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Telemark/Rondonee: Into The Wilds

Telemark/Rondonee: Into The Wilds

Gear
By David Healy
posted: 03/05/2001

So, you've been thinking about joining the backcountry club? Earn your turns, score fresh tracks, taste the freedom? Ready to bow down to the mountains, whisper to the Snow Gods, and pay homage to the pioneers of our sport? (Tell them the new fat boards rip! They'll want to know.)

Throughout ski history, innovation has been a hallmark of the sport. Long before Russell Rainey developed the SuperLoop, Sondre Nordheim fixed a cable to the back of a binding, which made it possible to lay down the first telemark turn. Before that, it was schuss, boom and hang on for dear life on any downhill.

In other words, gear matters. And in 2001-02, the operative phrase for backcountry equipment¿both telemark and alpine touring¿is that good just got better. While there are no revolutionary products like the plastic boots or shaped skis of years past¿unless you count sliding snowshoes¿it doesn't mean that the second coming of previous innovations can't also be a good thing.

Starting with sticks, expect them shorter, fatter and better for playing in the park¿the greater alpine park that is. No fewer than three manufacturers¿Atomic, K2 and Rossi¿are making twin-tips (or at least performance models with turned up tails) for this small but growing youth market. (For the rest of us, "phat" still conjures a sadly different meaning.) Following in the tracks of the alpine world, telemark and alpine touring skis are getting a whole lot wider. While nearly everyone has at least one ski heading in this direction, Rossignol takes the cake with "the fattest tele ski ever," called the Mega Bang ($599), sporting a 90 mm waist.

For AT buffs, both K2 and Tua offer full lines of backcountry skis with built-in binding retention plates capable of accommodating alpine touring mounts. K2 is pushing the new Shuksan ($450), billing it as the "optimal AT ski for nasty, softer snow," yet one that still works well for touring. Tua offers the Cross-Ride 112 ($525), the widest board it has ever produced.

And if you're still looking for the perfect way to tour¿or just have some kind of winter-sports personality disorder¿the new gliding snowshoes might be the cure. A few nordic equipment producers are hoping it is. "Something new needs to happen to cross-country," says Megan Fitzpatrick, Karhu's marketing director. That "something," she says is Karhu's new "efficient snowshoe." Actually a super-short (120-cm), super-wide (110-mm waist) ski, the hybrid creation comes with mohair strips for "controlled, slow-mo" descents, says Fitzpatrick.

Rossi sees its new Gliding Snowshoe Concept as a way to introduce non-nordic skiers and snowshoers to cross-country. "We think there are a lot of people using snowshoes that want to experience glide," says Rossignol's Hoefler. Rossi's Nordic Venture and the Mountain Venture models are sized up at 97 cm, sport a Posi-Track waxless base for climbing and steel edges for making turns down the backside, and they accept either the universal binding found on snowshoes or an NNN backcountry binding.

In the tele boot department, boot bellows will flex better, and you can now get all the support money can buy. Crispi, for instance, has added a four-buckle, ultra-stiff race boot¿the CXU ($595)¿to its tried and true CX line. Fortunately, its sister brand¿Alpina¿still offers the Telelite ($265) for purists who like a leather lower combined with the control of a plastic cuff. This year Garmont puts comfort first¿knowing that if your feet hurt you can't perform¿with a new moldable gFit liner that comes standard in the top-of-the-line Squadra ($550) and is sold seperately for retrofits of existing boots.

On the AT side of the store, boot makers seem to have discovered that "real girls alpine-tour." Dynafit (TLT All Terrain, $435), Nordica (TR 12 L, $455) and Scarpa (Magic, $429) have all added ladies models.

And coming on the heels of Voile's iroduction of the step-in tele binding last year, the big news this season is the rollout of the Hammerhead ($200), Rainey Designs' first new binding since the SuperLoop set the standard for durability. "My new Hammerhead binding is to the SuperLoop what the SuperLoop is to the rest of the binding market," boasts Russell Rainey.

Finally, while you won't find any new safety gizmos¿like digital beacons or the AvaLung¿to send you rushing to the store, it's not hard to find improvements on previous designs. And when it comes to snow safety equipment, that's always worth perusing and often worth buying.

Here's the skinny on the vast array of alpine touring and telemark gear on the market today. And don't forget: Take the time to learn the rules of the game. Because if those mountains could talk, they'd say, "Ski safe, and live to play another day."

