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The perception of telemark skiing

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  • The perception of telemark skiing

    There was a sharp comment on another thread how the forum has kind of turned into "the boot wars." It's true! I'm certainly guilty of posting pretty much only nerdy gear discussion. So here's something a little more meta to discuss: What is the current perception of telemark skiing? Has it changed?

    Listening to general skiing podcasts, reading articles, looking at comments, hearing liftline chatter... it seems to me like there has been a bit of a shift. For the last decade or so, tele skiers were kinda scoffed at by the cool kids on the mountain. But now I hear a lot of praise and admiration for "the folks still doing it." I've seen/heard comments about the grace, the athleticism, about how it's beautiful to watch -- coming from places I expected telemark to get slagged. Has anyone else picked up on this?

  • #2
    For years, making fun of tele skiers was like shooting fish in a (patchouli-scented) barrel. Much of the deriding was -- and still is -- well-deserved. The tele-evangelism and earnestness definitely went a little overboard. Those ”No one cares you tele" bumper stickers were incising, but absolutely warranted. (Maybe I'm deluded, and this thread is totally just another example of all that.)

    The thinning of the herd has played as large of a role as anything. The folks "still doing it" are all probably pretty good at it by now; most of the poseurs have given it up. In other words, there are a lot fewer BAD telemark skiers on the mountain. However: this is NOT to disparage beginners -- we were all there -- but to call out the folks who were either just going thru the motions (because tele was hip, or because they wanted a free heel for touring) and/or those who refused to take a lesson, and skied for years & years with terrible technique. Others saw that and said "No thanks."

    Not to venture too far into "What killed telemark?" territory, but the above may be an underrecognized reason. A lot of tele skiers were annoying (lump me in there, sure). Unbridled enthusiasm is never hip, especially if you don't have the skiing chops to back it up. But some of that rah-rah-ness is maybe a bit more in-check now; there's a little more self-awareness. And, in return, there's a little more respect for those who've quietly stuck it out.

    The improved downhill capability of the gear has helped, and made "Free the heel, slow your friends" a little less of a thing. But then again, maybe it's just that the diehards have been doing it long enough to be really good.

    The continually sucky uphill capability (had to go there, sorry!) perhaps has also contributed to the change in perception; if you're keeping up with the AT bros and crushing vert in cement shoes, you're a damn animal, and worthy of respect. There's admiration for not taking the easy way out.

    I'm not saying that any of this is hugely important, that the sport is well on its way to a 4th wave or whatever. But it seems that a lot of the venom that precipitated things like "No one cares you tele" has mellowed out, and turned the corner a bit. Has anyone else noticed this?

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    • #3
      FWIW, I'm here for the nerdy discussions.

      I think the perception is improving, as you say. The perception years ago was that we were all wearing wool and chewing granola. And yeah, not everyone could ski very well. I don't think that exists anymore - maybe replaced with Gore-tex? There is general respect now I'd say. I don't think that necessarily on average tele skiers are better than before though.

      I'm doing a hut trip in early Dec (before I will have gotten in ski shape) with a fairly large group. All on AT AFAIK. Fit guys. I am already planning ahead on how I will get in shape. I know I am going to have to be stronger than them just to keep up, and that is more or less impossible with this group. Gonna be some hard days. We'll see what the 'perception' is when I'm there.

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      • #4
        I dig reading the gear threads - I just don't have the chops to add anything!

        I'm a little newer to the scene - I started telemarking in 2015. And felt from the beginning that there was no reason to mention in conversation that I telemark. People take it the wrong way to this day in my opinion. When people ask if I board or ski I just say I ski. People often think tele is naturally sanctimonious.

        I do think that tele is on its way to another wave of popularity (in tele-terms) compared to the last few years. Possibly it's the new gear, maybe just the ebbs and flows. But I feel like interest is increasing.

        I do think that the feeling that tele is"an excuse to suck" still exists out there among certain people, especially in certain areas. And there are still a lot of people who think it's silly at the very least. I wonder how many younger folks are out there trying it - I don't see many, but I'm just one fellow in one place.

        I remember reading an interview with saxophonist Branford Marsalis, and he said he thought jazz wasn't for kids, that it took more adult sensibilities to appreciate it. That made me think of telemark. I think telemark skiing, by its nature, is more of an adult thing. I make that statement realizing it can be argued.

        That said, I have more mates who are close to getting into tele than before, albeit they are a little older, and mostly of a fitness-first mindset in their lives. I think a lot of people think party-first in ski towns when they are younger, and grow into thinking more about fitness as they grow older. It's hard to party and be active. Not to mention work. More so as you age.

