How to Telemark Ski – Ultimate Beginners Guide (Key Tips For First Timers)

by Kenny Jarvis | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

Wondering how to Telemark ski as a beginner? If you’re curious about it and want to try it out yourself, we’ve got your back.

Telemark skiing is a technique that involves kneeling into your turns in a squat stance, where the heel of your boot is not attached to the bindings. It requires the use of Telemark bindings and boots which are different from downhill skis.

Telemark Skier

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Here we’ll teach you how to Telemark ski and share other important information that you’ll need to do it. Let's get started!

What is Telemark Skiing?

Key Takeaway: Simply put, Telemark skiing is an alternative technique to slide downhill. To do it properly, you’ll need specific equipment, but remember that at its root, Telemark skiing is about the technique, not the equipment.

Telemark is a technique that lets you turn while keeping your speed under control. If you’re wondering who can do this, it’s for anyone of all ages. Another way to describe it is a squat-like motion when people go on downhill skis.

Today, Telemark is often considered by purists to be one of the best experiences you can get on the snow. Plus, there’s always something new to learn. 

Quick History of Telemark Ski

It was first introduced back in the 1800s in a place called Telemark in Norway. Telemark skiing has grown popular because of the advancement of technology, which boosted excitement and interest in backcountry skiing.

One of the original binding tools that connected the ski boots to the ski itself was called the "three-pin". It's a term that lots of skiers are familiar with and consists of three metal pins. These allowed the binding's metal prongs to secure and fix the skier's boots in place for touring.

These early bindings turned out to be unreliable and have now been replaced with tour bindings that use carriages and springs to attach the boots to the ski.

The newer bindings allow Telemark skis to have brakes. These prevent the skis from sliding away downhill when removing your boots from the binding.

The new bindings are called NTN bindings that improve the unreliable cable system. These also provide skiers with a safety mechanism in case they get into trouble.

Is Telemark Skiing for You?

Telemark Action
Photo by Dirk Groeger under CC BY 2.0

Telemark is something you’ll feel. That’s the reason why people want to try it because of how fluid, smooth, and graceful it looks.

Tip: If you’re wondering, Telemark skiing is perfect for pretty much everyone, including first-timers, snow-experienced individuals, seasoned snowboarders, and alpine skiers, plus everyone else in between.

And like every other snow sport, Telemark skiing’s learning curve differs for each person. It will take you about two seasons starting as a beginner to become extremely comfortable on the snow.

How to Telemark Ski

Telemark skiing can be a more challenging discipline compared to other skiing styles since you’ll need to exert more physical effort. As with any new discipline, practice makes perfect, and you’ll need a fair bit of patience in the process.

Knee Bending 

Advice: Knee bending during turns is probably the trickiest and most challenging part of Telemark skiing. If you’ve seen people doing this, you’ll notice how their bodies appear like they’re in a steady, flowing motion. This specific movement is what makes Telemark skiing look so elegant. 

If you haven’t seen anyone doing it, just imagine this. Think about someone doing forward-leg lunges at the same time as gliding downhill through a beautiful snowy landscape.

Sounds like something you’d love doing? Cool! But remember that as a beginner, you won’t be heading immediately for any steep hills. Instead, you'll be learning all the proper techniques to execute knee bending successfully.

In no time, your muscles and body will get used to the motions, building up resistance. Just as with other sports, exercising regularly will help make Telemark skiing easier.

Just remember that it takes time and practice to perfect. In the end, an entire day of Telemark skiing will be better than a full gym session. Plus, you’ll also get to enjoy a stunning view while you’re at it.

Quick Tips for Telemark Skiing

Photo by Ruth Hartnup under CC BY 2.0

Take Your Time, Avoid Rushing

It’s crucial to get the technique right, and not doing it properly will take a toll on you. Take the time to learn alongside a Telemark skiing professional, while understanding the proper positioning of your skis when turning.

You should also study how to execute movements smoothly and in a flowing manner when rising and lunging. Once you’ve perfected or at least know how to pull off these techniques properly, Telemark skiing will take much less effort.

Have Fun and Enjoy the Experience

Telemark is basically learning the new techniques, while also learning about back-country trekking up the mountain. You’ll get the chance to discover new territory with stunning views.

Embrace the Workout and Burn

Telemark skiing is a great workout for anyone. You aren’t just working your legs, but you’re also working your upper body and core.

At some point, you’ll start feeling the burn, specifically in your upper thighs. But despite the challenge, you’re gaining a new level of strength and fitness while learning new things as you go.

