Summit County gear review: Telemark equipment to help free your heel, mind
February 16, 2014
One of the driving factors behind modern telemark and its popularity is the gear. Back in the day, tele skiers wore leather boots with modified three-pin cross-country bindings mounted to whatever alpine skis they could get their hands on cheaply. In the 1990s, manufacturers heeded the call and began producing boots with plastic cuffs, better bindings and downhill skis specifically designed for tele skiers. Today, the boots are just as high tech as any alpine boot.
With advances in ski technology, the only difference between alpine skis and telemark skis is the binding — and the technique. Finding the skis that work well for the type of skiing you like to do is half the fun. Attend as many demos as possible, and test as many skis and boots as you can before you buy.
Body map your apparel
The body-mapping trend has been around for several seasons but is especially applicable to tele skiers who tend to work up more of a sweat, both uphill and downhill. It's pretty simple really: Put the warm stuff on the core body parts and the stretchy stuff on the moving body parts.
Start with your all-important base layer. For a trusted standard, turn to Helly Hansen (hellyhansen.com), which got its start in open-ocean sailing in 1877 with the first supple waterproof fabric and later invented the first technical base layer in 1970. The HH Dry Revolution Half-Zip Top and Three-Quarter Long Johns, available in men's and women's sizes, are perfect for tele skiers because they stay dry next to skin and move with the body. The three-quarter-length bottoms with their seamless construction won't bunch on your calves or inside your boots. Helly's Lifa fabric pushes moisture to your mid-layer, and the Dry Revolution series is made almost entirely of the proprietary technology, with just the right amount of stretch.
When it comes to mid-layers, technology is rampant in both natural fibers (such as Merino wool) and synthetics (such as Polartec PowerDry). SmartWool (smartwool.com) is a favorite and pioneer in the wool category, while brands such as Adidas Outdoors (adidas.com/com/outdoor) and The North Face (thenorthface.com) lead the synthetic pack. For something a little lesser known, the Sherpa (sherpaadventuregear.com) Manaslu Jacket is the kind of snuggly piece you put on and want to keep on all winter. It features PrimaLoft One insulation in the core, with Polartec Power Stretch in the sleeves and back. It's a hybrid, hooded piece that is good for cool-weather climbing and hiking by itself or ideal to layer under a shell on a cold ski day. The jacket is available in men and women's cuts. It is ultra-stylish and features the highest quality construction available in the outdoor market, owned and operated by Nepalese Sherpas.
When it comes to outerwear, turn to FlyLow (flylowgear.com) — the only "tele-specific" outerwear on the market. This isn't to say there aren't a lot of other great options out there, ranging from Patagonia (patagonia.com), Marmot (marmot.com) and Mountain Hardwear (mountainhardwear.com) to the new apparel from Black Diamond (blackdiamondequipment.com) and Dynafit (dynafit.com) — even Columbia Sportswear (columbia.com) has some incredible new technologies out this season at a good value. But take a look at the new Lab Coat and Compound Pant, both constructed with Polartec NeoShell, from FlyLow. They're lightweight and breathable for climbing or hard charging down bumps and also durable for skiing through trees and taking nice, long breaks on rock outcroppings.
It's also recommended to keep an extra, insulated layer in your pack. Check out the Ghost Whisperer water-resistant down jacket from Mountain Hardwear or the General's Down Hoody from FlyLow. A lightweight Polartec Alpha vest or jacket that packs down to the size of a grapefruit is also perfect for those situations when you're waiting for friends at the top of the mountain or at the lifts.
A helmet from Bolle (bolle.com), Bern (bernunlimited.com) or Smith (smithoptics.com) should be at the top of your must-have list. Try on the new Smith Sequel for warmth, stealth fit, comfort and ideal goggle integration when paired with the new Vice goggle.
You'll also need a good, sturdy pair of knee-high wool socks. Check your local specialty outdoor shop for SmartWool, Point6 (point6.com) or FITS (fitssock.com) ski socks.
As for gloves, you'll need a pair of Kincos to solidify your old school, grassroots status. Kinco work gloves have a cult-like following with lifties, patrollers and backcountry enthusiasts nationwide. Their model 901 Ski Glove features a waterproof laminate and, new this year, is available as a mitten for extra warmth. Other models such as the popular and much imitated model 1927KW require an aftermarket waterproofing such as Sno-Seal, available at Walmart and specialty outdoor shops.
Hard goods: Skis, boots and bindings
When it comes to skis, some people like noodles, some prefer planks, others pontoons, but the consensus among tele skiers is that wider is better, with a minimum of 99 millimeters under foot.
For a high-performance powder tele ski, invest in a pair of the new DPS Lotus 120 Spoons (www.dpsskis.com), made in Utah with proprietary Pure3 carbon construction. The Lotus is a directional ski with a rockered shovel and complex convex base design, available in 178-, 189- and 197-centimeter lengths.
Telemark skiers are notorious for using whatever crappy, bent and mis-sized poles they find in their sheds the morning it dumps. Don't be that guy. Check out the new pole technologies from Black Diamond, Swix (swixsport.com) and MSR (cascadedesigns.com/MSR). The new MSR Deploy TR-3 is a high-performance, adjustable, three-section backcountry pole that will work for all of your winter sports.
Next, let's talk bindings. While the majority of tele skiers seen on the mountain will still be on traditional, 75-millimeter "duckbill" boot-binding set-ups, people are slowly but surely migrating to the NTN binding, made by Rottefella and sold through Scarpa dealers (scarpa.com).
There are many fine 75-millimeter bindings out there, including the classic Black Diamond O1, the G3 Enzo R and the 22Designs Vice (they're coming out with a kids' tele binding this year). And Scott, Scarpa and Black Diamond are all still in the 75-millimeter boot game. But Scott (formerly Garmont) and Scarpa are leading the way with NTN — the first telemark binding with alpine-style drop-down brakes (no more leashes) and a powerful direct-drive click-in system that also allows for touring.
"The binding drives like an alpine binding and offers a predictable stability, comforting new patrons to the sport," said Kirstin Nelson, Breckenridge Resort ski patroller. "With NTN also producing the Freedom binding, their backcountry version, they were able to start competing with other lighter-weight tele bindings out there.
"The fact that both versions of the NTN are also releasable makes the binding very attractive to avalanche professionals and patrollers, where many organizations require releasable bindings for control work. The boots compatible with the NTN binding were also a change to the sport."
Just as with its 75-millimeter tele boot line, Scarpa is producing NTN boots in three tiers of stiffness, with the TX Pro (same build as the T1) now ranking as the company's top-selling tele boot.
Even if your gear is covered in duct tape and you still prefer your Army surplus wool and three-pin bindings, telemark skiing is all about having fun. Get out there, try some of the latest and greatest, free your heel, and experience one of the most graceful and beautiful forms of skiing the world over.
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