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free-heel downhill

John Eames and Bonny Masson of The Telemark Ski Company tell you why you should try, Telemarking skiing, Free-heel ski mountaineering, Free-heel downhill and Track skiing. This article offers an introduction to, and an explanation of, the different types of Free-heel skiing and dispels some of the myths.

Free the heels and free the mind!

What is Free-heel skiing?
Free-heel skiing is any form of skiing where the heel is not fixed down as it is in Alpine skiing. Many people will say, 'Oh, you mean "cross-country skiing" – but you can't tackle slopes – you can't turn'. They imagine skiing along the valley bottom on skinny skis and low boots. This is only true of beginners at the gentlest end of the spectrum. Within Free-heel skiing there are several vastly different types of skiing. Each has its appeal; some tackle steep descents, others concentrate on speed but all share lightness of gear and ease of travel compared with Alpine skiing. Renewed interest in the last 20 years has led to continuing development in technique and equipment. It has produced previously impossible high standards within Free-heel downhill and Telemarking skiing.

Free-heel bindings attach only to the front of the boot but allow no lateral movement of the boot. The bindings and skis become heavier and the boots higher and more rigid as you go from Track skiing through to Telemarking. All the footwear allows the mid-foot to flex and the heel to lift (as in walking). As your foot and lower leg are not held in a rigid system, there is a fantastically natural and unrestricted feeling. How often, in Alpine boots, have you longed to be able to ski across flat stretches of snow or walk about in comfort?

track and cross-countryTrack skiing   Track skiing is about travelling over undulating ground. Light shoes, non-metal edged skis and long poles are used in machine prepared tracks. Both arms and legs propel the skier. Track skiing equipment is designed for speed, not turning. You can wander through beautiful winter landscape at your leisure if you wish, but the competitive sport we see in the Olympics is a very technical and extremely aerobic activity.

Telemarking   Telemarking is popular because it feels GREAT! and works like a dream off-piste. The 'Telemark' is a turn – alternately one ski then the other is advanced while both legs are flexed then extended ready for the next turn. Something like a series of curtsies while stepping down the slope. The back heel has to be able to lift a little because of the position. The skis are parallel, equally weighted and equally edged in modern Telemark turns. The low point is much higher than in traditional Telemark turns (about the same leg bend as for parallel turns) so no screaming thighs or cracked knee caps are necessary!

High plastic Telemark boots, very strong bindings and release attachments are used. Telemark skis have metal edges, the same camber as Alpine skis and all the latest technical features like torsion boxes, caps, various amounts of side-cut, etc. There are even Telemark carving skis and Fat-boys!

The Telemark's strength in difficult and off-piste conditions is due to the increased fore-and-aft stability and adjustability of its longer stance. Imagine if you stand with your feet side by side (as in parallel skiing) and were pushed forward. You quickly put one foot in front and this stops you falling forward (telemark position). Also, in Telemarking, you do not have to radically change your weighting on the skis when you go off-piste. We always weight Telemarks 50-50. In Alpine piste skiing, most weight is on the outside ski, but when you eventually become good enough to go off-piste you have to change and learn to weight both skis equally! The lateral stability of Telemark turns is the same as in parallel turns as we also have our feet hip-width apart.

Free-heel Downhill    The greatest misunderstanding is that you can only Telemark turn on free-heel gear. In fact, ploughs, basic swings (stems) and parallels are possible and EASY! This is called Free-heel Downhill. If you ski Alpine you will be able to ski on free-heel gear straight away, whilst learning to Telemark turn. Telemarking will revitalise your love of skiing and will open up the potential beyond the piste.

We teach complete beginners the same way as on Alpine equipment. They can only learn to Telemark once they can parallel confidently. All the basic body management/ ski use elements are the same. Experienced free-heel skiers use the turn most suitable for the conditions. For example, there is no advantage in Telemarking on icy surfaces so we parallel. Good, modern Telemark gear and technique can cope with 'shredding' on-piste at any level, including moguls, as well as extreme off-piste descents and ski-mountaineering. free-heel ski mountaineering

Ski-mountaineering   Telemark gear is perfect for ski-mountaineering due to the ease of striding and climbing in boots which flex and the strength of the Telemark turn in the off-piste, especially powder. If it's icy, just use parallel turns. For climbing, we use skins or harscheissen (ski crampons) just as you do in Alpine ski mountaineering. For years, tours such as the Haute Route have commonly been done on Telemark equipment and many extreme couloirs have been skied.


Discover 'Freedom on Skis' – go Telemarking!

The Telemark Ski Company provides some of the best tuition in free-heel skiing in the UK. It only uses professionally-qualified staff with high standards of personal skiing and teaching experience. It is run by Bonny Masson and John Eames, who are BASI (British Association of Ski Instructors) qualified, in both the Nordic and Telemark skiing disciplines. They are full-time ski teachers (and mountaineers) and are highly involved in BASI's work in instructor training and assessment. They are trying to show more and more people what can be done on modern Telemark equipment. To this end, last spring, they even successfully completed the first part of their qualification as BASI Alpine Instructors – but did it using Free-heel gear – with no allowances made! John also led clients to the 7600m summit of Mustagh Ata in China this summer – on Tele's, of course!

The Telemark Ski Company run courses and holidays in France, Italy, Norway, USA and Scotland (UK). Check out their web site for more details.

The Telemark Ski Company:

For Information about The British Association of Ski Instructors:

For Information about clothing and equipment for Free-heel skiing:


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