Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Mystique of Telemark Skiing

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The Mystique of Telemark Skiing

By Anna Hendrix
The Daily Magi
October 11, 2062

Telemark skiing (also known as "free heel skiing") is a form of downhill skiing using bindings where the boot is attached only at the toe (similar to those of Cross-country skiing), allowing the heel to come up from the ski. Because the heel is free, it allows the skier to go into a lunge position in order to turn. The act of lunging while turning is a technique called the telemark turn.

Telemark turns are led with the heel flat on the outside ski (which becomes the downhill ski at the end of the turn) with the knee at a 90-degree angle. The inside (and uphill) ski slides back under the skier's body with a flexed knee and raised heel. This position resembles that of a lunge. This ski position can be most clearly seen in ski jumping, where the "Telemark position" is part of the requirements of a successful jump. The skis are staggered but not quite parallel, and the downhill ski is pushed forward by the skier’s lunge. Normally 50% to 60% of the body weight is distributed on the outside ski, depending on snow conditions.

The Telemark turn came to the attention of the Norwegian public in 1868, when Sondre Norheim took part in a ski jumping competition. Norheim's technique of fluid turns soon dominated skiing, and in Norway it continued to do well into the next century. Starting in the 1910s, newer techniques based on the stem gradually replaced Telemark in the Alpine countries. Newer techniques were easier to master and enabled shorter turns better suited for steeper alpine terrain and skiing downhill. The Telemark turn became the technique of ski touring in rolling terrain.

The technique is named after the Telemark region of Norway, just as the stem Christie turn was named after Christiania (now Oslo), Norway. As well as inventing the Telemark turn, Sondre Norheim and his fellow skiers used and refined parallel skiing techniques. Thus, while the Telemark is part of early skiing's foundation, parallel techniques are of equal importance.

The revival in the Telemark technique, after its decline from popularity in the mid-1940s, started in United States in the 1970s. Telemark skiing was a back-to-basics reaction to the high-tech equipment developments of alpine skiing, and the increasing reliance on crowded groomed pistes served by ever larger and faster mechanical ski lifts. The use of traditional clothing is associated with the Telemark skiing revival.

The Telemark revival started almost simultaneously in Crested Butte, Colorado and the northern part of the Green Mountains in Vermont. The Vermont revival was led by Telemark enthusiast Dickie Hall. At the same time, in southern Vermont, Filippo Pagano (aka Telemarkfil) was leading the revival with the opening of the first Telemark Ski School in the Eastern USA at Bromley Mountain. The Telemark racing series was also started. It came to the attention of a larger public with a demonstration by a team from the Professional Ski Instructors of America at Interski, Italy in 1983. It grew to prominence during the 1990s; however, although organizations such as NATO (North American Telemark Organization) and NET (New England Telemark) sponsor telemark festivals and Instruction as the sport continues to grow, it is still considered a minority sport.

The edges used in a Telemark turn are the same as with a parallel turn, but a Telemark turn involves leading the turn with the outside ski while trailing the inside ski. When initiating a turn, the skier edges the outside ski (which becomes the downhill ski at the completion of the turn) with a flat heel while simultaneously lifting the heel on the inside ski to shift the ski to the back of the Telemark stance. Through the turn, between 50 and 80 percent of the skier's weight is shifted onto the outside ski depending on snow conditions, and rests primarily on the toe-half of each foot—even the outside foot, which has its boot heel in contact with the ski. Inexperienced Telemark skiers often find it difficult to place enough weight on their trailing, inside ("heel-up") ski to force it to turn, or "carve" in unison with the outside ski. When skiing off-piste in light powder the weight ratio can be different than the suggested 50 to 80 percent on the outside ski. Developments in modern telemark technique subsequent to the release of modern, highly responsive boots and bindings have demonstrated an increasing preference toward a turn made in an aggressive, carving fashion that closely resembles the modern alpine turn; as such, the modern technique emphasizes a side-to-side weight distribution that closely resembles that of alpine skiing. Often having the majority of the weight on the inside trailing ski can help compensate for poor technique, as it allows the skier to use the outside ski as a 'buffer' to control the snow, and to help keeping the outside ski tip above the snow.

There is no agreement on the respective angle between the skis during a Telemark turn. Increasing the angle increases the amount that both knees are bent and brings the skier's torso closer to the snow. Some Telemarkers enjoy an extremely low stance with the trailing knee almost in contact with the ski top, while others prefer a taller stance, with a consequently smaller angle, that allows quicker transitions between turns. As a general rule, the back leg should be tucked in, with the knee of the trailing leg aligned vertically over the leading foot. Telemarkers who turn with their trailing knee considerably behind their leading foot are often referred to as "dog-leggers" because their rear leg resembles that of a wounded dog. "Toe-dragger" can also be used to describe Telemark skiers who do not tuck in their rear leg.[citation needed] It is possible to make parallel turns using Telemark equipment, which is why penalties are assessed if the boots are not staggered by at least a boot's length in FIS Telemark competitions. This element of technique is up to the skier, although a very low stance is to be avoided where hard uneven snow might cause the lowered knee to collide with the ground or ski. Some Telemark skiers, therefore, use kneepads to reduce the risk of injury.

Accomplished Telemark skiers, like accomplished alpine skiers, keep their torsos vertical and oriented downhill while linking turns, thus avoiding turning too far. This position also allows greater control over the fine-tuning of weight distribution. When skiing in thick powder it is important that the skier not lean back; staying forward and facing downhill allows quicker response to changing conditions. The lack of a fixed heel means that it is easy to go head-first into the snow when hitting a hard patch, but if centered on the skis and facing downhill, the skier is less likely to fall. With or without poles, the skier's hands should be in front of the body.

Some Telemark skiers continue to ski with a single long pole or lurk held in both hands in traditional style. The lurk should only contact the snow on the inside of the turn, though some find better balance results if the lurk contacts the snow on the outside of the turn.

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