Author: John Tidd
For many skiers, telemark turns represent the epitome of grace and flow on skis. Yet finding that dance with gravity is elusive and frustrating for most. Alpine skiers feel panic when their heels can lift. Nordic skiers have the advantage of knowing free heels from the start, but even they are not used to pressuring and steering with the rear foot.
This article is about learning a strong stance for the telemark and then exploring a variety of telemark turns that work well for a smooth surface, for narrow backcountry trails, and for fresh, glorious powder.
Alpine skiers are accustomed to having both feet firmly attached to their skis and using the outside ski as the primary tool to create a turn. Just finding a comfortable tele stance involves putting at least half of the body weight on the rear foot which has the heel lifted. This is a totally foreign feeling for most skiers. The rear ski just feels too weird up on the ball of the foot, so these skiers generally do a “fake-a-mark” with a narrow stance and almost no weight on the rear ski. Nordic skiers are accustomed to striding, but may take this move too far and stride through their turns instead of steering both skis at once.
To overcome these sources of imbalance, skiers must first gain confidence in a rock solid telemark stance with equal weight on both skis. Here are some things to help build this skill. (These can be done on any kind of Nordic equipment – beefier is better.)
ACTIVITIES: Learning these moves is best on smooth, wide, gentle terrain.
- Gently take sneaky steps backwards on flat terrain. Stop when you’re just moving onto the back foot and notice the pressure on the ball of the foot and how the rear foot stays directly under the hips and torso. This is the “length” of stride that you want to get to know automatically.
- Shuffle on a flat area, then on a very slight downgrade keeping even pressure on both skis. Stay low and move smoothly.
- To check for equal weight, jump up and land in the tele position on a flat area. Jump off both feet and land equally on both feet, changing the lead ski in the air. If you land solidly, you’re probably in a good tele stance.
STEP ON IT
As mentioned above, putting pressure only on the ball of the rear foot while the heel is elevated is foreign to all skiers. It takes time and training to achieve the muscle memory and comfort level to have a truly 50/50 weight distribution between the front and rear foot in the telemark stance.
- While straight running on a gentle grade, jump up and land softly in the telemark position. You must land equally on both feet or the feedback will be immediate.
- Now try a hop between turns making the lead change in the air. Using a double pole plant helps to get into the hop.
- In a traverse, try lifting and tapping the front ski to assure you that you are on the back ski (with the heel still up off the ski).
- The “monomark” is a great exercise to find rear foot pressure and a solid stance. Put one ski forward and leave it there. Make linked turns without a lead change. One turn is a telemark, the other is a “stretched alpine” turn. It’s like water skiing on a single ski and a bit like riding a snowboard.
ACTIVELY EDGE AND STEER WITH THE REAR FOOT
Many telemarkers are able to get the stance and pressure on the rear foot and make decent turns. To make the elegant arcs of performance telemark skiing, one must be much more active with edging and steering of the rear ski.
- While traversing a slope, make turns into the hill by steering only with the rear foot.
- Do the “monomark” described above, but this time create the shape of the turn with the rear foot only. The back knee will move right and left over the back ski with foot pressure going from the little toe to big toe side of your foot.
- In the middle of a turn, after the lead change, get very bow-legged and focus on using the little toe edge of the rear foot to create the arc of the turn.
VARIETIES FOR DIFFERENT TERRAIN AND SNOW CONDITIONS
The activities described above are great for open, smooth slopes as found at alpine ski areas or in meadows and open woods. What we find in real-life situations on a ski tour is often very different. Here are some ways to cope with the diversity of what eastern skiing dishes out.
When the snow won’t let skis slide gracefully through the turn, it is necessary to modify technique, sometimes drastically. In rough snow you must make strong, definitive moves. The first would be the STEP-OVER TELE or the TWO STEP. Instead of gently releasing the edges, take a good stride with the uphill ski forward and down the hill sort of angling across the downhill ski. This gets the body and one ski almost into the fall line. All your weight goes onto this ski for a second, then you step the other ski right in place behind the front one and immediately sink down into the 50/50 weighted and solid tele stance. This lets you ride the remainder of the turn through the crud. You’re down low and stable, ready to leap into the next turn. This can be done on narrow snowmobile trails or anywhere that you desperately need to make a turn. It isn’t really pretty, but very functional. If this one fails, resort to the JUMP TURN. Just leap up off of both skis, turn them in the air and land in a perfectly balanced two-footed stance. Obviously, try this one on an open slope first. It takes athleticism and getting used to it.
Powder is what the telemark turn was made for, and what skiers thrive on. Many of the moves for smooth, groomed surfaces work for powder, but a more fun way to enjoy it is to add a vertical dimension to it all. Use lots of flexion and extension of your legs to “bounce” into and out of the powder, turning with your feet buried into the snow and rebounding up to make the lead change to a new turn in the lighter transitions. Again, the pressure on the rear foot is key. Think about pressing your rear ski into the snow like a rudder. This is a down motion, not a levering and leaning back on the rear ski.
Do remember that alpine turns work great in tight spots, dangerous places where you need to keep both ski tips up out of the underbrush, and when your legs are too tired to tele. Sometimes the thigh’s the limit.
By focusing on the rear foot and ski, the telemark turn becomes less strange and much more stable. Skiers who master the active steering of the rear ski can feel the continuous, fluid motion that is the signature of this elegant turn.