An Expert Guide to the Telemark Only Festival in Schilthorn, Switzerland

Ski Expert Carl Beach made it to Switzerland for the famous Telemark Only Festival. Keep reading to learn more about all the festivities that take place during this event!

A view of some snowy mountains and clouds.

Atop Schilthorn Piz Gloria. Photo by Carl Beach

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Bienvenu

I think your skis are broken.”

Spoken in a thick French accent, this statement is still with me after being first uttered by my lift partner in the Alps over 20 years ago.

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“Your, what do you call it? It is not hooked.”

“Ah, yes, my heel. No, this is a different type of skiing.” Perplexed looks. Awkward silence. C’est la vie.

Since then, the awareness of telemark skiing in Europe, which is funny, since the birthplace is Norway, has grown to where I no longer get asked why I ski this way or how my bindings work. But certainly, telemark skiing is different.

And with the advances in AT equipment over the years, many of us who continue to free our heel and be the lone knee-dropper on the piste or in the backcountry, the thought we are a dying breed pops into the mind from time to time.

That is until you have had the chance to partake in one of the telemark festivals that pepper the European continent throughout the skis season. From the Alps to the Pyrenees to an indoor slope in Manchester, these festivals show tele is not dead. The sport continues to thrive with an active, vibrant community.

Two photos. On the left are two men talking while one holds a pair of skis. On the right are several skis propped up against a wall. Both photos are taken under a tent with snow on the ground.

Telemark Only’s demo selection is impressive. Photos courtesy of Carl Beach

This year, I was lucky to partake in the Telemark Only Festival in Schilthorn, Switzerland. For four days, the resort is taken over by telemark skiers on its high alpine, snow-sure runs leading to a full extended weekend of skiing, music, socializing, and something increasingly rare these days, the chance to demo telemark gear.

Mürren

A wooden chalet with a fence and plants.

Just a typical chalet in Mürren. Photo by Carl Beach

The cable car ride up to the town of Mürren is dramatic. Steep, sedimentary cliffs with plunging waterfalls dive straight into the green valley. Traditional Swiss chalets and barns loom below. Meandering cows slowly become brown specks as you creep upwards. A quick change to a second cable car brings you to Mürren proper. Here, you find a charming little town with lodging and restaurants to fit various budgets and needs. Being alone, I chose the Sportchalet Mürren. It has modest rooms and shared bathrooms, but fantastic communal spaces and a large balcony overlooking the magnificent landscape on the other side of the valley.

A view of some mountains with clouds in the foreground. The mountains are covered in snow.

View from Sportchalet Mürren. Photo by Carl Beach

Each night, after the on-mountain telemark activities wrap up, Mürren stays up late (despite it being the off-season) to host us in different hotels and restaurants for drinks, music, and food. Such fantastic hospitality displayed by the people of this town and region!

Schilthorn Piz Gloria, Birg, and Jungfrau

A telemark skier turns down a mountain. There are clouds in the background.

The author making some first turns down #10 from Shilthorn Piz Gloria. Photo courtesy of Carl Beach

A postcard-perfect Swiss town is one thing, but being at the base of an exceptional resort is another. Made famous in the 1969 James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Schilthorn and its spectacular views of the surrounding peaks, revolving restaurant, and Bond World museum (yep, they have kept that marketing line open) are enough to keep anyone happy.

But for me, the chance to ski on such a snowpack in early May was a highlight of the festival. The steep drop directly below the cable car reminded me that when you ski in the alps, bring your “A” game. But groomed corduroy in the morning and slushy bumps in the afternoon kept me smiling all day. We even jumped off-piste for some breakable crust and heavy powder to make graceful long tracks you can look back and see.

For beginners or less ambitious skiers, the lower Birg and Jungfrau ski region provides ample space, even with the limited terrain open for late season. Just be careful not to take a right onto piste #9, the Direttissima. It is the steepest slope in the region with an 88% incline. I made this error trying to keep up with a young 20-something freeheeler. The same person who, earlier in the day, was trying to teach me how to butter on tele skis, as he barrelled over the drop without a second thought. Chattering tips and my heart in my throat, I made it out alive.

Telemark Only!

Five people wearing ski gear all hug each other and pose for a picture. There is snow on the ground.

Making connections near and far is the name of the game. We all had an affinity for Flylow outerwear, despite being continents apart. Photo courtesy of Carl Beach

Over its four days, the Telemark Only Festival brought 300 plus telemark skiers of all ages and abilities together. Going from barely seeing my boots or bindings on the slopes to nearly everyone sporting some Scarpas or Crispis was a bit of a shock. So was seeing strong, hard-charging skiers ripping down the mountain, beginners taking their first knee drop, and entire families with young kids in tow making elegant arcs on spring slush.

The Telemark Only Festival’s goal is to promote the sport and increase the number of telemark skiers. The organizers do an incredible job of providing the support and logistics to welcome veterans and newcomers. Each day, a full program of events, trips, and training is available, including backcountry and avalanche courses, beginner lessons, and demo and rental equipment.

With suboptimal visibility in the first days, I stuck to skiing the pistes with newly made friends and did not take part in the optional backcountry or other excursions. But the ability to demo various telemark skis, binding, and boot combinations was reason enough to make this 13-hour drive from Slovenia. Only a few shops these days have rental or demo equipment mounted up for telemark. I made the most of this opportunity and demoed 10 different skis and bindings. It gave me great job insight leading into next season and ideas for my next pair!

I found out the real reason such events draw so many people to a sport that is supposedly outdated is the community. No one may care if you tele, but having supportive people around you to push you on the slopes, drink with you during apéro, and dance with you well into the night is something that brings us joy. This is skiing.

The Telemark Only Festival taps into this need as well as any place or event I have been to. Whether you are a long-time telemark skier and want a bit of a change of scenery, or someone who has always wanted to give this old style a try, making a European ski trip in the spring to Schilthorn for a long weekend in May is something I would encourage anyone to consider.

Plus, no one will tell you your skis are broken!

If you have any questions or want to look into telemark gear of your own, reach out to me or another Ski Expert here on Curated. We'd be happy to chat!

Ski Expert Carl Beach
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Carl Beach
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Written By
I grew up in an incredibly rural area of Wyoming (yeah, a town of about 20 people, 60 miles from the nearest movie theater). After graduating high school and college, I ended up pursuing a range of jobs in various industries until settling on a career in international education. This career has allo...

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