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Telemark Binding Review

Telemark bindings never lock the heel to the ski. Telemark skiers incorporate a different type of turn that has a style and grace with which some fall in love. There are two canonical paths to telemark skiing. Historically, telemark skiers have come from nordic backgrounds. Telemark skiers can learn to competently ski downhill in this fashion without ever truly mastering the parallel turn. The second group consists of alpine skiers who seek a new challenge. Some spend years at resorts and no longer find the same thrill in alpine skiing, so they turn to telemark.

Ross skins toward the Northwest Face of Mt Formidable.

Most modern telemark bindings attach to the boot via a toeplate for a lengthy toe on the boot and a cable that attaches to the boot’s heel. The lengthy toe is a disadvantage while climbing, whether kicking steps or using crampons. The resistance of a cable or spring, which helps with skiing downhill, requires extra effort on flat sections and climbs. Telemark bindings also require telemark-specific boots.

Free pivot is important in the uphill equation. The tension of the spring or cartridge in a telemark binding can add extra effort to every step. The G3 Targa Ascemt is a popular new binding that allows a free pivot during ascent. The 22designs Hammerhead is adjustable, allowing users to make it more neutral during the ascent and as active as desired for the descent, but the bindings can be fussy when it’s time to make the changeover. Ross calls the Hammerheads “the most indestructible binding out there,” but this feat also comes with a weight penalty. Black Diamond offers the O1 binding for free pivot, along with the more traditional O2 and O3. Telemark bindings generally haven’t offered safety release. The Karhu 7TM series offers both safety release and a free pivot, but possibly at the penalty of the “active” skiing performance.

How about an analogy? Telemark aficionados claim that they feel and experience the snow in ways their alpine counterparts can’t. Some might even go as far as to say, “Alpine skiing is like sex with a condom. You just don’t get the same feeling.” While there may be a grain of truth in this assertion, an alpine skier who has seen his telemarking friend faceplant again and again might reply, “Telemark skiing is like having sex while too drunk: sloppy and more likely to have negative consequences.” Either way, we all appreciate our time on the snow.

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G3 Targa Ascent Binding On sale!
Black Diamand O1 Binding On sale!
Black Diamand O2 Binding On sale!
Black Diamand O3 Binding On sale!

Telemark bindings are changing. There is a buzz in the telemark community about the development of the “holy grail”: bindings with safety release and free pivot that also offer step-in/out convenience. There is even long-term talk of a step-in binding that can both telemark and lock the heel. But you don’t get something for nothing. Modern telemark setups are significantly heavier than a Dynafit setup. All of the bindings that offer the free pivot for ascent also require some fidgeting at the changeover; originally one of the advantages of telemark was seamless transitions between uphill, rolling flats, and downhill.

A free heel is nothing new and cross-country skis have been used to great effect for many years by a select few. Steve Barnett’s Cross-Country Downhill, originally published in the late ’70s, provides explanations of how and why to use the lightest skis and leather boots to ski almost any terrain in all conditions. For those in search of long, scenic tours, including glacial-icecap crossings and long traverses where skiing takes a back seat to mountaineering or sightseeing, this combination of equipment may still be the best choice.


22 Designs Hammerhead Black Diamand O1 Black Diamand O2
Black Diamand O3 G3 Targa Ascent G3 Targa T9

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