Telemark Skiing, Sports Illustrated, 1983
Source: PSIA / Wikipedia
Telemark skiing is a skiing technique that combines elements of Alpine skiing and Cross-country skiing skiing. Telemark skiing is named after the Telemark region of Norway, where the discipline originated. Sondre Norheim is often credited for first demonstrating the turn in ski races, which included cross country, slalom and jumping, in Norway around 1868. Sondre Norheim also experimented with ski and binding design, introducing side cut to skis and heel bindings (like a cable).
Telemark skiing was reborn in the 1971 in the United States. Doug Buzzell, Craig Hall, Greg Dalbey, Jack Marcial, and Rick Borcovec are credited reintroducing the style after reading the book Come Ski With Me by Stein Eriksen. Telemark skiing gained popularity during the 1970s and '80s.
Telemark equipment crosses Alpine and Nordic ski gear. Generally, Telemark skiers use Alpine skis with specially designed Nordic style bindings that fix only the toe of the ski boot to the ski, thereby creating the "free heel." Telemark turns use a distinct lunging motion.
Dickie Hall on telemark skis
Originally made popular as a mode of backcountry transportation, Telemark skiing is now a world cup sport focused on carving. At its core, the Telemark discipline combines elements of Alpine racing, Nordic skate skiing, and ski jumping. World Cup Telemark is offered in a number of race formats, including “Classic”, “Sprint Classic,” and “Parallel Sprint.”
Telemark Racing was governed by the ITF (International Telemark Federation) until 1995, when Telemark Skiing was officially recognized by the Federation International de Ski Telemark committee (“FIS”). The first FIS Telemark World Championships were held at Hafjell, in Lillehammer, Norway. Today Telemark Racing is organized by FIS and also by national sport committees such as the United States Telemark Ski Association (http://www.ustsa.org), and the British Telemark Ski Team (http://www.gbtelemark.co.uk/).
The history of skiing goes back thousands of years. It provided a means of transportation over snow and was useful in both hunting and warfare. There are many accounts to indicate that it has long been viewed as a sport, as a basis for competition, and as skill that required instruction. Petroglyphs (rock carvings on cave walls) date back to over 4500 years ago in Russia depicting three men with poles and skis proving the use of skis for life skills. In Norway above the Arctic Circle on an island in a cave there is a single man depicted on long runners with a hunting implement, dating back over 4000 years ago. There have been skis found in bogs in Finland and Sweden that have also been dated back about 4500 years ago. There are theories and artifacts that support China having the first skiers dating back from 5000-9000 years ago. Due to the size and isolation of China it has been hard to research the area. It is thought that some of the first trans Siberian people moved across on skis or primitive snowshoes.
Some of the more notable early pioneers of skiing and ski teaching were:
- Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian polar explorer crossed Greenland and published 'Crossing Greenland on Skis in 1890'. It was published in three languages and what was Norwegian text was now public knowledge.
Sondre Nordheim, Norwegian. Developed jumping; developed the Osier binding; popularized the telemark turn from the 1850’s to 1866. In 1868 he combined a waisted ski (shaped ski) with a birch heel and midfoot wrap (Osier Binding) and won slalom races and taught his band of Norwegians to stop by using a “parallel stop turn” or “parallel telemark turn”. This technique was then used in all the races. The age of telemarking was now sharing the stage with the “christiana” or modern parallel skiing. Sondre is known as the “Father of Modern Day Skiing”
Mathias Zdarsky, Austrian. Considered the “Father of Alpine Skiing”. Founded one of the first organized military ski schools and taught thousands of new skiers. Developed equipment and a technique. (1890’s-early 1900’s). Created the riff between the binding war of Nordic and alpine.
Georg Bilgeri, An Austrian colonel, created a skidded angle technique with check turns and got rid of Zadarsky’s one pole and used two short poles.
Hannes Schneider popularized Bilgeri’s book and technique and the Arlberg reigned for the next 35 years. 1912 telemark was done as far as instruction and new equipment. Arlberg for downhill and telemark for tourers.
The “Modern era” might be said to have begun when skiing evolved to more closely resemble our current sport; when it became more organized and publications on the subject started to appear. The first organized ski teaching occurred in 1713 in Norway within the military, and a handbook for the Norwegian troops was written in 1733. The first “ski club” was founded in 1813, also in Norway.
- 1841 The first skiers immigrate to the US from Norway and settle in Illinois. Knudsen brothers and Nattestad.
1856 Knudsen/Nattestadd wrote the Thorensen family and they immigrated to the US in Illinois also. John the youngest joins the gold rush and begins delivering mail on “Norwegian Snowshoes” and is coined the name Snowshoe Thompson.
1861 first ski races held in Sierra Nevada, California. 12-foot skis and strap toe bindings. Other races in the Midwest and Utah along with jumping also were organized at this time. Sondre’s binding did not arrive until late in the 19th century.
1901 first eastern ski club organized in Berlin, NH. Nansen Ski Club (earlier ones out west 1867 on)
1914 the telemark turn was still widely used out west and in jumping contests in Utah, Midwest and even in the east at the first intercollegiate ski meet.
1980 Rick Borkevec from Crested Butte, Co. skipatroller writes articles on telemarking and high peak touring descents. Ski companies start making metal edge tele skis and plastic in the boots.
1983 PSIA National Demo Team introduces the modern American Telemark to the world and teaching progressions at Interski in Sesto, Val Pusteria, Italy.
1987 Spring the first Telemark Certification Exam for PSIA.
Between 1910 and early 1970’s there is not a lot documented on telemark skiing. The next publishing and popularity came about in the stronghold areas of the 19th century. Utah (Wasatch region), California, Crested Butte and surrounding areas in Colorado are all the birthplaces for the resurgence of modern telemarking. In the east Wildcat, NH. and the Mount Washington Valley; Mad River Glen, Vt. and the surrounding Green Mountains; Adirondacks in NY.; and a small pocket in West Virginia have had the longest history of telemark skiers around. Each of these eastern areas has accessible backcountry and offpiste skiing, which is the “center” for telemark skiers.
Currently, the rage is to be able to slide on anything anywhere and telemarking shares this with many other disciplines. Racing is still somewhat popular but the days of the “Extreme and New School” are upon us. Watch the most popular events and you will see all disciplines represented but the backcountry still is where telemarking is popular as it was in the early days of Scandinavia.
Johnny carving a turn on NTN
For more information on Telemark, you will find a Selective Chronology of Nordic Skiing right here...