Find the Perfect Pro to Help

It’s important to find the right ski instructor to teach you the techniques properly. The right person for the job will know the proper way to get you started with Telemark skiing. But before anything, the instructor will need to determine your capacity, fitness levels, and abilities.

Often with a new discipline, you can start by yourself and improve to a certain degree. However, with Telemark skiing you really need the help of an instructor from the outset.

Move Freely and Comfortably

Generally, the range of movement when Telemark skiing is greater compared to when you’re alpine skiing. This is the reason why you need to wear looser clothes that let you move freely. The outfit you wear should also let you lunge effortlessly, to properly execute all the necessary movements.

Go for clothes that maximize flexibility, while still keeping you warm and comfy.

Telemark Ski Equipment - All the Stuff You Need

If you’re still starting out, we recommend you rent instead of purchasing equipment. Once you’ve grown to love it, that’s the time to invest in a good set of gear for your Telemark skiing adventures.

When you’re ready to purchase, the main accessories you’ll need include the following:

Telemark Boots

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Ski Skins

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Telemark Bindings (which you can usually link to any kind of ski)

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Comfortable Clothing (that will allow free movement)

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Avalanche Equipment

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Even if you aren’t having fun in the mountains at the moment, it’s good to put these on your bucket list. It’s to get you ready for your next ski trip.

Best Places for Telemark Skiing

Telemark, Norway is where skiing originated as a modern sport, and it's a place that lent its name to Telemark skiing. If you’re lucky enough to visit, the area represents five alpine resorts: Rauland, Gaustablikk, Gautefall, and Vradal og Haukeli.

Again, Telemark is known as the cradle of modern skiing. It’s also where the person who developed the Telemark free-heel skiing technique was born. His name is Sondre Nordheim.

Towering over Telemark is the majestic and grandiose Hardangervidda mountain plateau. It’s a dream of a lot of skiing enthusiasts, and the trip to the mountain may end up in one of the area’s ski resorts.

Why Should You Try Telemark Skiing?

If you’re holding back from trying Telemark skiing, here are some reasons why you should:

  • Telemark is an efficient, fun, and effective technique in skiing. Even if you're mediocre at it, you’ll still appear like a ski god when executing its moves and turns.
  • If you’re already a pro at snowboarding or Alpine skiing, Telemark skiing will be your new challenge. If you’re a cross-country skier, it will boost your adrenaline rush for adventure.
  • For newbies, all the good reasons to start with Telemark skiing are here. There’s new knowledge, fun in the snow, and stunning sights, and you get a good workout too.
  • If you’re worried about Telemark boots being uncomfortable, don’t worry because they are extremely comfy. A plus is that you can actually use and walk in them without trouble!

Challenges of Telemark Skiing

Photo by Peter Stevens under CC BY 2.0

Although there are a lot of good things about Telemark skiing, it also comes with a couple of challenges. We’ll share these with you to give you an idea.

The sport is challenging because you’ll need to ski downhill while ensuring to make the proper turn. To do this, you’ll have to lunge into position while holding all of your body weight on one leg.

Doing this will give you a burning sensation along the thighs after lengthy runs. There are also times when you’ll feel like you’re losing leg strength to keep yourself up after making a good turn. But don’t worry since it’s a normal occurrence.

Other Types of Skiing Techniques

1. Snowplow Turns

For the vast majority, this is where it all began. These turns are considered the simplest way to alter your direction when on skis.

Taking the snowplow position, your skis are opposed across the travel direction. These are already tipped up along the edge and ready for steering.

The position acts as a good introduction to proper balancing on the outer ski. The reason for this is that your left ski is what mostly shifts to the right (and vice-versa).

The inner ski applies resistance to turning, and thus functions as a barrier. It then gives you speed control to provide enough time to turn the ski before going downhill.

From this stance, you can easily make turns by tipping/twisting the outer ski further.

2. Stem/Christie Turns

Consider this the best of both worlds if you’re studying parallel and snowplow.

You’ll need to start your turn in a snowplow for an edge, then steer right from the start. From there, you’ll gain the stability for the crutch-like downhill ski to prevent yourself from falling too far.

When you get going, slide the inner ski and go for a parallel position to remove resistance. This will allow your skis to move smoothly and cleanly.

At the end of the turn, most will match the skis together. And as your confidence grows, start creeping it up earlier in the arc until the only transition left is a snowplow.

Bringing your skis higher and parallel to the arc will help you find your balance on the outer ski during the turn. This also applies when you effectively twist the skis at the beginning of your turn.

