My Quest for the Best All Mountain Telemark Ski

A few years ago, I was in my mid thirties and was ripping the mountain.

I remember that I could ski quick turns in tight trees, jump off (small) cliffs, rip throught moguls…

THIS IS WHAT TELELAMRK IS ALL ABOUT.

But in the last 4-5 years, I’ve considerably slowed down. I don’t get the same feeling, the same ripping feeling.

I’ve done a series about the telemark ski evolution and it made me realized that telemark is a feeling and what ever the era of equipement, it remains FUN

But this latest generation of ALL MOUNTAIN SKIS just doesn’t seem to work for me.

Or did I just get older?

Are alpine skiers just getting better and I can’t keep up anymore?

Is it me or the equipment?

This descent in my confidence to ski all terrain, rip and turn heads started when I tried the Black Diamond Helio 95mm in 2018. I choose a smaller size at 173cm instead of the 178cm I’m usually going for.

I have a friend who had the Helio 105 in a shorter lenght and he liked it a lot, praising the small size to manoeuvre in tight trees.

Well the Helio 95mm in a short size didn’t work. At all.

For general information on ski selectrion I have wrote a blog on the subject here.

This blog will only be covering problems for resort oriented all around, all mountain ski in this blog.

Fat skis used for powder do not suffer from those issues.

These are my evolving thoughts as of March 2022.

 

This is the story of my quest to find the best All Mountain Telemark ski.

Note: I have a prodeal with Black Diamond Equipment like most industry professional. I can have prodeals with most ski manufacturers but I’ve been skiing BD for 14 years because they serve me well. I still pay for most of my skis.

This is my story, my skis, the thoughts shared here are mine and reflects my experience:

Skier: Rene-Martin
Year telemark skiing: 26 

Weight: 200 pounds
Height: 6.1 ft
Days on snow: 100 days a year (around 60 resort skiing, 40 backcountry)

In the resort I ski Le MASSIF:
800m vertical drop Eastern Canada snow of average 6m of snowfall
I would say this is about  30% on hardpack groomed runs
40% of somewhat chopped snow/moguls/tree skiing
15% powder. Always in tree skiing where manoeuvrability is key
15% pur ice that gets your knees to hurt

My Experience with ski brands and testing.

First, I’ve been telemark skiing for a 25+ years.

I’ve tried hundreds of skis over the years.

Some years, around 2004-2006,when telemark was at it’s peak of popularity, I would even go at test events to review telemark skis for specialized magasine.

Nowadays, telemark demos are hard to find.

But I work as a ski patroller at Le Massif where about 20 of us are on telemark.

So even in recent years, I’ve tried a lot of different setup.

Atomic, Volk, Rossignol, Nordica, Blizzard, Salomon, Moment, Dynastar, Armada, Xalibu at almost all Black Diamond skis in the last 14 years…

Even with all this testing, I don’t consider myself a great tester. It takes me some time to identify what works in a ski or a binding.

With years, I’ve become better and better at identifying what works and what doesn’t.

THE QUEST

All Alpine skiers are going faster today, it’s easier than ever to ski powder, to carve. We can see that alpine skiers have really gained from modern ski shapes.
I want a great all mountain ski that performs well in bumps, trees, and somewhat carve on hardpack. Powder is a bonus.

I’ve been looking for a ski that works for telemark in the 85-95mm range. That’s the width of the ski under foot.

Most skis under 90mm are just too stiff and mainly aimed at carving. The industry calls them all mountain skis or front side skis, but really it’s meant to ski 75% on groomers and occasional powder, chopped powder. No moguls, no eastern tree skiing where there’s always bumps, powder or chopper powder

Most 90 to 95mm skis are oriented for light touring. Those skis like the BD Helio 95mm not only have gone stiffer and stiffer but this combined with the lightess makes the skis very unstable for the variaty of snow a resort have. It’s just not damp enought.

There are skis that works but in general, for me at least, I have not found a perfect all mountain telemark skis for a LONG time.

And it made me think, what is the greatest all around telemark ski I’ve ever tried?

Tua Excalibur?
K2 World Piste?
Rossignol Big Bang?
These skis where great but are from another era. Boots where smaller and softer, binding where neutral or barely active.
No one can argue that todays telemark equipment has brought performance to another level.
NTN for sure but also AXL binding have changed the game
Those skis mentioned above worked really good. But the mid 90’s early 2000 skis are not the best skis I’ve own.
I remeber that before active binding, skis wider than 90mm were hard to manage.
So what is my favorite all mountain telemark ski in a recent era?
It’s got to be between the BD Aspect 2010-2011 and the BD Warrant 2012-2013.
I really loved these skis and still regret selling them. (I’ll buy them back Jeff)
Black Diamond Aspect 2011 - @skipass.comWarrant
These skis have nothing special really. The shapes are pretty classic. No crazy numbers. No rocker, no tapered tip…
But nobody is making a ski that looks like that!