TELEMARK

Sondre Nordheim may have made the first telemark turn in Norway way back in the late 1800s, but it's the current North American telemark revival that's made the backcountry "the place to be" for vertically inclined powder hounds. Stiffer plastic boots, better bindings and more shapely skis are helping alpine and nordic converts learn more quickly and rip more radical terrain. Today there's nary a niche in the ski world-including the half-pipe-that isn't filled by "pinheads." And it's a sight to behold.

SKIS (TELEMARK)
Like alpine skis, telemark boards are getting shorter, fatter, and more use-specific. Use-specific? Let's just say that more than a few ski companies even knock out twin-tips for the pipe-and-park crowd. Whether you're looking for your first true tele board or just adding to the quiver, there's something for everyone in 2001-02.

Atomic
www.atomicsnow.com
As more skiers come over to telemark sking from alpine, they expect skis with alpine dimensions, says Rick Halling, Atomic's nordic product manager. Atomic's response this season is the ultra-beefy Beta 10 EX TM ($795). Beta technology means these boards stay stable at speed-as in Herman Maier mach-overdrive-and with a 118-84-110 profile, this bad boy also floats. Backcountry tourists will be relieved to see the price of the Sierra ($169), Atomic's latest offering in the rugged-touring/light-backcountry category. Between these two bookends, Atomic packs the high-performance Beta TM 22 ($442), ideal for carrying aggro-telemarkers off-piste or onto expert terrain in the lift-served. Dialed down a notch, the Beta TM 24 (also $442) is perfect for beginning and advancing skiers.

Fischer
www.fischerski.com
On top of a full line of touring boards cut from the Europa 99 cloth, Fischer produces two models-the Hitrax Extreme ($475) and the Hitrax Aircarbon ($375)- which are well suited for the downhill glisse. The Extreme utilizes Fischer's patented Power Vacuum technology for increased lateral rigidity, making these sticks solid in-area or out. The versatile Aircarbon can work the groomed, but its softer flex excels out-of-bounds.

K2
www.k2skis.com
Thankfully, the best-named boards in the business haven't changed their titles, nor their performance, as half a dozen models return virtually unchanged for the upcoming season. Work-Stinx ($499), is the K2 watchword for powder days-but the ski's 118-88-105 profile does do the trick for those wise souls who call in "sic." The Super Stinx ($459) is the do-all dream board for advanced and expert riders, while the Totally Piste ($459) dominates on the hard-pack. If you earn you own turns-or ride the 'copter-the superlight Heli-Stinx ($449), at just 1,475 grams, aids with ascent and offers quick turning payback on the descent. Those looking for a softer touch-and a good deal-might want to try the Piste Off ($299). And the Piste Stinx ($399) is the best selling telemark ski for several years running for one simple reason: Its performance is only matched by its forgiving nature.

Karhu
www.karhu-trak.com
This year Karhu sets out on its own, carving a new line in the telemark market. Designing skis less on the basis of terrain function, the company puts the emphasis on skier ability and unique telemark turn dynamics. As a result, expect to see even shorter lengths and a thicker platform designed to maintain an even flex through the turn. Hoping to redefine how people talk about and choose their skis, Karhu adjusts sidecut profiles so that different lengths within the same model all yield the same turning radius. For instance, the Ryder sports a 109-74-101 profile in the 192-cm length and a 104-74-97 look at 177 cm, but both lengths serve up a 22.9-meter sidecut radius. Numbers aside, the new Ryder ($500) is Karhu's all-purpose widebody that really shines in the deep stuff. The Deso ($475, available as twin-tip) is best kept to the hard-pack or the pipe, while the easy-skiing Dharma ($450) is designed for those still working their way through the learning curve.

Rossignol
www.rossignol.com
One of a handful of companies to introduce a gliding snowshoe this winter, Rossi has some big changes in line for backcountry enthusiasts. For instance, the Mega Bang ($599). At 123-90-111, it is "the fattest tele ski ever," says product manager Kurt Hoefler. Cast in the same mold as the alpine Bandit XXX, the Mega sports the same Dualtec technology (a combination of cap and laminate construction), but is softer, rounder and lighter. Test drive in the steep and deep. One notch down the sonic scale, the Big Bang ($539) is wide enough to excel in the fluff, but capable of working the hard stuff too. The Hellgate ($469), adorned with tattoo-like graphics and turned up tails, is targeted to the young Zen tricksters working the mountain from all different angles. Ditto the Pow Air ($569). But the Attaque ($399), with all of Rossignol's high-end technology, may be the most versatile value of the batch.

