Telemarking in Les Gets. How low can you go?

Written by Ally MacLeod, Morzine Reporter

Telemark skiing is a style that many will identify on the mountain, yet there are few who are attracted to enjoy this particular discipline.

I went to meet Joe Beer, chief instructor at Alpine Learning Curves Ski School in the Portes Du Soleil, to try it out for myself and find out why more people should give Telemark skiing a go!

A style of skiing that was born in the town Telemark, Norway by the father of skiing Sondre Norheim. Identified as a pioneer of modern skiing, Sondre was an adventurous and daring individual, well known in his home town for the acrobatic and dangerous stunts he pulled off on skis. In 1868 Sondre attended the very first national skiing competition in Christiana (the former name given to the capital Oslo) winning the competition despite having 20 years on some of the competitors.

The first skis used by Sondre were only binded to his feet at the toe, and his development of the Telemark ski saw him introduce a loop of twisted willow from birch roots around the back of his heel to attach his feet to the pine skis. The skis themselves were shorter, and he fashioned them to have curved sides to make it easier to turn. Telemark skiing nowadays combines both Alpine and Nordic disciplines, and is a fantastic new challenge for the experienced Alpine skier.

Before meeting Joe and my fellow first-time Telemark skiers, I went to Francois Baud Freeride Ski Shop next to the Pleney lift in Morzine to get kitted out with my own pair of Telemark skis and boots for the day. Don’t let the cost of renting gear put you off trying it – at FB Freeride they offer half day rates of €20.80 to rent boots, skis and poles – ideal for a 2-hour lesson. The boots were surprisingly stiff, but after getting out on the slopes they gave great sturdy support to achieve some balance in the Telemark turn.

Joe Beer at Alpine Learning Curves is a well-known and respected face of British Skiing and has spent over 30 seasons out enjoying the cold, white stuff. By offering friendly and a unique approach to teaching, he has taught many beginner Alpine skiers over the years as well as keen learners in the ways of Telemark with lessons in Morzine, Avoriaz and Les Gets. There were three of us with Joe for the 2-hour afternoon lesson. Ben was an experienced ski instructor looking to try something new, and Grant was a chalet host who was simply keen to see what it was all about.

It was very clear from the start of the lesson that to try Telemark, you must at first be a confident and competent Alpine skier. Joe first got us to demonstrate the difference between scraping, sliding and carving turns in alpine skiing, and after doing a run or two to have a look at our skiing ability he then went on to define, show and explain the Telemark turn itself.

The Telemark turn that characterises the Telemark style of skiing is a simple yet effective manoeuvre when executed correctly. The outer ski is slightly ahead of the inner ski and points in the direction of the turn while the inner knee is bent in the lunge. Joe explained the lower and more extreme lunge was ‘Nordic style’, and a right-angled knee was ‘American style’, a less exaggerated but stronger stance.

So off we went, trying to be as Norwegian as we possibly could, with Joe chanting, “how low can you go?!” as he led the way down the slope. The two boys definitely got the hang of it quicker! You need to lunge with some mighty gusto to achieve the Telemark turn, and although I was getting to grips with the stance while traversing, the turns left me feeling like a complete beginner again! I was getting my skis crossed, wobbling and falling, and laughing with the others as each of us took our tumbles. It was a real insight into a beginner’s mindset out on the slopes, one which many experienced skiers tend to forget. The next time you introduce a friend to skiing, why not book a Telemark ski lesson alongside your beginner friend’s ski lesson so you can both learn together?

As we became more familiar with the stance and skied a few steeper runs, the great fitness benefits of Telemark skiing became evident to our tired and wobbly legs. It’s much more intense exercise than Alpine skiing, and if you Telemark ski regularly you’ll achieve great core strength as well as toned thighs and buns of steel! There is no doubt that Telemark skiing is hard work, after an hour and half my legs were spent and my best lunge was barely classed as American, but the sense of the achievement left me with a smile regardless.

So, why try it? I found it to be a really challenging, and physically demanding new activity that pushed my limits and strength as a skier. It’s an ideal way to do something new with your friends, whether you’re on a stag do or with your partner who is at a different level of skiing to you. And last but not least, as Joe very nicely demonstrated on our second to last run, it is an exceptionally graceful and impressive style of skiing when done properly!

Give Joe and Babs a call at Alpine Learning Curves to book you Telemark Ski Lesson in Les Gets – with prices starting from €90 for 2 x 2-hour group lesson – it’s now your turn to discover the great benefits and sense of achievement that comes from Telemark skiing like the Norwegians