An Expert Guide to the Gear You Need for Telemark Skiing

Published on 03/11/2024 · 10 min readDive into the world of telemark skiing with our expert guide, outlining the essential gear for free-heel enthusiasts seeking control, flexibility, and fun on the slopes!
Elias M, Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Elias M

Take your telemark setup anywhere – from the resort to deep into the backcountry. Photo by michelangeloop

TL;DR: Telemark skiing is “pure” skiing. With roots going back centuries to the Telemark region of Norway, tele skiing is how the very first downhill turns were made. So, if you want to dive into the tele world and lay down some quad-burning runs, the first thing you need to do is get your gear in order, as telemark skiing lives in its own corner of the gear world. The essential gear for telemark skiing that you’re going to need include tele boots, tele bindings, skis, backcountry safety gear (optional, but recommended), and breathable, waterproof outerwear.

I can tell you from growing up in a telemark-skiing household that your gear is going to make or break your venture into tele skiing. I first picked up tele skiing by squeezing into a pair of borrowed boots and rusty, beaten up skis. Combine worn-out gear with the inherent challenge of tele skiing, and you’ll take a confident alpine skier and make them never want to come back to the mountain. Once I got into the right pair of boots and cleaned up my gear, everything started to click for me, and tele skiing became a new frontier that I couldn’t get enough of. With the right setup, you’ll soon be dropping the knee lower than anyone else on the slope, and you’ll want to keep coming back for more.

Also, the best-kept secret in the tele community is how much more comfortable tele boots are than alpine boots! They are made to be softer and more flexible to initiate deep tele turns, which makes them a dream to wear. Gone are the days of cramming your toes into the vice-grip of an alpine boot all day. In the right gear, you’ll be putting down the smoothest knee-dipping turns, and hearing whoops from the chairlift or the skintrack—nobody gets more love from onlookers than good tele skiers.

What is Telemark Skiing?

Drop the knee! Photo by Ben Kitching

What actually is telemark skiing? Tele skiers look a whole lot like regular alpine skiers, with one very important difference. On tele skis, only your toe is anchored to the ski. The rest of your foot is free from the ski, much like a nordic or cross-country ski. Therefore, making telemark turns requires a very specific motion that is much different—and much harder—than an alpine turn. To make a turn on tele skis, you drop into a lunge on every turn, with your downhill leg bent at 90 degrees and your uphill leg braced out behind you. Every turn, you hop and switch into this position, which is as tiring as it sounds! Tele skis also allow you to go uphill with climbing skins easily, as the tele binding allows you to walk freely with your heel detached from the ski.

The Essential Gear for Telemark Skiing

Photo by foodstck

Here is a list of the essential gear you need to start your tele skiing adventure. Like alpine skiing, your gear is going to be important to your experience. Make sure you have the right equipment—especially boots—before getting out on the hill to start learning tele. With the right boots, bindings, and skis, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a tele master.

Tele Boots

The first piece of gear to get your hands on are tele boots. These boots will also inform the type of binding you need. If you are starting out in tele skiing, it is generally best to choose your setup based on which boots fit best, rather than by which binding type you want.

The “classic” style of telemark boots are called duckbill boots, thanks to the shape of the squared-off toe piece that fits into 75mm tele bindings. This style of boot has been around for at least a century, and is the typical telemark boot that people think of when picturing telemark skiing. Good examples of this duckbill boots are the Scarpa T2 ECO, or the Scott Synergy boots.

The other, more recently-developed type of tele boots are called NTN boots. Examples of these are the Scott Voodoo or the Scarpa TX Pro boots. Importantly, NTN boots fit NTN bindings, and duckbill boots fit 75mm bindings, so make sure that you keep this in mind when putting together your setup. I’ll get into the differences between 75mm and NTN in the next section, but for the new tele skier, just start off by finding a boot that fits you well.

To choose your boots, it’s generally best to try on different pairs to make sure the fit is right, but Curated Winter Sports Experts are always on hand to get you the right fit too. New boots should feel comfortable but stiff when you try them on for the first time. Make sure there are no pressure points or spots that bug you right away, and make some mock tele turns when you try them on. Remember that tele boots are going to flex more over the foot and ankle, unlike alpine boots, so ensure that the shell is not pinching or rubbing when you are in a full flex with your toes on the ground and knee dropped down.

Tele boots come in a range of flex and stiffness ratings. Generally, the stiffer the boot, the more powerfully you’ll be able to drive your skis. A stiffer boot will give you more lateral rigidity, and will be harder to flex forward. The stiffness of your tele boots largely comes down to personal preference, ski style, and weight. Some skiers love the ability to flex their ankle all the way down, especially in soft snow conditions. Others want more stiffness and power in their boot, which lends itself better to harder packed snow or heavy crud. As a reference point, the Scarpa TX Pro offers a 110 flex, which is a good bet for a wide range of competent tele skiers.

Tele Bindings

Once you’ve found a pair of boots that you’re comfortable in, it’s time to look for the best compatible binding. As I mentioned above, tele bindings today tend to fall into two broad camps: NTN (New Telemark Norm), and 75mm.

