10,000 Lunges to Paradise: The Art of Télémark Skiing (part 1).

woman wearing red pants and black jacket telemark skiing with mountains behind
Telemark skiing in the Swiss Alps


Editor’s note:  Tracie Max Sachs reports from the Swiss Alps on her telemark lessons in two parts.  This installment focuses on preparation and learning about telemark skiing.

For several years, I considered taking up télémark skiing. We’ve all seen the cool hipsters of the ski world with their heels free and knees bent, wondering how they can look so graceful and weird at the same time. I finally gave it a try when a fellow ski instructor offered a lesson.

Why Telemark

Not only was I curious about telemark skiing, but it also seemed like a great way to use different muscles.  As a ski instructor myself, I figured I was in fairly decent shape. I did have an MRI on my aching knee a few weeks ago, which revealed damaged cartilage, an enlarged Baker’s cyst and arthritis. Despite the general pain, which I pretty much have constantly when I ski right now, I decided to give it a try. My ski instructor, Sean “Rowdy” Yates encouraged me, and promised this sport of deep knee bends and putting weight on the inside edge wouldn’t hurt my knees. To my surprise he was right.

Getting Started

A big question for most people is “where do I start?” Next, “how do I find equipment for telemark“? Here in Verbier, Switzerland, there is only one ski shop that has télémark gear for rent.  Fortunately, I actually already had my gear.  I snagged it on my local Facebook swapshop last season in trade for a big hunk of yummy Swiss cheese and some dog treats.  In my heart, I knew eventually I’d get to use the equipment.  I suggest browsing your Facebook marketplace or Craigslist for good deals.  This may actually be cheaper than renting equipment.

The essentials for telemark skiing are:

1. Skis:  any skis will work, my teacher was using slalom world cup race skis with tele bindings.
2. Telemark boots. You can NOT use other boots for telemarking. Telemark boots are made to bend like your foot does at the ball of your foot when you step forward.  No other boots do this. SkiMo (Ski mountaineering gear) boots are not suitable for telemarking since they don’t bend in the front.
3. Bindings – special bindings to go with your special boots.
4. Poles
5. Helmet
6. Normal ski clothes.  I didn’t get that hot, it wasn’t very warm when I tried it.  I recommend ski pants that are a bit roomy so you feel comfortable bending.

Lessons

The next step is to arrange for a lesson with an experienced instructor. I was fortunate enough that the Ecole Suisse de Ski was offering lessons to instructors who need to have a second discipline for their Swiss Snowsports degrees.  My instructor, Rowdy has his Brevet Federale, or national certification.  Do NOT go out with a friend who will shove you down a black run and say “just bend your knee when you turn, you’ll be fine.”  We’ve all heard the stories of how someone’s best friend took them to the top of the mountain and went down a black run the first time they ever skied.  News Flash: that person isn’t your friend and never was.

Once you have your equipment set and your instructor ready to go, hit the slopes.   Next time, I will tell you all about my day telemark skiing with Rowdy.

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