Compared with North America, telemarking in the European Alps still only draws an extremely small audience. But that didn't keep the devout enthusiasts and pros alike from descending on the Austrian ski resort, Stubaital, outside of Innsbruck for the second-largest -- and growing -- telemark festival in the world.
Only in its fifth year, the Stubai Telemark Festival has grown from a few dozen devotees to more than 500 enthusiasts from around the globe, including representatives from Finland (OK, so that's Europe too), as well as Iceland and the United States. With temperatures on opening day, Nov. 19, down to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit), that Icelander must have felt right at home.
"Overall, we know that we have never seen so many free heels on our slopes,â€ said Caroline Suitner, Stubaital resort spokeswoman. â€œIt is very difficult to tell the exact number (of attendees) because only about 100 people booked the package. The vast majority of the telemark skiers come here by themselves."
En masse, however, came the Karhu U.S. Telemark Team, personally invited by festival organizer Richard Schuerf. "They really had fun and got a very good understanding about what is going on with telemark in Europe," Schuerf told SNEWSÂ®.
The Stubai Festival weekend program included workshops on the glacier slopes. Tele-beginners could try the free heel-feeling under guidance of the â€œFriends of Arco.â€ Riders interested in off-piste skiing could participate in Ortovox's avalanche safety training. Event organizer Richard Schuerf was told by Lorenzo Worster that the Stubai Tele X Challenge was the best and most demanding in the world. A movie night, sponsored by Sport Conrad, Germany's major telemark retailer, attracted about 300 people on Friday evening. While Saturday night saw a big party in cooperation with a hip Munich, Germany-based radio station.
What attracted most people was the Tele Expo. At the expo, participants could try a wide range of gear from more than 20 brands, including 7TM, Arc'Teryx, Black Diamond, Blizzard, Crispi, Fischer, G3, Garmont, Hagloefs, K2, Kama, Karhu, Marmot, Masurao, Ortovox, Patagonia, Protective, Rottefella, Scarpa, Silvretta, VoilÃ¨ and others. Christian Haeffner, one of the editors of the German website, www.telemarkfriends.com, said he highly appreciated the test opportunities.
Despite its long ski heritage, Europe doesn't count as many telemark enthusiasts. Estimates of the market size in the Alpine region range from 15,000 to 40,000, depending on who's doing the talking. That 40,000 figure may be more about people who have tried it once according to a number of experts we spoke with. The strongest markets in the Alpine regioin are Italy and Switzerland. Outside of the Alpine region, a SNEWS subscriber and Norwegian ski-instructor tells us that Norway is the largest telemark market in all of Europe with nearly 200,000 active participants. Makes sense considering that telemarking comes from the area of Telemark in southern Norway. No word on why, then, there were no Norwegians at Stubai.
The overall feedback was extremely positive, both from exhibitors and participants as well as the organizers, although the large resort setting didn't necessarily sit well with some in the telemark crowd: â€œI would prefer to have the event somewhere in a smaller resort with a more traditional flairâ€, says Reiner Kopf, Munich-based rep for Black Diamond and Arc'Teryx brands, â€œbut it is early in the season, so we have no choice.â€
Above all, telemark skiers are a friendly bunch. You couldn't turn a corner without seeing smiles, and attendees gladly offered help instead of arrogance, and enthusiasm instead off aloofness. Perhaps that's because it's still a small enough sport that a true family feeling exists.
For more, go to www.stubaier-telemark-festival.com