"Telemark: If it were easy they'd call it snowboarding," reads the now infamous K2 bumper sticker. Fact is, even when you think you've mastered the free-heel turn, pioneered by Norway's Sondre Nordheim in the 17th Century, the old boy reaches down from Heaven and slaps you one to keep you honest. That's just part of the fun. Enough said.
It's no longer news that shorter and wider is the trend in skis. But as Tua's Paul Parker observes, "The fad nature of that trend seems to be settling down and downhill-oriented teleskiers are starting to choose wide skis with shapes that are more refined-skis that carve. The super-wide skis that skid around like a snowboard are the quiver ski." As with alpine, the buzz in the shop world is the "all-mountain ski," retailers confirm.
Latest & Greatest: Black Diamond's asymetric Crossbow (see A.T. Skis) is the big splash in the ski category. But taking "refinement" to the next level, K2 has added the She's Piste ($459) to the best-named line in the ski business. Flaunting the same shapely curves (107-70-97) as the Super Stinx ($459) with a slightly softer construction, the She's is scaled shorter (160-181 cm) and sports surfer-girl graphics.
Tried & True: Three words: Black Diamond Mira ($485). That said, buying versatile all-mountain skis is a little like ordering an ice cream cone: Everyone has a favorite flavor, and they're practically all good. Certainly, Rossignol's Big Bang ($539), Tua's Crossride 105 ($475), and K2's Piste Stinx ($399) are satisfying skiers chewing the vert in all types of conditions.
[250AD CENTER]From The Quiver: Last season both Karhu and Rossignol introduced the "gliding snowshoe" concept, designed to add glisse to the backyard or backcountry adventurer. Karhu continues to refine this concept with the Meta and the Morph ($250) while Rossignol offers the Free Venture Excursion ($179) and Expedition ($299). Still, old- and new-schoolers alike will prefer to just ante up and slap skins on a pair of Tua's Montour ($350), Fischer's BCX E-109s ($325), or any number of true touring skis-which now turn better than ever-to expand one's range and really dial up the fun factor.
Even more than with skis, boot brand-loyalty runs deep. Maybe that's because too many folks have paid with a pound of flesh in ski swap boots that didn't fit well or match the buyer's real goals. The big three in the telemark boot business-Scarpa, Garmont, and Crispi-tend to serve narrow, medium and wide feet, respectively. But don't take our word for it. Try them on yourself, and then have an experienced boot fitter make the fine tunes.
Latest & Greatest: Garmont embodies the modern telemark boot company, offering a full range of plastic boots designed to drive the mid- and super-fat toys skiers ride underfoot. Last season's thermo-moldable "G-Fit" liners proved themselves to be light, warm, blister-free designs. Sold separately to upgrade existing boots, the bladder comes standard in the four-buckle Ener-G ($549) and is also available in the all around Syner-G ($439) and new lightweight Excursion ($299). Again this year, Garmont deserves credit for maintaining it's forward-looking perspective with the kid-sized Telesaurus and Teledactyl (both $199). Someone, it seems, should sow the seeds for the next generation of tele-skiers.
Tried & True: Scarpa's T series-the original all-plastic heretics-are probably the best-selling telemark boots of all time. And for good reason. With an asymmetric flex bellows and a wrap-around I-beam feature, the boots flex smooth as leather while maintaining the torsional rigidity needed to drive today's biggest sticks. The T-2 ($398) prospered mightily with the addition of a third buckle last season, while the T-3 ($329) maintains a lower profile well suited to touring.
From the Quiver: The nordic pros at Alpina cover both ends of the tele-boot spectruum with the two buckle Telelite ($265) which blends the control features of a plastic cuff with the comfort of a traditional leather lower. The Telelite provides a good counterpoint to the Italian-made Crispi line of all-plastic boots distributed by Alpina. For all around performance, check out the tried and true CXP ($465). Like other companies, Crispi offers heavyweights and speed fiends the four-buckle CXU ($595).
Depending on your perspective, free-heel skiing is either a lot less or a lot more "free" than it was a decade ago when a three-pin toe piece was the tool of choice to stay nailed to the 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.
Latest & Greatest: Black Diamond, distributors of the ever-popular Riva bindings, has brought an in-house binding designer under their wings to breath some fresh air into the binding market with the new O2 ($155) weighing in at just 1000 grams. With the cables running completely underfoot, and an angled front riser to accommodate any toe rocker, look for the O2 to prove itself worthy of the Black Diamond label. Likewise, Rottefella has a new entry into the releasable binding category with their pinless Cobra ($339).
Tried & True: Rainey Designs first set the standard for bomb-proof bindings with the legendary Super Loop ($120). Last season Russell Rainey introduced the Hammerhead ($210) and raised the bar a notch by improving flex for better back foot pressure, as well as easy field adjustments of boot pivot points for touring or slope skiing, not to mention the innovative heel throw mechanism. Voile answered the call with the VP II ($140) - an upgrade on the original Voile plate - as well as a compression spring design in the Voile Hardwire ($130). Meanwhile, value conscious consumers can't miss by much with Voile's Classic Cable ($85). Meanwhile, Rottefella regulars will continue to snap-up red-hot Chilli's ($149) and standard Cobra's ($169).
From the Quiver: Over the last few years, G3 has worked hard to expand from boutique shop serving the BCBC community (that's British Columbia backcountry). Their Targa T9 bindings ($179) serve as testament to the quality of their efforts. This year G3 adds the Roxy ($179), a Targa in women's clothing. Painted blue and white and easily sized to women's boots, throw a red Targa heel piece on them to go patriotic or match 'em up to K2's She's Piste.