Telemark is Dead: Response to Powder Skier Magazine

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I’ve heard it hundreds of times.

Telemark is dead, or Is telemark dead?

Well, I would agree to some degree.
Yes, it’s on a low.

It was popular around 10-15 years ago. You have to say popular with a sense of proportion. It’s always been marginal. There are no benefits. There never was.
I can’t buy new equipment around here. I live in Quebec City, an 800 000 inhabitants Nordic City in the province that counts the most ski resorts in all North America.

We love skiing in Quebec for sure.
Not telemark.

First, you should go read the article by Hans Ludwig. His arguments are really a Telemark vs alpine skiing trend confrontation.

So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll give you my perspective on that confrontation.

Gear:

SKI:

This is an interesting area. I would agree that alpine gear as taken a strong turn around 2010, fat skis, light and powerful boots with incredible walk mode have really changed the game. The shift happened, the mass started to go out in the backcountry and most of them were not fit to carry the big alpine gear.

Dynafit already had the lowtech binding but it was not really popular with anybody but ski guides or people earning there turns more than riding a chair lift.

Yes technology killed the attraction for telemark as a BC tool.

TELEMARK:

What funny is that it’s exactly how telemark became popular in the 90s, gear. Plastic boots arrived on the scene and the sport changed forever. That’s faded away now.

As for the point that no major improvements have been made in recent years, I disagree. The bindings have seen major improvements with NTN and TTS alike bindings. The change is BIG. the passion is strong with a lot of small companies, but you have to agree that gear has evolved with the very limited money invested by the big companies. TTS, Bishop and 22 Design, Voile in the US have all released new bindings since 2010. The M Equipment and their Meidjo have been the most creative in my mind. All these companies are still doing business. They have very creative ideas that will become the telemark experience of tomorrow and just like the debate about leather vs plastic boot we had 20 years ago, there will always be a before and after NTN telemark scene.

The missing piece are the boots. We are still with the same design we had 15 years ago. And that’s the most expensive to R&D. It’s the only thing that could kill the sport. If the numbers would get too low, the companies stop making them. Never mind innovate.

Culture

SKI:

But BC was  so marginal, it was for the purist.

Now the masses do both, inbound and outbound. They want a new experience. The resorts are all the same, groomed, pack with lift lines, pricy…

It’s the whole ski industry that’s going down. The numbers are not disastrous but it’s not a booming industry like it was. A lot of people think that snowboarding and parabolic have saved the industry. Now, the lowtech binding is the new buzz. Look at all the big companies, jumping in that direction. We are seeing the small family owned resorts closing and the giant corporations making risky moves with huge investments. Will the industry survive the transformation as a whole? I think it’s fair to ask. Maybe Chinese will save the gear industry. It’s getting very popular over there I hear. But will they come ski in our resorts. Will it be enough to support the whole industry?

TELEMARK is different.

It’s a crow of passionate people. We ski about 3 times more days than any other snowsport. There is no mass. You don’t receive telemark gear for Christmas and try it for 3 days in the holidays. This is what alpine skiing numbers are. Loads of less than 5 days a season skiers. They are the moving force. Will they stay.

And we don’t do it because it’s cool, trendy or eccentric. If you telemark, you know it’s all about the turn. PERIOD. There are no other arguments in favour of the telemark turn. Alpine is just better in every way. And it was in the mid 2000 as well. Gear doesn’t matter. So it will never pass a 5-10% market share we had a decade ago.

Telemark skiers are the most passionate. This is a major plus. I can alpine any run I can telemark. For me it’s just playing the video game with a cheat code. The fun is altered. I would change to split boarding before going to alpine skiing for sure.

We will not make the industry survive or fail. But the skier will.

Future:

SKI:

Who knows? Will the prices keep rising? Will climate change make snowmaking financially viable? Will the new generations keep coming to the super resorts? After all snowboard have hit a plateau too. The Snowsport Industry is asking these same questions right now.

TELEMARK:

There is a lot more telemark skiers than a mere 10 000. This web site alone has 30 000 visitors a month. I have a YouTube video with 200 000 views. That doesn’t look dead to me.
Yes, Vermonters will keep it alive. Eastcoast terrain is perfect for telemark for sure. I hear that the alps have very dynamic festivals, race, communities especially in France, Italy and Austria.

In fact, telemark is really great at gathering people with a different mind set.
Small pockets everywhere.

  • Remember your HAHA moment, how you felt for the first time the telemark turn
  • Remember the gear you use to ski with. And it worked. It’s not about the gear
  • I have never tried to convince people around me to tele. But each year I see newcomers attracted by the smooth, flowy turns.

Conclusion

On the personal, small-scale side, it’s obvious. Telemark will never die. It’s the best feeling. It’s hard, it’s physically and technically harder. But the rewards are making me come for more.

On the global economic scale, it’s harder now. The wheel is turning slower. I don’t think Chris, Pierre or Dave will make the Fortune top 1 000 000 richest people by selling bindings. But if it’s sustainable, we have dedicated companies still pushing the technology.

For those two reasons, I declare that Telemark is alive :)

I should do an interview with 4 ex-skier that have changed to telemark and ask them what they think about the ski industry

Leave your comments below.

 

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  • http://www.nstelemark.com Larry White

    Exactly!

  • RodBelan

    Content de voir ta réponse! We have to manifest ourselves…
    Here is mine, published a couple of weeks ago:
    https://zone.ski/telemark-skiing-is-dead-logique-defficience-ou-deficiente/
    Take care…
    Rod

  • Michael Boire

    The gear advances in the last 5 years are good for our sport:

    Bindings – I look at the new bindings, (i.e.Rotefella Freeride, Meidjo 2.1) with safety release approaching alpine bindings, increased stability, and performance, as a possible catalyst to attracting new skiers/converts from Alpine. Heck, when you can tele and AT with the same setup, that’s a very attractive feature to those who might not feel totally comfortable with tele alone.

