Telemark: Free Your Heel, Free Your Mind!

Telemark skiing, a unique combination of of downhill and cross-country techniques, originated from the Telemark region of Norway where people skied great distances over varying terrain.  The equipment used is similar to that of cross-country skiing: a binding without heel attachment, where only the front toe region is locked to the ski.  The sport is becoming more popular, although it has always been a backcountry standard, as one can hike up with skins and ski down on the same gear. It is a sport which takes time to master and is spectacular to watch.  Anne-Marie Buckland, a passionate skier, takes us through her season of transformation as a single woman that can hang tight with the men.  

Like anything, Telemark skiing can be done on several levels.  Beginners barely drop down and slowly offer weak curtseys as if balancing on a tight rope teetering high above low gravity point. Seasoned skiers not only get down, but also build speed through the turn, holding the body in a tight bubble low to the snow. Telemark skiing at its traditional best is challenging, as it requires intense leg strength and high overall conditioning. It starts to get fun when you find the turn that can bounce and groove. It is a dance choreographed by the mountain, brand new every time. 

I have Telemarked for thirty years and am skiing better than ever. Turns this last season took me to Kirkwood, Brighton, Solitude, Canyons, PC, Aspen, and Vail. I skied mainly on floaty, fat Sin 7 Rossignols, beautiful in deep snow, not so good in everything else.  I ended the season on old but trusty friends, my flirty K2 Schidevils.  

As a divorcee whose skiing was once a shared spousal event, (or a follow my husband wherever he goes tour), I enjoyed the freedom this season to set my own course; cruisers when I needed to pull back, trees when drawn in, and bumps when I felt invincible.  My ex husband got me started in ankle high leather boots on skinny, double camber, scale-bottomed Rossis.   As if learning to hit a perfect forehand with a rolling pin, early days with this gear on icy Vermont slopes honed a sharp technique I rely on to this day.  Skiing with my ex, who happens to be one of the best athletes I’ve ever met, made me the skier I am today.  Fortunately for me this season, there were plenty of other dudes to ski with. 

The exhibitionist in me gets a rush from really digging in under the chair, showing people what I can do.  I am in my best sport, my highest effort/reward ratio.  And let's face it…some of the best lines are under the chair. There is nothing cooler than shredding with a fun tele-chic: and nothing more fun for her than out-skiing the guys, so it's a win-win.  The mountain is my trusted wingman, always happy to step in and sweep me out of an impromptu ski date if needed. I’m usually on equal footing with men, as I've always skied with boys - even when I was little.  Closing out the season in snowy Vail on wider than wide cruisers with three great guys, I realized that my sport does what nothing else can. It levels the playing field. 

Just as fun as shredding with dudes is when I ski alone. The runs off Condor at the Canyons were often empty on stormy days and protected from the wind. With each steamy, face-mask breath, I synced chosen lines with piston strong motion.  Dropping and bouncing, carving and grooving my way through soft bumps, tunes cranking.  

Utah is home for me because of moments like these...why then did I ski Tahoe?  Why did I trade the champagne for the swill?  Why?  Because a great guy offered to take me..not kidding..a really great guy, and Utah had no snow for ALL of February.  

I'd forgotten the Sierra cement, packed the wrong skis.  Balking in heavy snow I slid fast off “the wall” at Kirkwood and launched backwards off a traverse track landing on my back and sliding more.  Tele skis don’t come off the feet, so it was ugly.  The crusty ski bum guys I was "charging" with used their Tahoe speak, “cherry” the new “sick”.  Even though I had the wind knocked out of me, I stood up after a long whimper to their amazement and skied, just to fall again. It took me all day to recover and I opted out of Squaw the next day.

I learned from the Scottish guys that a European ski day generally lasts longer and is more enjoyable. We started earlier and went in for “coffee and a chat” around ‪10:00, lunch at noon and a tea around ‪2:00, finishing with one or two last runs.  I'm hooked.  The breaks hydrated and warmed me, kept me strong, relaxed, and well nourished.  This season was "The dog's bollocks" as they say in Scotland or simply "bloody good".  It was the beginning of my new single life on Teles. Bloody good indeed! 


Anne-Marie Buckland is a Yoga teacher specializing in private, individualized instruction.  She teaches Holy Yoga and Vinyasa Flow.