Telemark Skier, Why Are You The Way That You Are?

We've been talking, and we're a little worried about you. And also your knees.

Photo: Ted Levine/Getty Images

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It’s not a great look to have your mouth agape in confusion while it’s filled with deli meat and cheese, but I can’t help myself. I’m chomping on a sammich atop my skis, placed binders down in a snow bank on the Bypass Road at Snowbird, when the old truck pulls in next to me. Out jumps a salt-n-pepper shaggy haired skier. He climbs into the truck bed, drops trou, and pulls up two neoprene knee braces. He notices my noticing him, and tells me it’s been a year since his double knee replacement. And that’s when I see his boots and bindings. I ask why he still telemarks after surgery like that, what with all the improvements in alpine and touring equipment. He shrugs his shoulders. “I dunno, man,” he says. Well, the rest of us don’t either.

Like the reddish orange stain that clings to Tupperware long after you’ve eaten the leftover spaghetti, telemarkery refuses to scrub away from skiing. Just when I think that I’ve seen the last creaky knee drop, a homemade wool-hat-and-monocle-adorned dude named Jasper or Moonspirit schmears a pigeon-toed turn just below me as I ride the lift. And there I sit, wondering what in the actual hell tele-ers are still doing on those prehistoric bindings and boots.

Now, I understand that eons ago, when we skiers had to scare away brontosauruses from clomping down all the untracked powder, telemark skiing solved the mobility problem—in terms of ease of use and weight—of the backcountry-traveling wiggler. But then, around when we invented fire, the wheel, and smiling, AT bindings, boots, and skis surpassed any telemark claim on efficiency in the mountains.

I’ve heard tele-skiers defend their devotion by contending that the difficulty is the allure, which is a brow-furrowing statement. When given the choice between a calculator and a slide ruler, no one refuses them and pulls an abacus out of their backpack. Tele-ing is the Microsoft Outlook of the skiing world. Sure, it kinda gets the job done but it should come with a wheelbarrows-worth of extra strength ibuprofen for all the frustration and pain it causes.

It should be noted that I have never tele-ed, which may cause you to think that my confused response to the genuflected turn holds no sand. But it should also be noted that I have never tried a dog turd casserole either, and yet, I still just know it ain’t for me.

My friend Hannah—an adult wearer of Crocs, which may seem unrelated but is not—comes from the knee-bending stronghold of Durango, Colorado, and has tele-ed for nearly 30 years. This season, she became the last member of her formerly tele-ing family to finally buy a modern AT setup. “I feel like I’m going through puberty again,” Hannah says, with a sheepish giggle. “It’s all very awkward…but they’re really fun.”

Hannah has only skied a little more than two hours with her heals locked down. It’s hard for her to decide which skis to use and when—but maybe not too hard. She admits that sometimes, especially on a powder day, the uphill tele ski kinda has a life of its own. “Sometimes ya just don’t know where that slippery little salamander is gonna go,” Hannah confesses before dropping a bomb. “I’m really excited about my alpine equipment. It’s ridiculously fun. I can’t wait to go again.” I swear I hear her knees applaud.

I do not travel by covered wagon or horse or pogo stick. When given the choice between sharpening a spear to take down a mammoth or foraging for berries, I walk to the local burger joint. I’m not a lazy person, but I don’t enjoy giving myself a task that is inherently harder than it needs to be. Tele-ers, why do you still lunge your way down the hill when the readily available smiles of alpine skiing wait for you? I know the saying goes “free your heel, free your mind,” but perhaps it’s time to click in your heel and ski for real. That, or make sure to up your visits to the local dispensary. Because, as the joke goes: What did the tele-skier say when he ran out of weed? “Dude, these bindings suck!”

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