    Skis – No longer necessary to have a purpose built telemark ski, on the frontside (probably really never was necessary) I ski frontside with Rotefella Freeride bindings on Rossi Experience 88, which is an excellent Alpine ski, as well.

    Boots – Have become very close to Alpine boot.

    The killer is price point on the boots and bindings! The only way to sell more is to lower prices. That will probably happen only when they sell more (Catch 22!)

    We also have to realize that Alpine skiing is not as popular as it was 30 years ago. The average age has increased, and so have prices!

    Tele will always have us devotees who just like The Turn. To me, it’s a different way to ski than my Alpine setup, and makes the same slopes more interesting and fun.

  • Eggy248

    Long live telemark and its most recent (though not terribly recent) evolution, the teleboard.

  • Mark Thomasson

    Old school was Telemark (ie all-mountain) as a advance on Nordic ski touring.
    I now come across a lot of very good Telemark skiers and find they have moved on from Alpine – as they had got to a stage where it became boring. So perhaps there is a good future ahead. There are a lot of people out there happy to spend a great deal on new kit – at least more than I like to do.

  • Benny Hill

    So many good tele skiers went back to alpine when the AT gear became great. If the turn is so addictive, why did that happen? At Mad River Glen I used to count 30-40% tele skiers in the line now it’s well under 10%.

    • Spencer Vidal

      They got lazy

  • craig brandt

    I first learned about telemark turns in the late 1970’s. I don’t recall the magazine I saw it in, but the article talked about a resurgence of an old turning technique, complete with ‘how-to-do-it’ pictures. At the time, my ski rig was a pair of Trysl-Knut wood skis with segmented aluminum edges in the waist and Troll bindings.

    I remember the derision we’d hear from the inevitable and fortunately few snobs we’d encounter at local resorts in the 80’s, but we came back over and again, working the runs on our “wide” Tua Toute Niege and Tele Sauvages.

    I moved to a small rural mountain community, and missed the expansion of Tele skiing into the main stream. It’s interesting to read now about how the technique is ‘dead.’

    I’m in my 60’s. I still tele ski, mostly alone, but sometimes with friends who are in their thirties. When I’m skiing our local trails, and conditions are right, I’ll hop off and cut a few turns with my aged Rossi Chamois ‘backcountry’ skis. Last week I was on some remnant wind-packed pillows of snow, cutting teles in beautiful spring mashed potatoes on some old downhill boards with three-pins on them. I’ll likely be out again next week

    Dead? Really? Well, perhaps as a contender in a popularity contest. But we’ve been through that before

    No, Tele is not ‘dead.’ It is simply too useful and fun to fade away. Tele will be around as long as there are skis with heels that are free.

  • Allen Kossover

    I have been skiing Telemark for around 25 years. Can it be that long? I came from a dance skating background and Alpine just couldn’t cut the range of motion. To me Telemark is more like dance than just skiing. I see so many Alpine skiers rip to the bottom and forget to play the terrain they are on. Speed is fun but not as satisfying as dance. Besides there is so much to learn and it just does not stop. Like the martial arts, if the position or motion is not right it does not work. It’s a mind game to keep it improving.

    The switch to NTN has also been beneficial for me. In the Catskills, ice rules. The NTN binding allows me to made strong parallel turns / mix it up and have better control for my not as young legs.

    Regrettably I am new to backcountry skiing. Traveling 4-5 hours to find skiable, off piste snow is difficult. Still, at 61 I am loving the new experience. In 2017-18 I finally found some other Tele skiers to go and play with [Thanks, Ron]. I am looking forward to more BC. Just got to keep strong.

    If you want the sport to keep going, take your kids Tele skiing. I had my son hooked. Of course then he went and joined the high school ski team. No matter. When with me, it’s Tele all the way :)
    Allen Kossover

  • CK

    I agree obviously that Telemark skiers are passionate and dedicated. Those of us that are telemarking now, during this low point, will until the day we die I suppose. I wonder what the average age of the person who reads this blog, posts on telemark forums, or skis tele period is. This is what concerns me…

    We need more young kids to get involved. Obviously there are lots of challenges here. The gear and the (lack of) coolness are the biggest ones that come to my mind. Trends in skiing and lots of things for that matter are cyclical. It would be nice to see another telemark uprising at some point but I won’t hold my breath.

    Let’s just hope Scarpa doesn’t abandon it’s tele boots. At this point it seems like that would be the death blow.

  • Spencer Vidal

    I have been skiing since I was 2 , Alpine and Teleied for 20 years, Went 100% tele in my late 20, 30. Have Tele exclusively for 25 to 30 years 100 days a season. Both lift service and BC.With the tele skier it is not about the arrows but the Indian. Although the equipment was crude in the beginning, Many of us would mount tele bindings on alpine skiis to get more ski and such. The tech is commensurate with the alpine tech I believe. Tele has always been on the fring, It will never be mainstream. BUT it is the ZEN of the turn.. Nothing with the lower center of gravity can carve like a pro on tele gear and that is why I “do it”

    • Rene-Martin

      Hey Spencer,
      According to Google, the average age is between 35-45 years old. But they only scan 40% of the visitors. It’s also 84% male.
      You’d be surprise to know that’s it’s very spread and diverse, 24% are in 25-35, 26% in 36-45 and 20% in 46-55 years old.

      To me this means that the sport is healthy, that there is a new generation, and that even in this dip of popularity, it is not the same world wide for sure.

      Cheers