75mm—which includes three-pin bindings—will fit duckbill boots only. A good example of a 75mm binding is the Voile Switchback. These are a favorite among more “classic” tele skiers. One important thing to know about 75mm bindings is that they often don’t have a release feature like alpine bindings do. This means they typically won’t pop off when you take a fall, which can lead to injury in the wrong situations. Additionally, 75mm bindings don’t have brakes. If your ski is to come off while skiing or transitioning, there isn’t a mechanism in place to stop the ski from sliding. When skiing a 75mm binding, it is often a good idea to have a short tele leash that loosely connects your boots to your skis in the case that they accidentally pop off. Newer NTN bindings, however, have developed the first popular release and brake feature for telemark bindings.

NTN bindings, or “New Telemark Norm” bindings, are becoming increasingly popular in the tele world. Bindings in this camp include the popular Scarpa Freeride, among others. NTN bindings boast a step-in, step-out system that features brakes and a release system similar to an alpine binding. Each NTN binding is slightly different in terms of weight, uphill capability, and design, but all will fit with NTN-style boots. There are also ultra light tech-style tele bindings like the 22 Designs Lynx, which secure your toe via pins and the tech toe of most NTN boots. These operate like a pin binding seen on an alpine touring setup, but they are specifically designed for tele skiing. They cut out a lot of the weight associated with the metal toe piece of tele bindings, and are best used on a light, uphill-oriented setup.

Skis

Telemark bindings will fit just about any alpine ski out there, but there are lots of considerations to make when it comes to picking the right ski. While a few brands make skis that they claim are telemark-specific, don’t put any extra stock in those skis. You should mount your telemark setup on whatever ski suits your riding style and preferred terrain best.

There are a few considerations to keep in mind when picking out great telemark skis. First, look for skis with a nice big shovel on the tip. In a tele turn, your back ski tip gets a lot of pressure and flex. If the tip is too flat, you’ll start to get a lot of tip dive in deeper snow, which can lead to some all-time wipeouts. Additionally, don’t go too short on your tele skis. If you do, you’ll risk crossing up your skis in the middle of your turns, which will cause you to crash every time. Tele skis should be sized about the same as alpine skis, if not a few centimeters longer.

For a daily driver tele ski that you can take from groomed runs, to the backcountry, to everywhere in between, look for all-mountain skis between 80mm and 100mm underfoot. Good examples in this category include the Nordica Enforcer 94, the Atomic Backland 100, and the Salomon QST 92—just to name a few. There are more all-mountain skis out there these days than you can imagine, but there are always Curated Experts waiting to help you narrow down all of those options.

Tele skiing also gives you the freedom to tour in the backcountry, and if touring is a priority for you, there are lots of lightweight touring skis that are perfect for a tele setup. For a super light, uphill-oriented ski, consider the Black Crows Camox Freebird or the Black Diamond Helio Recon 95. These skis are going to save on weight for the uphill, while still giving you tons of performance for your tele turns on the downhill.

Backcountry Gear

Photo by gubernat

If the backcountry is somewhere you’re hoping to play on your new tele setup, then backcountry gear is a must. The first piece of gear to have is a set of climbing skins. Skins come in a variety of brands and styles, and Curated Expert Matt M offers advice on picking the best ones in this article.

Once you’ve secured your skins, make sure you have all of the required avalanche safety gear, including a beacon, probe, and shovel. Never venture out into the backcountry without this gear, and don’t forget to bring a buddy!

Another thing to consider when putting together your touring gear is your outerwear. Look for lightweight, breathable, and warm clothing. I always like to tour in layers, rather than a big insulated ski jacket. You’re bound to get warm on an uphill hike no matter how cold it is outside, so go in layers that will help you best regulate your temperature. I always ski in a lightweight waterproof shell, and bundle up underneath it depending on how cold the day is.

Find the Best Telemark Skiing Gear For You

Photo by michelangeloop

With your setup dialed in, you'll be putting down the smoothest tele turns under the chairlift or in the backcountry in no time! The right boots, bindings, skis, and backcountry gear will have you heading uphill with ease and downhill with leg-burning excitement. There’s nothing better than diving into a full tele turn on a deep powder day and feeling the snow blasting over your shoulders, turn after glorious turn.

If you’re still looking for more advice on crafting the best tele setup, chat with me or another Curated Winter Sports Expert to help you find the perfect fit for you.

PROGRESS

How experienced are you as a skier?

Answer questions to receive a personalized product recommendation from an expert.

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Shop Skis on Curated

Scarpa TX Pro 110 Ski Boots · 2022
$639.10$729.00
Scarpa TX Pro 100 NTN Ski Boots · 2016
$749.00
Scarpa T4 Telemark Ski Boots · 2016
$400.00$439.00

Browse more Skis

Voile Switchback X2 Ski Bindings · 2014
$349.00
22 Designs Lynx Ski Bindings · 2022
$530.00
Scarpa NTN Freeride Ski Bindings · 2023
$540.00
Nordica Enforcer 94 Skis · 2024
$559.97$799.95
Atomic Backland 100 Skis · 2024
$524.97$749.95
Black Crows Camox Freebird Skis · 2024
$799.95
Salomon QST 92 Skis · 2024
$549.95

Browse more Skis

Read next

New and Noteworthy