Bored with snowboarding? Done with downhill? You're not alone: Earlier this year, the trade group Snowsports Industries America released a study showing that sales of alpine skis and snowboards were flat nationwide. So what was hot? Fat skis, twin tips -- and telemark skis, for a once-thought-dead technique that's being revitalized across the country.
Telemarking was invented in the mid-1800s by the father of modern skiing, Sondre Norheim (who was from the Telemark area of Norway). It has two main distinctions: First, instead of securing the entire foot to the ski (as in Alpine skiing), telemark leaves heels loose and unbound. Second, the sport eschews parallel turns for its own version, in which alternating deep knee bends create swooping, swerving curves.
Come on in, the powder's fine: For a new sensation, strap on tele-skis.
(Scott T. Smith -- Corbis)
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Over the years, the less-demanding parallel turn, combined with better bindings and the proliferation of ski lifts, had pushed telemarking into the annals of history. Colorado ski instructors, however, revived the sport in the mid-1970s after watching Norwegian ski jumpers use the tele-turn after landing. Aficionados today welcome the freedom telemark skiing brings: The loose heel allows movements similar to those of cross-country skiing, so you can go anywhere -- the slopes at a favorite resort, the countryside, unmarked terrain on backcountry hills. By attaching mohair or nylon skins to the center of the ski, you can even go uphill. And for freestyle fans, it adds challenge to terrain parks. No wonder telemarkers use the catchphrase "Free your heels and you'll free your mind."
What to Expect: "The hardest part is getting that initial start," says Chip Chase, owner of White Grass Touring Center in Davis, W.Va. "People have an Alpine hangover. . . . But it's more of a cross-country skiing movement." Turning is initiated by genuflecting motions that dip your knees close to the snow. It looks tough on the joints but actually spares them the twist necessary to make parallel turns. The pumping up and down from one leg to the other, however, is a killer quad workout. Expect a lot of practice: Chase says that getting to the intermediate level is harder than in downhill skiing.
What to Wear: One catalyst to telemarking's newest wave of popularity is a change toward more Alpine-like equipment: Long, skinny skis have shortened and thickened, and malleable leather boots have been replaced by rigid plastic ones. The net effect: more control, better ankle support and a firmer connection between the leg and ski.
You'll also want to bring loose-fitting ski pants, a ski jacket or shell, and the usual weather-appropriate gloves, hat and eye protection. Once you get going, you'll be exerting more energy than when downhill skiing, so wear layers that can be zipped open.
Cost: $10 to $65 per lesson, plus ski rental and other fees.
Where to Ski
Reservations are required for all classes and clinics.
Seven Springs Mountain Resort. Champion, Pa. 866-437-1317. www.7springs.com. Three hours from the District. A one-hour private lesson is $55 for the first person, $22 for each additional. Ski rental is $23. A weekend day lift ticket runs $40 to $44. On Jan. 29 and 30, the Appalachian Telemark Association (www.telemarker.org) runs its annual telemark skiing festival.
Timberline Four Seasons Resort. Davis, W.Va. 304-866-4801. www.timberlineresort.com. Three and a half hours from the District. A private, one-hour lesson is $65, and each additional person is $55. Weekend ski rental is $21. Lift tickets are $43. The resort runs day-long telemark clinics ($65 plus lift ticket and rentals) on Dec. 19, Jan. 8 and 9, Feb. 26 and 27, and March 26.
White Grass Touring Center. Davis, W.Va. 304-866-4114. www.whitegrass.com. Three hours from the District. A weekend group lesson costs $10. Rental is $12. The area use fee is $9.
Whitetail Mountain Resort. Mercersburg, Pa. 717-328-9400. www.skiwhitetail.com. Ninety minutes from the District. A one-hour private lesson is $58 for the first person and $35 for each additional. On weekends, an eight-hour ski rental is $40, and an eight-hour lift ticket is $49.