Nuts and Bolts of Telemark Skiing
When I wanted to learn about the nuts and bolts of telemark skiing, I was referred, by more than one person, to Peter Kavouksorian, one of the acknowledged Deans of Eastern freeheel skiing. Peter K. got hooked early on the joys of cross country skiing, becoming a professional instructor and opening Mountain Travelers in Rutland, Vermont in 1976. Mountain Travelers is a freeheel skiing, hiking, biking, and kayaking full service store that is widely known and respected among mountain sports enthusiasts.
Through his business Peter, and his wife JoAnn, also an accomplished freeheel skier, were on the leading edge as ski manufacturers began to experiment with combining the freeheel versatility of cross country skiing with the power and control of alpine skis. What are known today in the ski industry as Telemark skis, were the result of this marriage of cross country freeheel bindings to skis made in the same mold as the manufacturer's downhill skis.
The Early Days of Telemark Skiing
The term Telemark comes from the county of Telemark, Norway where the knee dropping style of turning skis was popularized by Sondre Norheim in the second half of the nineteenth century. Norheim’s contribution to the refinement of skiing is a mixture of legend and fact, but he is widely regarded as the father of Telemark skiing.
Paul Parker, author of Free-Heel Skiing, a book Peter K calls the bible of the sport, says Norheim’s style of turning was not "…just a curiosity, but a viable technique for the equipment of the day..." The equipment of the day being a foot binding mounted on a long straight wooden ski. The binding would hold only the toe in place, allowing up and down movement of the heel – thus the term "freeheel skiing."
Using his technique, Noreheim enjoyed success in ski competitions, and went on to teach his style to the people of Telemark. However, other skiers in parts of Norway where the snow was not as deep and constant as in Telemark county found the telemark turn did not to work so well on harder packed snow. Skiers centered around the city of Christiana (now Oslo) evolved their own style, which developed more of a parallel turn and stop - dubbed the Christiania or “cristy" turn.
Like Mac and Windows, Telemark and Parallel
As Peter K, tells it, the rest is commercial history. During the early twentieth century, with the development of ski resorts and groomed downhill runs in Europe and the U.S., the telemark and freeheel style was soon overshadowed by parallel techniques.
It took less skill to learn parallel techniques, and it was easier to turn the ski atop the firmly groomed snow with a locked heel. While the freeheel style did not become obsolete, it was relegated to a specialty sport for outdoor touring and athletically inclined winter sports enthusiasts.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the back to nature movement, as well as the interest in preserving the environment, were bringing a lot of people into the hills and back country. To enjoy nature in all four seasons led to a new popularity in cross country skiing. According to Peter and JoAnn, the freedom of the 1960s extended into pushing the boundaries of resort skiing, especially with a group of dedicated cross country skiers around Crested Butte, Colorado.
Whether this Crested Butte band of rogue skiers ducking ropes actually began the telemark revival in America, is challenged by other sources according to an article by Mitch Weber. However, suffice it is to say that telemark skiing in the U.S. was the natural evolution for skiers throughout the country who enjoyed both cross country and downhill resort skiing, and also had the urge to push the boundary envelope.