June 18, 2019

Free the Heel. More Thrills for Downhills.


“It feels like you’re floating through the snow,” says John Janssen, University of Calgary Outdoor Centre, Telemark program coordinator/instructor and rental equipment manager.


Telemark, the original down - hill skiing, is a cool technique developed in the 19th century in Norway’s Telemark region, that’s now enjoying a resurgence in popularity. The thing that differentiates telemark from other types of alpine skiing is that the heels are not locked on to the ski with a binding. This allows greater boot separation—forward and back—increasing stability. Weight is transferred from one ski to the other, resulting in a graceful arcing turn.


“The sheer fluidity of the turn is why people telemark. It’s a feeling that you can’t get from downhill skiing,” Janssen says. “Learning this technique will give you the stability to feel more confident in your skiing. It helps you develop better balance on your skis.”


According to Janssen, learning to telemark appeals to cross-country skiers interested in learning a better technique for going downhill or when venturing out into the backcountry; and it would also be of interest to downhill skiers wanting to try something different.


The telemark technique allows you to “gain much more stability front to back when using free heel bindings,” Janssen says. He notes that cross-country skiers can use it to gain greater stability and control on steeper downhills or when going around sharp corners.


And when skiers head out into the backcountry on telemark gear, they are more stable when skiing powder or uneven terrain. Another advantage, compared to alpine gear, is that you don’t have to switch your bindings back and forth from uphill to downhill mode, because your heel always stays free.


Telemark gear features a lightweight binding that allows the heel to move while the toe of the boot remains attached to the ski. Boots are made from hard plastic, with the ability to flex at the toes. The skis are wider than cross-country skis, with more sidecut and metal edges, and are made out of fibreglass with a foam or wood core.


To take up telemarking, you’ll need both instruction and practice. The Outdoor Centre offers novice and intermediate telemark skiing courses, taught by CANSIcertified telemark instructors. You can rent all the equipment needed as well – boots, skis and poles, plus skins if you’re going into the backcountry. Course prerequisites are good cross-country skiing skills or downhill/alpine skiing experience.


When learning to telemark, Janssen says, the most efficient place to do so is at a ski resort, because you can make so many more runs in a day at a resort.


“It’s much easier to learn the technique on groomed slopes.” You don’t need to be super athletic or coordinated to telemark, he adds. “It’s like learning any skill - you practice and become good at it.”


When you take up telemarking, you’ll be in good company. There is a whole community of telemark enthusiasts and clubs out there. You can join organizations such as Alberta Telemark and Telemark Ski Canada, and enter racing competitions. Ski and be free - free your heel!