When the skis are parallel and out of the fall line, you can better work on tipping these earlier on the edge. This would be during the second half of the turn to increase speed and for changing directions.

3. Parallel Turns

Transitioning between turns while maintaining your skis parallel throughout the entire turn is good. This motion allows you to get creative and stylish with your turns.

Parallel turns can be skidded from beginning to end which leaves an extremely thin trail behind you. Most of the turns you’ll make will be somewhere in the middle. You can go for the stem christie turns then bring ski matching to the earlier stages of your turn.

Doing so will help build your confidence when executing parallel skiing.

4. Skidded Turns

Photo by Heikki Rauhala under CC BY 2.0

When you keep your skis parallel and relatively flat, you can better steer around turns downhill while successfully braking.

Maintain the position of your hips over your feet. Do this while keeping more of your balance on the outer ski. Doing so lets you link parallel turns together systematically without building too much speed/pressure.

This is a standard go-to move when the area gets icy. 

5. Carved Turns

Photo by Ruth Hartnup under CC BY 2.0

These are challenging progressions that should be covered elsewhere, but we’re giving you the basic principles here.

If you roll your feet, knees, and ankles in a turn, the motion tips your skis over. It’s specifically at the top of the arc.

Modern skis feature a radius on their edge. It guides the skis along the arc, it cuts into the snow. Here, the twists of the skis happen naturally. The shape of your ski, gravity, and when your body relaxes after a turn brings your skis to the fall line.

You won’t put much effort into doing this since you’ll accelerate downhill. However, this will lead to lots of pressure, especially when coming out of the fall line.

If you can handle the pressure, you can change directions swiftly and get boosted across the hill.

Although challenging, it’s one of the best feelings you can get in skiing. And when you do it right, the turn will generate a lot of control, force, and power with a little effort.

6. Delayed Steering

Carving, skidding, and everything in-between will let you make consistent turns while leaving a round track. But sometimes, doing this isn’t necessary.

There are moments when you want to skip to a different section of the arc and begin steering from there. If that’s the case, you’ll need to turn your skis and then prepare your body for the shift. After, you’ll need to engage the edges while finding a grip.

7. Hang'n'Bang

When you’re more familiar with weighting/unweighting your skis and selecting the time to engage these, you can start getting creative.

The Hang’n’Bang turn enjoys a combination of sliding and then engaging with a sharp edge to lock in your carving turn.

At the beginning of your turn, unweight your skis like how you would during a pivot slip. Turn your skis to the fall line and make sure to avoid edging them.

You’ll need to skid across them down the hill just like how a rally car would. So you need to try setting up the balance over the outer ski to get ready for the next stage.

Then, you’ll need to engage with the edge of your skis like when you do a carved turn. To know if you did it right, you’ll need to feel their hook and then bite the snow. It will take you from moving sideways across the hill, forward in a more aggressive carved turn.

This kind of delay is ideal for highlighting various ways of steering. You’ll just twist the skis during the first phase, then tip and grip during the second phase.

8. Hop Turns

There isn’t enough space along ledges and narrow chutes. So rather than making a round turn, you’ll need to jump the skis by the end of the turn. Doing this will help maintain rhythm and fluidity.

Practice wider runs before doing it in a chute. Press your feet into the ground to jump. When the skis land during the turn, your body has to be in a matching position. This allows you to handle pressure when edging the skis.

When you define the turns, you play and tweak the way you unweight and pivot your skis without leaving the ground.

When there are icy patches, you wouldn’t want your skis running through these during the first half of the turn. Why? Because doing so will just pick up speed. You also wouldn’t want to fall heavily on the ice.

But the thing is, you’ll gain confidence by executing these moves swiftly and without disrupting your mass.


Man Telemark Skiing
Photo by U.S. Forest Service- Pacific Northwest Region under Public Domain Mark 1.0

How Hard is it to Learn Telemark Skiing?

Telemark skiing isn’t any more difficult than skiing. What makes it challenging is it requires you to ski downhill in a squatting motion.

You’ll also get a good workout from Telemark skiing. Often, you’ll feel some pain along your thighs in the long run, but with enough practice, you’ll be able to move swiftly downhill.

What is the Point of Telemark Skiing?

Telemark skiing improves your overall skiing abilities. It encourages skiers to lean back onto the center of their skis while improving their agility and balance.

The boots for Telemark skiing are also more comfortable, making it easy for new skiers to walk in.

Do You Need Special Skis for Telemark?

Unlike alpine skiers who need special skis, boots, skins, and bindings, Telemark skiers only need wax or skins.