The world's largest telemark festival, La Skieda, celebrated its 10th anniversary last week (March 27 to April 4). Attracting over 850 participants from at least 20 countries, this is billed as the premier international event for freeheel skiing and our visit found nothing to dispel that claim.
Held in Livigno, Italy (just over the Swiss border and close to St. Moritz), what started as a small gathering of friends has snowballed into a major week-long event. A decade ago, the owners of three hotels who were all devout freeheelers decided to invite some others of the tribe for an end-of-season fling. Even when they tried to cancel the event a few years ago (burned out from all the work involved), over 250 skiers showed up regardless and it became obvious La Skieda had a life of its own.
One of the more refreshing and unusual aspects of La Skieda is the remarkably low commercial profile. For the past few seasons, the event has been sponsored by the town of Livigno so the town's name is just about the only logo you see anywhere.
This year, for the first time, the organizers decided to offer a telemark equipment expo for the first two days of the event. Many of the major brands attended (Black Diamond, G3, K2, Karhu, Stockli, Rottefella, 7TM), as well as Haglofs, the powerhouse Swedish outdoor brand. Most companies seemed to be glad they attended but were mildly disappointed with the level of consumer traffic.
Every morning, about 80 to 100 skiers meet for a semi-formal (this IS Italy after all), guided backcountry tour. While skinning up a hill with a hundred of your closest friends may sound distasteful to North Americans, the polyglot of languages and camaraderie -- plus the great powder skiing -- ensured everyone had a blast and kept showing up for more. Besides, there is something to be said for starting the morning at the top of the lift with an espresso pick-me-up before beginning the ascent.
At the mid-week Trepallina party, about 500 telemark skiers converged in an isolated valley for a barbeque lunch, beer and a live DJ. Then 210 skiers formed a long line, linked arms and proceeded to set a world record for the biggest telemark turnâ€¦before falling down into a massive pile up with much laughing.
Two catered dinner parties held at different locations on the large resort were the highlight of the celebration -- tickets were hot commodities since only 200 people could fit in the restaurants. SNEWSÂ® assures you a good time was had by all, though discretion prevents a full report. The hardier souls -- including professional telebabes Kasha Rigby and Naheed Henderson -- made it a point of going to every after-dinner party (a different bar each night), which usually concluded around 3 or 4 in the morning (and they always showed up for the tours).
This year's festival drew writers from the LA Times, Skiing, Outside, Backcountry and, of course, SNEWSÂ®, ensuring North Americans will now be well aware of what a great time they missed this year, and could have by attending next -- expect more North American attendance at future events as a result. At the La Skieda tent, a dozen different ski magazines that cover telemark wholly or in part were available for consumers to pick up. This proved a good way to show telemark isn't as isolated and fringe as some people think and we suspect a number of the better magazines probably picked up some new international subscriptions.
In addition, for the first time, the festival sponsored a digital photo competition, which attracted a half dozen pro ski photographers. Unfortunately, the competition was poorly organized and the judging appeared to be weighted to favor nationality instead of image quality (of course, an Italian won).
For more information on the event, go to www.skieda.com/.
SNEWS View: For serious telemark skiers and companies, La Skieda is a must-do event. It is the premier celebration of the sport and a huge amount of fun! Put this one on your calendar. We'd recommend staying at the 4-star Hotel Posta, which is the spiritual center of the event and where much of the inner goings-on take place. Trust us on this one, money well spent. Be sure to attend for the full week and learn to pace yourself -- it takes a toll on muscles and your liver.
From a business standpoint, the Telemark Expo seems like a good idea but it just doesn't make sense. At the end of the season, consumers are thinking about the latest bike accessories or climbing gear they'll need for the summer. Stores will already have end-of-season sales running, so even if somebody tries some gear and decides to buy, the item will probably either be discounted or not available for six months. As Oliver Stefan from G3 put it, "I'd have rather just given the cost of the booth to the festival as a goodwill gesture and spent the time skiing." Makes sense to us too.