Tua
www.tuaski.com
Last season, Tua overhauled its line with the introduction of a vast array of skis with modern performance widths and sidecuts. For 2001-02, the core team returns¿including the Cross Ride 110, the Ride 104, the Sumo, the Big Easy, and the Helium¿along with a few fresh models. "Our line now has even better differentiation and versatility," says Tua designer Paul Parker. On the narrow end, the long running Mega and the versatile Mito have been morphed into a single board that blends the best attributes of the two. Known as the M3 ($425), this ski has the Mito's dimensions (98-70-88) and the smooth, round flex that is the hallmark of Tua designs. Joining the aptly named Helium ($475) in the ultralight category will be a wider sibling known as the Hydrogen ($495). Sharing the same voluptuous curves as the 102-72-92 Big Easy ($449), the Hydrogen combines light weight with big surface area for powder touring and general purpose ski-mountaineering. For ultimate powder poaching¿free or fixed heel¿consider the widest ski Tua has ever produced, the new Cross-Ride 112 ($525).

BOOTS (TELEMARK)
Buying telemark boots is a little like buying a box of chocolates. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, you'll never know what you want until you try 'em out. In other words, learning the turn and finding the right boot for your foot and the type of adventure you're after is the real challenge. Generally speaking, the transition to plastic boots has shortened the learning curve and handed pinners a better tool for exploring new terrain. Fortunately, finding the right boot to fit your foot and your heart's desire has never been easier.

Alpina/Crispi
www.alpinasports.com
The nordic pros at Alpina cover both ends of the tele-boot spectrum with the two buckle Telelite ($265) which blends the control features of a plastic cuff with the comfort of a traditional leather lower last. The Telelite provides a good counterpoint to the Italian-made Crispi line ofu
www.karhu-trak.com
This year Karhu sets out on its own, carving a new line in the telemark market. Designing skis less on the basis of terrain function, the company puts the emphasis on skier ability and unique telemark turn dynamics. As a result, expect to see even shorter lengths and a thicker platform designed to maintain an even flex through the turn. Hoping to redefine how people talk about and choose their skis, Karhu adjusts sidecut profiles so that different lengths within the same model all yield the same turning radius. For instance, the Ryder sports a 109-74-101 profile in the 192-cm length and a 104-74-97 look at 177 cm, but both lengths serve up a 22.9-meter sidecut radius. Numbers aside, the new Ryder ($500) is Karhu's all-purpose widebody that really shines in the deep stuff. The Deso ($475, available as twin-tip) is best kept to the hard-pack or the pipe, while the easy-skiing Dharma ($450) is designed for those still working their way through the learning curve.

Rossignol
www.rossignol.com
One of a handful of companies to introduce a gliding snowshoe this winter, Rossi has some big changes in line for backcountry enthusiasts. For instance, the Mega Bang ($599). At 123-90-111, it is "the fattest tele ski ever," says product manager Kurt Hoefler. Cast in the same mold as the alpine Bandit XXX, the Mega sports the same Dualtec technology (a combination of cap and laminate construction), but is softer, rounder and lighter. Test drive in the steep and deep. One notch down the sonic scale, the Big Bang ($539) is wide enough to excel in the fluff, but capable of working the hard stuff too. The Hellgate ($469), adorned with tattoo-like graphics and turned up tails, is targeted to the young Zen tricksters working the mountain from all different angles. Ditto the Pow Air ($569). But the Attaque ($399), with all of Rossignol's high-end technology, may be the most versatile value of the batch.

Tua
www.tuaski.com
Last season, Tua overhauled its line with the introduction of a vast array of skis with modern performance widths and sidecuts. For 2001-02, the core team returns¿including the Cross Ride 110, the Ride 104, the Sumo, the Big Easy, and the Helium¿along with a few fresh models. "Our line now has even better differentiation and versatility," says Tua designer Paul Parker. On the narrow end, the long running Mega and the versatile Mito have been morphed into a single board that blends the best attributes of the two. Known as the M3 ($425), this ski has the Mito's dimensions (98-70-88) and the smooth, round flex that is the hallmark of Tua designs. Joining the aptly named Helium ($475) in the ultralight category will be a wider sibling known as the Hydrogen ($495). Sharing the same voluptuous curves as the 102-72-92 Big Easy ($449), the Hydrogen combines light weight with big surface area for powder touring and general purpose ski-mountaineering. For ultimate powder poaching¿free or fixed heel¿consider the widest ski Tua has ever produced, the new Cross-Ride 112 ($525).

