For a brief time, a few ski companies experimented with making telemark-specific lines. But that idea seemed to largely dissolve a few years ago, and now, there really are very few telemark-specific skis on the market. In many ways this is great: it opens up any ski as an option for the free heeler.
I’ve experimented with a range of skis, from my early days on light, nimble Karhus to stiff and solid Black Diamond Verdicts; from versatile and playful Armada JJs, to the uber-fat and rockered K2 Hellbent, and a range of shapes and sizes in between. Nearly anything goes.
Yet there are some factors to consider that make ski choice different than for an alpine skier. I have noticed that very wide skis are much more difficult to get on edge on firm snow while in a telemark turn. Alpine skiers have an easier time getting a large ski on edge than tele skiers do. Part of the finesse of making a perfect tele turn is knowing how to roll your back foot on edge. It’s not easy, but when you master it, it becomes the key to a good turn. And having a giant ski makes it much more difficult.
In deep snow, this is not a problem, but trying to take my K2 Hellbents on a firm groomer, I noticed my ankles feeling sore because it took so much effort to torque hard enough to get the edge in contact with the snow. So for a telemarker on the hunt for a big powder ski, I recommend avoiding the bigger skis out there (i.e. 108-118mm underfoot), especially if you want to maintain your tele turn when the snow starts getting tracked out.
Turning radius is also a factor to consider. Again, the telemark turn is not the same as an alpine turn in terms of responsiveness. We have more work to do to get our skis to turn. I find a ski with some decent sidecut and a sharper turning radius helpful when trying to avoid flying into trees or making last-minute, quick decisions without compromising my tele turn. More advanced telemarkers may be able to handle a straighter ski, but if you are new to telemark or not super strong, I’d avoid any ski with a turning radius greater than 20 meters. A couple of examples of everyday skis with a shorter turning radius include Line’s Prophet 98 or the Rossignol S3; or, if you want a bigger ski to handle a deeper day check out the Armada JJ or the DPS wailer 112.
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.
So, you are now on your way to understanding what gear you need to be a telemarker today. Obviously, having the right gear won’t make you a better skier overnight, but it’ll help a whole lot. As the sport progresses, so many new developments have allowed us free heelers to shred just as hard as our alpine cousins, yet take to the skin tracks with the flick of a switch. And the gear is still evolving. So stay tuned.