Trying Telemark In La Plagne

STORY BY
Andy Bleakley
17th November 2016

Have you ever tried telemark skiing? Perhaps you’ve never even heard of telemark skiing?!

Well, it’s the original way of skiing downhill. It was developed in Scandinavia 150 years ago as a way of skiing down hills more effectively, after thousands of years of cross-country skiing. It was first conceived in the Telemark region of Norway, hence the name. The idea caught on and spread across to the Alps in the late 18th century. Here, pioneers reinvented the technique to create the forerunner of the alpine technique we use today. But telemark has kept going as a style all these years and in the past decade has seen a resurgence in popularity.

Anyone can try telemark just like any other winter sport and recently I was invited to the big French ski resort of La Plagne for a “Telemark Experience”.

The itinerary included watching the action in a stage of the Telemark World Cup, meeting the GB telemark team – who have scored some big successes in recent years – and trying telemark skiing for myself! Needless to say, I was a little excite

What is telemark skiing?

Telemark skiing is a skiing technique that combines the elements of alpine and nordic (or cross-country skiing). These days alpine skis are used but with nordic style “free heel” bindings – so your toes are connected to the skis, but your heels can lift off them.

It’s easy to spot a telemark skier on the slopes as they will be lunging into turns and bending their legs at the knee.

In the days before ski lifts and before ski touring equipment the telemark was also popular because it was easier to climb the mountain with a free heel binding, the natural option to best allow walking on skis.

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The Telemark World Cup

Telemark ski racing is the oldest, hardest and most exciting form of ski racing! Telemark ski racing is the only World Cup discipline that tests all forms of competitive skiing in one top-to-bottom event. Each discipline includes alpine, jumping and nordic skiing components.

La Plagne has twice been a venue for the Telemark World Cup, which has grown increasingly important over the past decade or so.

The World Cup race circuit starts in November in Hintertux and continues with the final race usually in March, with each round in between hosted by a different country.

Each chooses which telemark races they want to host, from three possibilities: for La Plagne, it was Dual Sprint and the Sprint, but they could have done a “classic” race too if they had wanted – not every round has to include all three disciplines.

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The British Team

There are 10 members of the GB World Cup team, with Jaz Taylor the only female on the team, which is coached by Sébastien Mansart and based in Tignes for the pre-season and Les Houches for the main bulk of the winter.

When I met them I found they were a young, friendly, talented team of athletes who are clearly passionate about their sport and striving to push to the next level. I was impressed by their camaraderie and also by the mutual support between competitors from competing nations. They showed a real respect for the sport, with athletes of all different nations encouraging and supporting each other during the competition. It felt a real honour to have met the team and to be part of the event.

Jaz Taylor

The only female member of the British team, Jaz Taylor, is British number one and currently ranked eighth in the world rankings. She is also the first Briton to have won a World Championship medal in telemark skiing.

Jaz has been telemark skiing since 2009, beginning as a talented junior athlete. She joined the British Ski Academy aged 12, competing as an alpine skier back then, and became the youngest British ski cross champion ever, aged just 15.

In 2009 she joined the England freestyle ski team and during this time was first introduced to telemark skiing. Jaz is based in Chamonix and is currently training for the coming 2017 World Championships with the ambition of becoming world champion.

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I Try Telemark!

In recent years telemark skiing has seen a resurgence among resorts, and many ski schools and hire shops are jumping in on the action, offering private and group lessons and equipment rentals. I was lucky enough to enjoy a couple of hours with ski instructor Nicolas at the Oxygène Ski School in La Plagne.

I’m a confident downhill skier (at least I like to think I am!) and I am quite happy tackling black runs and enjoy venturing off-piste (with a mountain guide), but trying telemark skiing brought my confidence and technique back to basics.

Getting accustomed to the free heel and lunging into turns was both challenging and rewarding. One big factor to get used to was having the outside ski in the front on turns, which can take some getting used to as that’s the opposite to alpine technique. On the plus side I found it was a great workout, the most lunges I’ve ever done in a window of two hours!

The verdict? I’d highly recommend giving telemark skiing a go. For first timers I’d definitely recommend investing in a lesson, as there is a lot to the telemark technique that’s very different to regular downhill skiing and a lesson will help get you started.

More Info

Telemark World Cup: telemarkworldcup.com

GB Telemark Team: gbtelemark.co.uk

Jaz Taylor: jaztelemark.com

 

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