BOOTS (TELEMARK)
Buying telemark boots is a little like buying a box of chocolates. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, you'll never know what you want until you try 'em out. In other words, learning the turn and finding the right boot for your foot and the type of adventure you're after is the real challenge. Generally speaking, the transition to plastic boots has shortened the learning curve and handed pinners a better tool for exploring new terrain. Fortunately, finding the right boot to fit your foot and your heart's desire has never been easier.

Alpina/Crispi
www.alpinasports.com
The nordic pros at Alpina cover both ends of the tele-boot spectrum with the two buckle Telelite ($265) which blends the control features of a plastic cuff with the comfort of a traditional leather lower last. The Telelite provides a good counterpoint to the Italian-made Crispi line of all-plastic boots distributed by Alpina. A new addition to the tried and true CX line¿check out the CXP ($465) for all around performance¿Crispi now makes an ultra-stiff, four-buckle boot called the CXU ($595) for heavyweights and those addicted to the speed thing.

Black Diamond/Scarpa
www.bdel.com
Scarpa's T Series tele-boot¿the original all-plastic heretic and one of the best sellers on the market¿seems to get better with each passing season. Now offering an asymmetric flex bellows with a wrap-around I-beam feature, Scarpa boots flex smooth as leather while maintaining the torsional rigidity needed to better drive the big sticks that dominate the ski market today. The new T2 ($459) and T3 ($339) follow in the footsteps of their big brothers the T1 ($499) & T-Race ($549), offering nice balance as a comfy touring boot but enough power to crank turns when you need them.

Garmont
www.garmontusa.com
Under the direction of president John Schweizer, who helped bring the now-classic Merrell Super-Comp to the telemark world, Garmont boots have been catching the eye of a growing group of BC buffs. This season, Garmont forgoes sex appeal for comfort, producing new liners, particularly the three-density, thermo-moldable gFit liner. "We developed it specifically for the flex of telemark skiing," says Schweizer. The gFit boasts no blister forming seams and better support and shock absorbing ability. Available in Garmont's lead boot, the Squadra ($550), the liner is also sold separately to retrofit existing boots. Look for better liners¿and fit¿in the popular Veloce ($430) and the new Excursion ($250), an adult version of the soft-flexing junior-sized Teledactyle ($200). Schweizer, at least, knows where the next generation of tele-skiers is coming from.

BINDINGS (TELEMARK)
Depending on your outlook, free-heel skiing is either a lot less or a lot more "free" than it was a decade ago, when the three-pin toepiece was the tool of choice for staying nailed to your boards. The evolution of cable bindings, along with beefier boots, help provide the control that today's telemarkers need to prosper in bumps, trees, deep powder and on the steeps. The heel, of course, is not exactly free¿but who's counting when you're busy contending with those elements. Today, the real measure of a binding is durability and function. In particular, can it stand up to the forces imparted by stiffer boots and new carving skis?

Rainey Designs
www.raineydesigns.com
Rainey Designs first set the standard for bomb-proof bindings with the legendary SuperLoop. Now Russell Rainey is determined to do it again. "My new Hammerhead binding is to the SuperLoop what the SuperLoop is to the rest of the binding market," says Rainey of his newest innovation. Incorporating the same stainless steel componentry, compression springs, integrated shim and a one-size-fits-all cable system, the Hammerhead ($200) will complement the existing SuperLoop ($135), not replace it. What sets it apart is its superior flex for better back-foot pressure, easy field adjustments of boot pivot points for touring or slope skiing, and an innovative heel-throw mechanism.

Riva/Black Diamond
www.bdel.com
Riva bindings by Black Diamond have been popular with legions of faithful for the snug fits that preserve boot soles and translate into higher performance. The Riva Z cable binding ($149 with lifters) remains unchanged for this season, while the Skyhoy¿now called the Skyhoy II ($338 with brake)¿has been reworked to be tough enough for modern telemarkers. Substantive changes to this landmark step-in, releasable-binding system include an integrated brake, increased durability and re-engineered pivot points.

Rottefella
www.alpinasports.com
Once the mainline for backcountry addicts who got hooked on the early cable designs, Rottefella has been feeding the masses the red hot Chili ($115) over the past several seasons. New and improved for 2001-02, it gets compression springs in aluminum cartgridges, steel hooking rods, a riveted stainless-steel bail, and a releasable toe-piec

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