Back Country and Telemark Skiing
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Telemark skiing is a term used for skiing using the Telemark turn. It is also known as "free heel skiing." Unlike alpine skiing equipment, the skis used for telemarking have a binding that only connects the boot to the ski at the toes, just as in cross-country skiing. Telemark turns are led with the heel flat on the outside ski (the downhill ski at the end of the turn), while the inside (uphill) ski is pulled beneath the skier's body with a flexed knee and raised heel. The skis are staggered but not quite parallel, and 50% to 60% of the body weight is distributed on the outside ski, depending on snow conditions.
The Telemark turn came to the attention of the Norwegian public in 1868, when Sondre Norheim took part in a ski jumping competition. Norheim's technique of fluid turns soon dominated skiing, and in Norway it continued to do well into the next century. Starting in the 1910s, newer techniques based on the stem gradually replaced Telemark in the Alpine countries. Newer techniques were easier to master and enabled shorter turns better suited for steeper alpine terrain and skiing downhill. The Telemark turn became the technique of ski touring in rolling terrain.
The technique is named after the Telemark region of Norway, just as the stem Christie turn was named after Christiania (now Oslo), Norway. As well as inventing the Telemark turn, Sondre Norheim and his fellow skiers used and refined parallel skiing techniques. Thus, while the Telemark is part of early skiing's foundation, parallel techniques are of equal importance.
Alpine Touring and Ski Mountaineering
Going uphill or across a flat also requires grip, so that the ski will glide forward but not slide backwards when weighted. Dedicated cross-country touring skis may have a fish-scale pattern engraved into the base of the ski to enable the ski to grip, but most types of ski require the use of sticky wax or climbing skins for their smooth surface to grip. Skins are removable pieces of nylon fabric whose nap runs at an oblique angle, allowing the ski to glide forward, but not back. Originally, these skins were actually made of furry seal skin.
As the slope angles increase, the climbing ski-tourer will make switchbacks, using so-called "kick turns" to change direction, typically resulting in a line that climbs at a moderate angle of 20-30 degrees. Skin tracks can be seen as zig-zags heading up a snowy mountain. Ski-tourers try to maintain the "up-tracks" in avalanche-safe zones as they head up the mountain, staying out from under dangerous cornices or slide paths. Setting a proper and safe skin track requires a great deal of skill and avalanche knowledge as the tourer spends most of their time climbing. Traveling quickly up the hill is important for safety as well. Thus physical fitness is one of the most important elements of safe mountain travel in potential avalanche terrain.
On reaching the summit or other intermediate destination, skins (if used) are removed and the skiers prepare to descend. In traditional cross-country skiing equipment and more robust telemark equipment, the skier's heel is also free on the descent, while AT skiers lock down their heels for the descent in typical alpine skiing style.
Ski touring requires the ability to ski off-piste, good navigation skills, and good awareness of the risks of the mountain environment in winter. In particular it requires the knowledge to assess and test snow conditions to minimise the risk of avalanche. Avalanche rescue equipment including radio transceiver, probe and shovel should be carried, and the ability to use them quickly and efficiently is required.
Additionally, ski mountaineering implies climbing a mountain with the intent of skiing it, often from the summit and/or down an elegant "line." Ski mountaineering blurs the line between mountaineering and skiing, as advocates typically choose peaks that are both worthy climbs and challenging descents. Ski mountaineering may require kicking in steps up steep sections while carrying the skis on a backpack. Ski mountaineers may also use ropes, ice axes and crampons for ascending slopes too steep for skinning or kicking steps. In some areas, ski mountaineering involves glacier travel, a whole subject unto itself. When skiing on glaciers it is wise for the party to wear harnesses, carry crevasse-rescue gear, and sometimes rope together to allow crevasse rescue techniques to be employed.