In 2021-2022, I have:

  • a slalom ski at 65mm (165cm long) mounted on NTN freeride
  • a GS ski at 63mm, 170cm on freeride
  • a BD Impulse 98mm, 180cm on a Meidjo 3 with alpine heelset
  • A BD Helio at 115mm, 186cm on a meidjo 3 with alpine heelset (I use it only to guide in BC)
The race skis, slalom and GS are specialty skis and only use them on groomers. (I can get by on moguls with the slalom but it’s not the best)
The 115mm Helio is backcountry use exclusively. And whatever the conditions, I pretty much always go with this one. This ski is AWESOME and I’ve been skiing it since 2017. The trend is 105mm skis which I really don’t like. They’re too wide to be nimble and too narrow to float.
Obviously the Helio 115 are awesome for backcountry skiing but they are just too big for resort skiing.
These 3 skis are specialized skis and are no brainer. They do what they are supposed to do, carve or ski powder. But I can’t really patrol the whole mountain on them
telemark ski Quiver 2022
So this year, for the all mountain ski, I tried the Impulse 98.
I wanted to go back to a damp ski, with some weight. (4kg)
It’s got a nice radius at 18m in the 180cm. So it should be okay on groomers.
98mm is a bit wider than I’d like but It’s not so much wider than the Warrant that I liked so much back in the days.
But still again, this year, I am not ripping like I use to. The Impulse delivers in a lot of snow condition, but it’s slow to turn moguls and a bit too wide to really carve on groomers without hurting my knees.
Maybe it’s too heavy?
And I’m still not ripping like I use too.
And this tought still comes back.
Is it me getting older?
Can I still ski 800 vertical meters, charging in moguls?
Because of this lack of feeling in the bumps, I’ve spent a great amount of time practicing my carving in the last two seasons.
I really like carving. It’s a great challenge.
The carving skis I have are so fun and it makes the technique so much easier than any all mountain ski can.
Carving skis are meant to carve.
But this is not what I like the most about telemark.
And all the days that I’m patrolling, I need to be able to ski all conditions and all terrain. 50% of the runs are moguls or tree skiing.
Let me tell you that a carving ski is the worst in anything but hard pack groomed runs
This season, especially, I was quite desperate to find a great all around telemark ski.

Here are the PROBLEMS with modern MID FAT skis

1. Shallow Rise Tip

Problem: the spatulla doesn’t rise enough. Note: Fat skis used for powder do not suffer from this issue.

In 2018, I thought that the small size combined with the tip rocker of the Helio 95 was the problem.

The tip rocker problem was easily identified. The tip only lifted a few cm of the ground and the telemark squat would frequently make the tip dive in a bump.

RMT00615

I could make it work but I needed to keep my telemark lead change VERY small. Like less than a boot long. And I needed to be very active to get the skis to manoeuvre around moguls. It was a nightmare.

So I sold the ski to a smaller skier and thought that was that. Well over the years, I’ve realized that there is actually 4 shape changes that have impered our ability to telemark on modern all-mountain shape.

My Quest was only starting.

 

2. Stiffer Tip

Problem: stiff tip combined with a shallow rised tip makes the tip catch in bumpsNote: Fat skis used for powder do not suffer from this issue.

The next year, I went for a narrower ski, the Black Diamond Route 88. I picked them the right lenght at 178cm.

I moved away from carbon as I realized that it was too light for resort skiing and also that it was just too stiff.

This solved the tip diving problem, ouf!

But even if the ski was ok in moguls, ok on groomers, ok in powder, I still wasn’t ripping like before. For the story, the last ski that BD made that worked for my was the Aspect that was produce in 2014-15. After that the Link, the Helio, the Route all had the same problem.

Stiffer and stiffer tip mixed with a shallow rise tip really kills the energy tranfered to the back ski in a telemark turn.

 

 

Telemark carving

See how low the tip is barely off the ground.

 

You have to think of the back ski as a second point of balance. When turning, we are puitting our skis on edge. On the front ski, our weight is distributed on the whole edge of the ski. It’s centered.

On the back ski, using any modern active binding, our energy is more transfered half way between the center and the tip. We can even see my back ski lifted of the snow in this image.

