This season GstaadLife looks into winter sports not everybody is familiar with. We kick off the season with Telemark skiing, which must not be underestimated.
No one ever forgets their first time Telemark skiing. The clean, crisp air, the aromatic smell of conifers and pungent ski wax, the shouts of excited colleagues, the screaming ache in one’s thighs. You can simply not forget the latter sensation. It feels like your legs have been wrapped tightly in rough, woolen blankets and beaten with knotty-pine branches.
But that’s part of the thrill. Unlike Alpine skiing, classic Nordic, or Alpine Touring, which are comparatively easy arts to acquire, Telemark skiing incorporates the ability to combine all of these variations while enduring a nonstop gym session of lunges. If you’re looking to develop the best set of upper leg muscles this side of an Olympic training camp, Telemark is the sport for you.
Telemark’s origins, fittingly enough, emanate in the eponymous Norwegian region in the early 1800s. Early ‘ski sport’ incorporated long, stiff, straight-sided skis and insecure toe-strap bindings. Turning involved ‘stick riding’, or using a single long stave as a kind of rudder in the snow: one would thrust the staff in the snow to the rear, lean on it, and turn by digging in. The innovation of some mountain farmers skiing on the Telemark plateau was to turn the skis themselves.
In 1850, Norwegian Sondre Norheim added an elastic birch-root heel strap to the existing toe-strap bindings, which decreased the chances of skis coming off during jumps and allowed skiers to maneuver their skis. This led to quick, precise steering and braking, dynamic techniques theretofore unknown; the new Telemark turn astonished the local Norwegian competition, and soon after, the world. In the 1890s, Telemarkers added sidecuts for carving, and the rest was history.
Telemark skiing’s popularity declined with the rise of the more accessible Austrian Alpine-style parallel turns and groomed runs at ski resorts around the beginning of the 20th century. It was later resurrected in the 1970s by American backcountry skiers who were influenced by the world-renowned
Olympian skier Stein Eriksen. Since 1995, Telemark racing, which combines ski-jumping with Nordic skate-skiing and Alpine gate-racing elements, has been a FIS-sanctioned World Cup sport.
The Telemarkclub Saanenland revived Telemarking locally in the late 1980s, and actively engages in competition every winter season throughout Switzerland. The club is proudly hosting the 2019 Swiss Telemark Championships 29-30 March in Gstaad. Their website says it all: free your heel, and the mind will follow. Looking forward to it!