring the ingredients and spice things up or smooth things out in terms of style and objective.
So take a second this winter to pass along telemark skiing to someone else. Invite your fixed-heeled friend out for a spin on some pins or your single-plank surfer buddy out for some powder turns on some freeheel fat boards. Maybe they’ll like it and maybe they won’t. But trust me, tele is a passion of personality. This winter take it upon yourself to be a voice for what telemark really is—it’s whatever you want it to be. —Josh Madsen