        I think renewed popularity and sentiment in tele might mirror fitness trends to a degree. I think the new people who will come into tele might be the Strava using, late-20s-early-30s folks who are interested in the new gear and have a little cash to spend on it, who want to shred, but who live their lives in a very fitness oriented way.

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        • #5
          When I was young, I wanted to start a wagon wheel repair business, but since cars were invented, the wagon wheel, the horse, and the old forms of transportation have dwindled. Wagon wheels are probably decorations nailed up to some barn with a bunch of cars inside it.

          And tele has gone down that same road. It didn't matter that tele gear got better because the alternative changed from "alpine trekkers" to dynafit and way beyond. Back when AT was still primitive, tele had more appeal, and it's appeal has increased, but not as much as the AT option has increased it's appeal.

          Yes, tele went through a "look at me!" era. In my 40's I used to rip through the lower bump field at alpental on my heavy tele resort gear within view of the lower chair. Guilty as charged, but eventually I got over myself because being awesome at something you do all the time is the NORM in everything... golf, ping pong, you name it... If you aren't having fun, find something that is fun.

          Now, I ski tele and make a lot of parallel turns because I'm out for fun and enjoyment. The perception of me is probably,

          Q: "Hey did that old guy just drop a knee on that turn?"

          A: "I don't know, keep an eye on him and see if he does another."


          I feel like some washed up actor who is playing dinner theater now. I don't hit the steepest and deepest on a big pow day, instead I try to go where it's not a $hitshow lift line and ski all the less well known stashes and enjoy covering the terrain without a bunch of red bull induced hooting and hollering jacka$$es. A lot of people around my area still tele. It's just like alpine gear, some are ripping, some are cruising along, and some are working on their skills. I think there's enough rippers around these days that nobody is surprised if you are skiing tele well on any kind of terrain. If someone asks about tele when I'm out on the resort, I show them my boots of death and explain to them that I'm cheating... so don't be impressed. If they are impressed, then they haven't seen a lot of tele lately, or they just wanted to shoot the breeze with someone...

          I just recently donated all my windsurfing gear to a second hand store. Windsurfing is like tele in that it's hard to do well, and alternatives to it came along that deflated the popularity of it... It's still fun and physically demanding, but it's also had it's niche size reduced and the perception of it has changed, but it's still there if you enjoy it.
          Last edited by tele.skier; 11 September 2020, 09:56 AM.
          the fall line is your friend.... resistance is futile

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          • #6
            Where I ski, I think people perceive tele skiers the same way they do ham radio operators. Generally they don't think about us, and when they do, it's a quick "Oh, people still do that? Huh."

            I usually see a couple tele skiers each day at the resort. They are mostly slow, grey, and cheap, smoothly carving down the groomers in their duct-taped Targas or BD01's. But maybe 1 out of 20+ is really pushing themselves, and gets an approving nod or a whoop as they rip down a mogul field or off a steep cornice.

            In that sense I agree we are the niche of the niche. I think most people tele because they did it 20 years ago and are too stubborn to try anything else (including NTN). Those who actually care about technique, gear, and fitness are in the minority. I don't think I've ever ridden the lift with someone like that. I see maybe one or two a year.

            I hope we're due for a wave of new converts. If I think about the history, it has to come with an improvement in the gear and/or an improvement in the people skiing it. The last big wave came after Scarpa's plastic boots and the subsequent binding innovations in the late 90's. NTN, for all its benefits, didn't translate to new skiers, at least where I am. It didn't even convert most of the duckbills. I'm doubtful that TTN and a new boot from Scarpa will do the trick, but (selfishly) I hope it does, at least enough to keep companies like Scarpa/22d/Meidjo profitable.

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            • #7
              In Scotland and Alps, you see far more good tele skiers than bad. A lot are ex Alpine looking for another challenge. French instructors need 3 disciplines, and often choose Tele. The perception I get is mostly, that looks so cool, I must try it.
              Just thinking about the often said comment of lagging behind AT guys. Hmmm, is this so? Tele give you such a high level of fitness that you can smoke most of them up the hill....and I am 64.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by jtb View Post
                I hope we're due for a wave of new converts. If I think about the history, it has to come with an improvement in the gear and/or an improvement in the people skiing it. The last big wave came after Scarpa's plastic boots and the subsequent binding innovations in the late 90's. NTN, for all its benefits, didn't translate to new skiers, at least where I am. It didn't even convert most of the duckbills. I'm doubtful that TTN and a new boot from Scarpa will do the trick, but (selfishly) I hope it does, at least enough to keep companies like Scarpa/22d/Meidjo profitable.
                Thanks for mentioning that. Why should any of us care what the perception is? Because we need the brands who make our equipment to not only stay in business, but to be able to innovate, and justify the production costs of niche-within-a-niche products. The sport won't grow if the general skiing population views tele skiers as groomer-cruisin' oddballs. Gotta have more of those folks who are gettin' after it.

