The woes and wows of telemark

Posted By: The Ski Channel on February 28, 2011 10:56 am

By Lorin Paley

Some (me) may argue that Tele’ing is the best way to lay down your mark on the mountain. It can transform a ski hill, allow you a bigger beer allowance, and let you feel like a ballerina on skis. Unfortunately, it does have a few minor drawbacks. Even with being the coolest cat on the mountain, you still adhere to Murphy’s Law when it comes to equipment, injuries and the dreaded last run of the day.

Two skiers walk into the doctor’s office.  One needs an ACL brace before surgery and the other visits for an MRI because he can’t pinpoint the cause of his knee pain. One of the skiers is an alpine’r and the other a tele’r.  Many tele skiers switched from alpine to tele because they believed that tele is better for their knees.  Not entirely true.  With telemark, you create suspension with your muscles by going into a lunge.  In alpine, your structural suspension – the meniscus – is your main shock absorber, and you generally don’t go into repetitive deep knee bends. If you do, I would recommend a lesson.  Therefore, alpine injuries are usually ligament tears from the torque of a locked binding, and tele skiers speed up the process of wear and tear on their joints by lunging all day.  I can’t say which one is a worse or more annoying injury, but I can warn sports people enthusiasts everywhere that every sport has its hazards (I even heard of someone getting a paper cut during poker).  

                 (What magic holds these things together?)

I started alpine skiing, when I was three.  By the time I was 13, I had skied every chute, line, piste, and tree line (not to mention hitting a few) in Steamboat, my home resort.  Steamboat has the best snow and weather in the Rockies, but it isn’t an off-piste Mecca by any comparison, so the only two options for me were to either ski faster, or try something new.  After getting pulled over by the ski patrol a few too many times, I opted for the second choice.  Now on tele’s, the mountain that had grown small is much bigger.  Telemarking makes every condition, every run a challenge.  Even cat tracks are fun.  It is a good time, but be warned, keeping up with your alpine buddies will have you ready to eat twice as much at lunch (extra beer allowance too!)

On powder days, there is nothing like the feeling of teleing.  Powder blows in your face between breaths of air in the transition. At the top of each run adrenaline pumps, but by the bottom lactic acid solidifies, and you will be wishing for some Sore No More cream every lift ride.  On the last run, bent over and trying to force some strength back into your quads, I guarantee you will be begging to straightline the push piles with heel clamps.

In between powder, groomer, slush bump and tree runs, you may run into the biggest telemark drawback:  the bindings.  I have not met a pair of tele bindings that I have not broken.  Sure, you can pre release out of alpine bindings, but then you just put them back on.  Once you “release” out of tele bindings, it usually means that you have stripped out the only spring that was holding you in, and the one-ski down to a ski shop isn’t all that fun.  Even after you teach the ski school kids some “french” vocabulary carrying your broken ski, I guarantee that you will go to the ski shop and get your tele’s repaired rather than switch back to alpine, because once you drop your first knee, there will be no turning back.

Lorin Paley is a National Telemark A team member. She won 2 silvers and 2 bronzes on the World Cup in 2010 and won two gold medals at the Junior World Championships in 2009. To check in on how this season is going, go to