Often referred to as the dance of skiing, telemark skiing is gaining sudden popularity among alpine skiers, crossing over for a new athletic challenge, snowboarders who are enticed by its surflike movements, and cross-country enthusiasts already fit and experienced to take some gravity to their free heel.
"It's versatile. It provides the best of cross-country skiing and alpine skiing," said Pete Giuliani, telemark instructor for the past 15 years Purgatory Resort in Durango.
Telemark skiing originated from Sondre Norheim of Norway in the 19th century. The telemark ski has a binding that only connects the boot to the ski at the toes, just as in cross country. Telemark turns are led with the heel flat on the outside ski, while the inside ski is pulled beneath the skier's body with a bent knee.
What makes telemarking so unique is that there is so much more flexibility.
"The physical sensation of flexibility contributes to telemarking's effortless and gracefulness," Giuliani said.
Telemarking provides a different perspective to the mountain and evolving technology has made what used to be extreme adventure much safer, encouraging the weekend warrior to enter the backcountry.
"We have seen downhill skiers of 30 years transition to telemarking for a sense of adventure by exploring the backcountry and the scenery, and to get away from the crowds," said Josh Weinberg, assistant manager at The Mountain Shop.
Cameron Pass, located only an hour west of Fort Collins offers world class backcountry terrain. The notorious traffic of I-70 deters a lot of skiers and boarders from the resorts and a day or two after the snow stops, they are skied out.
"If you know where to go in Cameron Pass, you can find areas that never get skied because they require a little more work than others. That's where you are absolutely guaranteed fresh tracks," said Josh Metton, junior natural resource management major.
The most prominent peaks in Cameron Pass are the North and South Diamond Peaks. However these areas are prone to slides and are ideal early and late season.
Nearby Montgomery Pass is a popular route and is good for beginners.
Telemarking skis are also use in alpine ascents because they are more efficient than hiking or even snowshoeing.
"Although a lot of people have jumped the bandwagon onto AT or Randonee gear, telemarking is still more efficient in the backcountry," Weinberg said.
AT or Alpine Touring gear is similar to telemarking in that the heel can lift for ascending, but on the descent the skier anchors the heel to ski alpine style. This set up has dominated European culture for many years, according to Weinberg.
According to Outdoor Business Magazine, Peter Metcalf, CEO of Black Diamond believes that AT is growing faster than telemark, but telemark is not shrinking. Rather alpine touring is causing tele gear sales to go grow modestly.
Telemarking may be ideal in the backcountry, but its popularity has sparked many tele clinics at ski resort destinations.
Arapahoe Basin offers several tele clinics throughout the season, the next on January 28. Three hours of thigh burning will guide all levels and abilities through the latest techniques. $45 with pre-registration and $50 the day of the clinic.
Breckenridge's Saturday clinics on Peak 8 are $80 for the day.
Durango Mountain Resort offers an abundant mix of classes, everything from the weekly Sunday Telefestival, to Tele Tuesdays, the Wolverton Festival in the end of March, and even Tele for Kids.
"There has definitely been a growth visible on the mountain. I think that people are reaching a plateau with their skiing and snowboarding and they are looking for a challenge, and telemarking offers a new way to conquer the same mountain," said Loryn Kasten, communications manager for Durango Mountain Resort.
There are extreme adventure races that will test even the most experienced backcountry skier. On March 31 to April 1, the 9th Annual Elk Mountain Grand Traverse will cross that crosses two mountains passes from Crested Butte to Aspen for a grueling 40 miles. Visit www.elkmountaintraverse.org for more information.
Telemarking opens infinite possibilities of new terrain in the backcountry, but Weinberg recommends that one should always enter with the appropriate backcountry equipment, including a beacon, shovel, and probe.
"It's a good idea to take a clinic or two to get the technique down before heading out into the backcountry," Weinberg said.
Giuliani's philosophy is to embrace all disciplines of skiing, although telemarking is his greatest love.
For others, there is no turning back.
"You get more of a feeling of floating that people look for when they are skiing powder. It makes backcountry skiing a lot easier because you have the free heel. Earned turns are pretty much always better in my mind," Metton said.