                ​​​​​

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by bobbytooslow View Post

                  Thanks for mentioning that. Why should any of us care what the perception is? Because we need the brands who make our equipment to not only stay in business, but to be able to innovate, and justify the production costs of niche-within-a-niche products. The sport won't grow if the general skiing population views tele skiers as groomer-cruisin' oddballs. Gotta have more of those folks who are gettin' after it.

                  ​​​​​
                  Marketing and perception play into each other to a great degree, and marketing is absolutely aspirational. Backcountry alpine skiing - the powder, steeps, and hucks - is where a huge amount of the focus is in ski marketing and gear production - fat skis and alpine touring bindings sell, and are marketed extensively. That's the 'cool' realm that people aspire to reach. Even if the consumer never gets 'there,' they buy the gear, imagining that one day they will live the aspiration.

                  Telemark markets itself in a very similarly aspirational way, but telemark fights for the same users that may go to alpine and with a much smaller marketing footprint. Those firms don't enjoy the same amount of capital (generally) as the alpine companies. And it's pretty clear that a lot fewer people aspire to tele vs. alpine. What makes people aspire to telemark over alpine, or any other thing that they could do with their time for that matter? How can that be harnessed to grow the sport?

                  It's been said before: instead of (but maybe not mutually exclusive to) innovations that die-hard telemark skiers are looking for, innovations of entry will more than likely be what grows the sport - like jtb mentioned with the advent of plastic boots. Are potential users looking for TTS systems? I would guess no. Are they looking for cable bindings and duckbill boots? It doesn't seem like it. Interest in the sport seems to wax and wane in mini-cycles with 75mm being the most accessible gear choice, instead of really growing. Especially considering that NTN doesn't seem to have brought new people to the sport. I absolutely think tele needs to keep innovating from the top up, but it also seems there hasn't been much innovation of late that invites new participation.

                  Something like the Meidjo makes me wonder if telemark could grow if the lines between tele and alpine were more blurred. What blurs the lines more than a binding where you can do both techniques? I think it would need to be a situation where people don't have to pay extra to have both options though.

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                  • #10
                    One day a couple years ago I was coming back into the bottom lift at Alpental. I was ahead of my buddy on alpine gear and I wound up skiing near a snowboarder I didn't know. By the time the boarder and I got to the lift, we were both laughing our heads off, because we we're doing almost exactly the same stuff just as our natural line choice. Popping on and off little things, cutting in and out of the trees, just playing all the way down the mountain, his line and mine were almost mirror images. I think when people see you having fun and playing, it looks good.

                    I mean, does no one ask "why splitboard?" I get cold at the top waiting for those guys to mode change. And alpine gear is probably as good or better except for the really nasty only-in-the-PNW conditions, where I must admit, snowboards seem to have a big edge. But the boarders obviously have a lot of fun.

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                    • #11
                      JackO's point about growing the sport from the top vs. bottom is interesting and deserves its own thread on marketing. To bring it back to perception, I would say the current perception of tele skiers lends itself more to grass-roots, bottom-up growth, as in "that looks cool, if that old guy can do it, maybe I can too." But the current crop of gear lends itself more to aspirational, top-down growth, as in "I'm totally committed to spend $1000+ on a boot/binding combo so I can rip like this French guy on YouTube." There's a mismatch, at least in America... maybe in Europe the perception and gear are better aligned. Even if Voile's TTS comes in at $250, it's still an aspirational price if you have to buy $600 boots to use them.

                      I worry that bottom-up growth has been lost to the negative feedback cycle of diminishing customers and increasing prices. Simply put, you can't make money on an innovative boot or binding unless you sell tens of thousands, or price them at $500+. So growth either comes from kids picking up cheap duckbill rigs, starving innovation at the top, or from a high-end boot/binding combo that draws aspirations. I've already done duckbills, so I'm hoping for the latter, but it will take great gear and great marketing.

                      Maybe one bright spot is that, whenever I'm out in my Meidjos, I get someone asking me "what the heck are those?" If one of those people goes out and buys a pair, and people start asking them, eventually we may get a new wave of growth. But the gear has to be really phenomenal to trigger aspirational growth with such limited marketing. Or the gear has to be about half the cost to trigger grass-roots growth, which is impossible at current volume.