Screen Shot 2022-03-30 at 7.54.51 AM

Now if the spatula doesn’t rise a lot or if it’s too stiff, it will catch a lot more into things.

But there is more!

3. Rockered Tip

Problem: the ski has no energy to give back to the skier. Note: Fat skis used for powder do not suffer from this issue.

Again, telemark skiing, we transfer  half way between the center and the tip of the back ski by the boot-binding combo. If it’s too rockered, the energy is lost in the ski shape. Tradional shaped skis have camber to give energy to the ski. When pushed, it wants to come back into it’s original shape. With a tapered tip, we are pushing the ski into it’s designed shape, just making it rounder, and the ski is not going to give any energy back.

rocker ski image

4. Tapered Tip

Problem, the shape of the tip changes the radius of the turn on the back ski. Note: Fat skis used for powder do not suffer from those issues.

The final factor is the tapered tip. This is when the max wigth of the ski is not at the top of the spatula. On hard pack snow, this changes the way the arch of the edge conduct the ski. It’s like if your back ski had a big belly.

Basically, they move the widest part of the ski toward the center. This has many advantages. It reduces mass at the tip, thus reducing swing weight, it creates a shorter turn radius without a super large tip that becomes bulky and clumky. But for our back ski while telemarking, it reduces grip and edge control. A bit of tapered tip is not a problem, but laterly, ski company have increased it on some models to become a problem.

ski tip tapered

 

And these 4 problems  are not exclusive to Black Diamond. In the last 5 years, almost all brands are going in this direction

There is worst.

This is not working for telemark inbound as an all around ski. If you are like me and ski moguls, tress, powder, groomers, ice, this shallow tip rise and stiff tip is just deadly, rocker and tapered tip definetly doesn’t help. I found that this is NOT a problem for fat skis aimed at powder.

But why are the manufacturers going for those kind of shapes then?

You have to understand it works of the alpine turn. It works really good.

It took me a while to understand that.

THE SKI I WAS WANTING FOR

Watch the video above. This is me trying the Bishop Gonzo.
I had try this ski in it’s first version. I haven’t ask, but I think this is version 2 or 3.
I remembered it being a good ski. But at the time, I was focus on the binding and it was a really great snow year. So I ended up skiing the 100mm Chedi a lot.
With the bishop, I can ski the bumps like I want to. I can charge.
I can turn heads again.
I know this is kinda cheezy, but this is such a great feeling.
And I love the feeling of charging in moguls.
And it can turn quickly in a tree run.
And it’s ok the carve.
Oh and it went way better than I thought in powder. I’d say it was better in powder than on the groomer.
The tip still exited on top of the snow at every turn. This is a definite suprise has I don’t remember this from version 1.
This is the best telemark all mountain ski I’ve tried in a few years for sure.
Hope this helps
Rene-Martin
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  • fledersau

    Salut Rene Martin,
    First of thanks for all your info and insight into your tele experience!
    I started telemark skiing this winter, while being an avid alpine skier, snowboarder and work in a skishop, i’m new to telemark and i love it.
    In december i bought a used K2 superstinx in 174cm with a g3 targa and a BD push boot. in january the binding exploded on me. so i bought a AXL and found a fantastic deal on a Salomon MTN explore 88 in a ridiculously long 185cm (i’m 176cm). But i compared the effective length that touches the snow (camber part) and it was almost the same on the K2 and the Salomon. I installed the binding boot center -2cm. The salomon has some of nose rocker, and i must admit that i’m really happy with the mix on piste it’s fun on low and high speed, moguls, i’m not yet that confident, but in general on difficult slopes and in the steeps it worked really well.
    But when i went into the powder, i was so surprised and happy. Had some first tracks in Jacques Cartier and the additional length with the rocker helped me to keep the tip afloat but i still felt nimble enough to go through the trees. What a feeling!
    I hope to be able to go to Massif next winter, at least in touring mode, so i won’t have to sell a kidney;-)
    Cheers from Québec, Bruno

  • Fabien Grand-perret

    Thanks for thoses advices
    If you have some european skis to suggest, i am interested (bishop will be difficult to find in france)
    I am skiing blizzard bonafide at the moment

  • Doug Angus

    Hi,

    I did a few days of telemark skiing at lake Louise and really enjoyed it. After being away in England for a decade I’m wanting to get back into alpine telemarking locally (eastern Ontario). I’m really struggling to find a distributor that sales telemark boots and bindings. Any suggestions?

    Thanks Doug