The Telemark Skiing Challenge

It’s basically a day-long leg workout done on a flight of snowy, never-ending stairs.

Telemark skiing a tough sport that requires gobs of strength, mettle and technical prowess. Which is all the more reason to give it a go. 

“The biggest challenge is balance and endurance; without a heel piece for support, you rely more on quad strength to maintain balance,” says Deer Valley Resort ski patroller Darrell Finlayson, who has been patrolling on telemark skis for 19 years.

Telemark ski bindings have a free pivot release, meaning that bindings can have little or no tension, allowing the skier to more easily lift the heel. This allows you to climb uphill and ski backcountry, too. 

This type of skiing requires different equipment than traditional downhill (your telemark kit works for alpine). Most telemark boots have a duck bill binding in the front to allow foot flexibility and a signature deep knee bend. There are several brands that sell telemark equipment with Black Diamond, Rottefella and Scarpa among the most popular. Finlayson recommends that beginners spring for lessons from a pro before starting. Even if you have a strong alpine background and a solid fitness base, Finlayson says it’s going to take a while before you’ve mastered a solid “tele-turn.” If you’re looking to learn, the Vermont-based North American Telemark Organization provides instructional workshops and instructor training. Absolute Telemark also offers an entire video tutorial series.

Though not a large ski area, Mad River Glen in Vermont was called the unofficial telemark capital of the world. MRG regularly hosts the North American Telemark Organization’s annual festival. With a vertical rise of more than 2,000 feet and 45 named trails, the famous ski area is considered among the toughest terrain on the East Coast. Or head to British Columbia's Kicking Horse Mountain that boasts the fourth largest vertical drop in North America and a mix of terrain. Finally, the skier paradise Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, where you can embark upon more 2,000 acres of skiable, including a 3,000-foot vertical drop and 101 total runs.