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                      • #12
                        The thing that could save the whole thing is simple and 2 fold...

                        First, we each kill a lawyer until there's none of them left...

                        Then we get scarpa to make the boot with tech toe, duckbutt, AND tech heel inserts.

                        NOW, we have the awesome 1 boot that can do both tele and AT and we get massive crossing over of skiers who do BOTH. They go up for a few tele turns when they are skiing with their kids on the blue groomers, then they hand the kids off to the wife, and swap skis to go hit the upper mountain for a few hours without having the change boots... Simple schmimple! and the price of having a tele-rig to play around with becomes cheap... but the increase of people skiing tele makes it the cool thing again. Because it isn't a commitment to suffer-fest all day on the slopes, it's something a skier can play around with taking a few laps to start his learning progression, then he goes back to his AT rig to recover his white fragile masculinity.

                        *apologies to Danno
                        Last edited by tele.skier; 11 September 2020, 01:49 PM.
                        the fall line is your friend.... resistance is futile

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by JackO View Post
                          Telemark markets itself in a very similarly aspirational way, but telemark fights for the same users that may go to alpine and with a much smaller marketing footprint. Those firms don't enjoy the same amount of capital (generally) as the alpine companies. And it's pretty clear that a lot fewer people aspire to tele vs. alpine. What makes people aspire to telemark over alpine, or any other thing that they could do with their time for that matter? How can that be harnessed to grow the sport?
                          This is a good point. It makes me think about the static nature of an ad photo. A still photo of a tele turn doesn't look much more impressive than the same skier making an alpine turn. But introduce motion to the advertisement -- as is possible with social media advertising -- and things change. The artistry of linked tele turns can stand out.


                          Originally posted by JackO View Post
                          Are potential users looking for TTS systems? I would guess no.
                          I think a lot of the users who actually earn their turns look into it. But then they don't get very far down that road once they realize there isn't a similarly lightweight boot to pair with it.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            TTS has the same issue NTN had. The first versions proved the idea of it's design, but there's no dominant "Hammerhead quality" TTS version on the market to just slay both critics and competitors from the word go... That kind of quantum improvement causes a shift in the buying public where the word goes out that it's worth trading up to the "new gear", and it catches on where everyone who is aspirational in their tele skiing buys in. We all know that the HH's were great, but once the free pivot feature became the next "must have" feature, the once transformational HH binding was out the door...

                            It would be good for us tele-heads to get the best gear possible, but I wonder if there's a quantum gear leap that would energize new skiers to chose tele...
                            Last edited by tele.skier; 11 September 2020, 04:49 PM.
                            the fall line is your friend.... resistance is futile

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by bobbytooslow View Post
                              There was a sharp comment on another thread how the forum has kind of turned into "the boot wars." It's true! I'm certainly guilty of posting pretty much only nerdy gear discussion. So here's something a little more meta to discuss: What is the current perception of telemark skiing? Has it changed?

                              Listening to general skiing podcasts, reading articles, looking at comments, hearing liftline chatter... it seems to me like there has been a bit of a shift. For the last decade or so, tele skiers were kinda scoffed at by the cool kids on the mountain. But now I hear a lot of praise and admiration for "the folks still doing it." I've seen/heard comments about the grace, the athleticism, about how it's beautiful to watch -- coming from places I expected telemark to get slagged. Has anyone else picked up on this?
                              I made the "boot wars" comment and not as any kind of slam to telemark but to try to get a move to some sort of diversity for the forum itself. I think with Dostie's expertise and the modern mechanics of the forum it most certainly could be more broad based and a well rounded readership. Sure, off season but we need to keep the base strong and engaged. At least that is my perception.

                              As far as "The preception of telemark skiing", I think the discussion needs to split the sport into the two parts of what it is and that being Resort and touring. IMO, both are very different and kinda like Alpine skiing, what is great for resort is not great for touring and visa versa. As far was what common skiers perceive, probably a local thing, here, Tahoe area which is a very trendy place, not much tele going on and the good resort tele skiers blend in and the few learners stand out but never hear comments one way or another. Touring anymore is really AT and Spitters. We still do show up on tele gear touring depending on what we want to do but usually rolling terrain and lower angle and that is the domain now days of snow shoers where in the past light duty telemarkers.

                              Lastly, as far as growth, I think there is room for a comeback for light but modern telemark touring that would be easy to learn for beginners and challenging for the experienced. I think around here resort telemark is a dead horse.
                              "Just say no to groomed snow"

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