Telemark skiing turns toward youth market

Telemark skiing isn’t dead. It’s actually getting younger. With a new focus on freeriding, in-bounds skiing, halfpipes and terrain parks, what was once Outdoor Retailer’s go-to granola market is gaining attitude and energy from a new wave of hard-charging riders.
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Throughout the month of February, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 19-22. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.


Telemark skiing isn’t dead. It’s actually getting younger. With a new focus on freeriding, in-bounds skiing, halfpipes and terrain parks, what was once Outdoor Retailer’s go-to granola market is gaining attitude and energy from a new wave of hard-charging riders.

“If you go to Morgedal, Norway, and actually look at the history of telemark skiing, it’s going back to its roots, when skis were wider for landing jumps and skiing powder instead of just being used for transportation,” said Josh Madsen, the new owner of Telemark Skier magazine. The magazine’s editor for the past two years, Madsen announced at Winter Market that he has agreed to purchase it from Height of Land Publications (HOL). He plans to cease the magazine’s two annual print issues in favor of publishing six online issues each year, all in English, and available internationally via Zinio for a single subscription fee.

“Telemark skiing has always been something we believed in strongly,” HOL editorial and creative director Adam Howard said in a statement. When HOL merged Couloir and Backcountry magazines in 2006, it also relaunched Telemark Skier, which had been dormant at Couloir for a year. “We still think tele skiers deserve their own media, and Madsen has the tools to deliver,” added Howard.

Madsen also plans to focus more on telemark skiing itself, rather than free-heel’s long-touted ease of backcountry access and winter travel. “I think for so long, people looked to telemark as a way to get into terrain they couldn’t get to any other way, instead of just at the excitement and beauty of the turn itself,” Madsen said. “There are a lot of younger skiers who are driving the next evolution of the sport, and it’s really important to focus on the spirit that they are bringing to telemark right now.”

His comments certainly reflected the sentiment of telemark equipment manufacturers at Winter Market, who introduced new skis, boots and bindings designed to perform at higher speeds, especially in steep lines and hardpack conditions.

“The market really has gone from focusing on transport to focusing on downhill performance,” said Thomas Laakso, Black Diamond Equipment’s ski category manager. “If you look at the freeride competitions, the people on tele are just charging right now, making higher-speed carving turns on bigger boards.”

To that end, Black Diamond has upgraded its 01 binding, adding two more screws to the baseplate to help keep the bindings from ripping out of skis. G3 introduced its new Enzo and Enzo R, and Rottefella its new Freedom binding at the show.

“It’s like the whole market has completely reversed itself, where people are going out of bounds on AT gear and heading in-bounds on telemark gear,” said Kim Miller, president and CEO of Scarpa North America. Miller agreed with Madsen’s statement that it is the dramatically unique look and feel of a free-heel turn that is driving the telemark market, rather than the backcountry experience that first brought it into vogue. “You really are seeing more young people getting into telemark, where a lot of the more traditional market is getting on the lighter-weight AT gear right now.”

Garmont USA ski-boot product manager Paul Parker, who literally wrote the book on telemark with his “Free-Heel Skiing: Telemark and Parallel Techniques for All Conditions,” said that once manufacturers stopped building telemark-specific skis, the lines between alpine, AT and free-heel boards was permanently blurred.

“Calling a ski a telemark ski was really a sales killer,” Parker said. “Once the focus shifted strictly to downhill performance, and there were fewer access arguments, it really changed the image from being a sport for a bunch of pinecone eaters to a sport for freeskiers.”

--Peter Kray

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