Telemark Skiing 101


After deciding whether the NTN or 75mm setup—and therefore NTN or duckbill boots—is best for you, the next step is to figure out whether you should be in a stiff boot or a soft boot.

As a general rule, all telemark boots will be softer, more flexible, and more comfortable than an alpine boot. This is largely because all telemark boots have bellows, or a flexible strip of softer plastic on top of the boot that allows your boot to bend, thus keeping your toes on the ski as your heel lifts. Without the bellows, making a telemark turn would be impossible. And if you are interested in backcountry skiing, all telemark boots now have a “walk mode,” which unlocks the forward flex of your boot and allows the top (the cuff or throat) of your boot to move more as you walk uphill.

In the last few years, telemark boots have gotten a lot tougher. With firmer plastic, more buckles, and higher cuffs, telemark boots are starting to look and ski a lot more like alpine boots. I would argue that this is a great thing. A beefier boot provides a more immediate response from your skis, giving you more control, especially at high speeds or through difficult terrain. By allowing for a more aggressive style, some people (myself included) admit that switching to a stiff boot has revolutionized their tele skiing.

Kate Hourihan, sending it under the Supreme chair, Alta Ski Area.
Kate Hourihan, under Supreme, Alta Ski Area.

But the range of boots on the market represents the range of skiing styles. A softer boot will be more comfortable and complement a gentler style of skiing. For those telemarkers who prefer shorter-radius, deeper, and slower turns, a stiff boot might be overkill.

Black Diamond’s Custom for men and Stilleto for women, as well as Scarpa’s T Race and TX Comp (the NTN version), are leading the way for a super stiff and powerful boot. If you are new to the sport, or not quite as aggressive, the Scarpa T1 or the Garmont Voodoo, will be a little less intense but still powerful enough to take on challenging terrain and higher speeds.

If you are truly a comfort-seeking explorer more concerned in going far and wide than up and down, you’ll want a boot where less is more. Look for a boot with a lower cuff, three buckles (instead of four), and a softer plastic, like Scarpa’s T2 or Black Diamond’s Seeker. Here you’ll definitely sacrifice control and steering capability, but your feet will be happy.

Lastly, it is important to acknowledge that not all feet are the same. Getting a boot fitting is a great way to find a boot that is right for your foot shape. For example, Scarpa boots generally trend toward a narrower foot, while Garamont and Black Diamond have more room for a wider foot. Getting your boot fitted by a specialist will help you sort through that.

3 comments on “Telemark Skiing 101”

  1. A useful rundown. Also worth adding that there have been a couple of telebindings with inbuilt release capability (7TM and Voile CRB) and one make of DIN-rated release plates to fix bindings to (Telebry Safeout). For the older tele skier or one with injuries these can provide some peace of mind.

  2. Kate, great article, really enjoyed it. thanks for taking the time to really talk in depth about the gear available to telemark. probably.the best in depth article I’ve seen recenly. i recently came back to telemarking after not skiing or boarding for many years.

  3. Really enjoyed this article. Best advice for Tele skiers may have been at the end:
    Final thoughts…
    One last factor to consider is keeping your gear somewhat consistent, especially given the range of power and stiffness you’ll find among boots, skis, and bindings. If you go stiff with one of those elements, you more than likely need to upgrade your whole setup. For example, when I first got my K2 Hellbents, I was still skiing on a Scarpa T2 boot, which is pretty soft. I had a hard time controlling such a big ski with such soft boots. I upgraded my boots to a stiffer T Race and had a much better time. Bindings work the same way. Your stiff T Race boots and a fat heavy ski will do you no good if you are still rocking a G3 cable binding.

    Bindings, Always been the weak link. Now(.2018) some bindings can handle alpine skis with a stiff tele boot.

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