FREE THE HEEL. BEN LANRIDGE TALKS TELEMARKING
'If skiing is sex, then tele is tantric'. Could this be why more people, of all ages, are learning to telemark ski? Ben Langridge, British telemark guru in Val d'Isere, explains transcending to another level when you Free The Heel...
How and why did you get into telemark skiing?
I started telemark skiing in 1995 when snowboarding was just taking off. I wanted to be different and take up a sport that was a real challenge. I'd seen telemark skiers and always been impressed by their balance and fluidity. When you watch a really good telemark skier, you can't help but admire the aesthetic of their movements. Quite simply, I wanted to be able to do it.
What is your involvement with Telemark skiing in Val d'Isere?
Along with a buddy, I founded a specialist Telemark Ski School called Tele Tracks in Val d'Isere and Tignes. We provide telemark courses and private lessons through the winter for locals and holidaymakers. Although we're not a Tour Operator, we package accommodation, lift pass, NTN telemark equipment and, of course, telemark coaching to make it easy for people to come and try telemark skiing or to improve their telemark skiing.
How many people do you teach in a season? What defines them i.e. is there a type who wants to learn?
I probably teach up to 50 people a season. All sorts are attracted to the sport.
It's growing really quickly among young seasonaires
It's growing really quickly among young seasonaires who want to do something different. In general, however, it's strong skiers who want a new challenge, who appreciate the aesthetic of the telemark turn and who want to be able to go touring and get off-piste away from the crowds. It's actually very common to meet people who claim that they've always wanted to try, they just didn't know how or where they could do it. That's where we come in, we have a stock of top of the range Scott NTN telemark boots and Scott telemark skis mounted with NTN bindings. Not only can people test the kit through us but they can also take lessons to help them get started or to improve their technique.
Isn't Telemark skiing just for old people?
As I mentioned, it's becoming really popular with all age groups. Go to Chamonix and you'll be surrounded by young Scandinavian and American telemark skiers. Here in Val, there's definitely a growing movement of 20-somethings wanting to free the heel.
Why do you think it is growing as a sport?
For many reasons. Firstly, people are always attracted to doing things that are difficult, whether a desire to be different or elitist or to simply satisfy our human competitive drive, I don't know. The bottom line is once you've felt the 'floating on a knife-edge' sensation of your first linked telemark turn you won't look back. Secondly, the improvements in equipment like the NTN system are making telemark skiing easier to learn and, therefore, more accessible.
You can also get away from the crowds
Furthermore telemark skiing is definitely counter-cultural to the noise of the alpine scene - these days fat alpine skis make powder skiing so easy that the off-piste is more and more accessible and therefore tracked out. With telemark kit, you can not only stand out from the crowd, but you can also get away from the crowds - the free heel allows the telemark skier to travel effortlessly out into the back country.
Of course, telemark skiing the off-piste requires skill. It's not something you'll learn to do in a short period of time, but the journey to that off-piste goal is filled with trials and tribulations, with plenty of adrenaline thrown in.
Is it good for skiing technique?
The foundation of telemark skiing technique is exactly the same as alpine skiing, so a really good alpine skier will pick it up relatively quickly. An alpine racer in a matter of days.
Telemark skiing will magnify all your bad habits
However, if you haven't a good grounding in alpine technique, telemark skiing will magnify all your bad habits and demand really accurate movement patterns. Without a doubt, telemark skiing will improve your alpine skiing and if you can do it, then your alpine skiing will be strong.
How difficult is it to learn?
As I mentioned it all depends on how strong your alpine skiing is, the quality of your equipment, how fit you are and how good your coach is!
Is it as hard on your knees as it looks?
No, it's not hard on the knees, in fact, it stresses the knees less than alpine skiing because there is less lateral pressure through the knee. Also, the whole leg works together in the lunge including ankle, knee and hips to absorb and extend. It will make your quads burn a bit, though - especially in the beginning because the lunge is slow and controlled and quite static, as you get better you release the tension in the quad as you move into the next turn.
What is the hardest thing about Telemark skiing?
I'll be honest, it is physically demanding, but it's an awesome workout. You'll use the whole of the leg, gluteus, hamstring and quads along with the abs and lower back. For the girls it's the best legs, bums and tums workout you'll ever do; while for the boys, if you want a 6-pack and a firm butt, it has to be the most fun way to get one.
What is the best thing about Telemark skiing?
Telemarking the powder, it's like floating on clouds.
In what way do you think Telemark skiing is part of a general cross-riding trend? ie being able to do more than one Alpine sport?
If skiing is sex, then tele is tantric
If you can tele in powder, you leave your snowboard at home. Or, as one of my newly-converted telemarking mates says “If skiing is sex, then tele is tantric.”
Heroes of Telemark? Best part of the film?
Never seen it!
(Well, for your information, apart from the telemarking chase on narrow wooden skis, while shooting rifles at each other, we think the best part is Kirk Douglas's smocks and handknit sweaters...and those gloves.)
For more information on Tele Tracks and telemark lessons: