Learning to Telemark in Alpe D’Huez
Ski Club staff member Guy Cobbold recently learned to Telemark in Alpe D’Huez. This is his experience:
Let me ‘tele’ you a story, ‘mark’ my words you’ll enjoy it…
With ski touring becoming increasingly popular, the idea of a free heel on skis seems to be reigniting an interest in telemarking. I have friends who telemark and have always fancied trying it out but have always been put off by the thought that it’s especially hard, technically, and on the legs! I’m also very aware that I’m a bad learner – I don’t like being rubbish.
Recently I put all that to one side to have a go. A trip out to Alpe D’Huez (www.alpedhuez.com) seemed like a great place to do it;the resort is set up nicely for beginners and intermediates with the slopes and lifts lending themselves to those setting out to make their first turns. Despite conditions at the start of this season being tricky for many resorts, the pistes were in great condition due to a recent snowfall and the extensive snowmaking facilities.
Telemark skiing originated in Norway, in the Telemark region (hence the name). Here the free heel allowed people to walk up the mountain before the days of ski lifts. The recognisable telemark lunge turn gives more stability as you’re able to push from the front foot to stop yourself falling over forwards.
Telemark requires not only specialist bindings, but also boots. Rented from SkiSet in Oz-en-Oisans, it was all brand new, disappointingly leaving no room for excuses. First impressions were very positive; the boots were less structured than a traditional alpine boot with more flex and a walk mode.
The main difference you’ll note from the image is the hinged area in the toe of the boot allowing you to flex. The bindings (Duckbill for those looking to get technical) are simple and very easy to use; they just clip around the base of the boot. Different to alpine bindings, there’s no DIN setting or release mechanism and also have a definite ‘left’ and ‘right’.
To get used to the feel of the kit, our instructor Phillipe, from ESF Vaujany, had us lunging in no time – allowing the perfect opportunity to get some vanity shots. Even if it was a disaster from here we could always pretend! Posing done we headed up from Oz-en-Oisans to try our first turns. The surprise was that you can not only snowplough, but also parallel turn which meant that should things get a bit loose I could at least stop.
The sensation of sliding with one ski in front of the other to turn and the free heel took some getting used to. We began by traversing the slope in the ‘telemark’ lunging position. From there we moved onto the defining feature of the discipline, our telemark free heel turn. Starting in a snowplough we could control the speed and entry into the turn, stepping to finish with one ski on front of the other. As the confidence built we were able to link these turns and gradually reduce the snowplough element. Over the course of the lesson my turns started to become more fluent. I don’t think I’ve ever lunged as much in my life and started to feel the burn in my legs. But it was well worth it, I was enjoying the progression and the swinging nature of the turn.
The lesson was over far too quickly and has left me wanting more. Although I wouldn’t want to sacrifice a powder day, I’ll definitely be seen on telemark kit again and I’m already looking forward to it. For more information on Alpe d’Huez Grande Domaine Ski, visit www.alpedhuez.com Telemark hire starts from £100 per person for 6 days. Visit skiset.co.uk for more information and don’t forget Ski Club members can save up to 50% when they prebook online. Two and a half hours of Telemark instruction from ESF starts from £74 for one person up to £98 for four. Visit www.esf.net for more information.