Tune In, Turn On, Drop Knees
"Yes, Virginia, Active Bindings Do Ski Better."
By Douglas Mock
Getting the fit of a new pair of tele boots dialed is a process predicated on patience. Sure, you can just pull your new, Italian plastic fantastics out of the box; shove your feet in; and start breaking trail, but by the time you get back to the truck your fave ski socks are gonna be chock full of lost toenails, layers of pulverized dermis, and buckets of whatever that gross, sticky fluid that fills up blisters is called. If you've any respect for the magical work your feet do while you're skiing (or any hope of lasting more than a few hours on snow without developing a crippling plantar fasciitis) it's worth spending the time to make new boots your own. Thus, I spent a number of hours at the bootfitter last week.
The general-ski-related ethos in my guy's shop is pretty aggressively egalitarian: the sliding you do on those green groomers is just as cool as the sliding that guy does in the back-bowl-bumps, and both of you are fully as righteous as the professional athlete sitting next to you in the "Free The Heel, Free The Mind" beanie. It's an aura the Snow Sports Industrial Complex ruthlessly projects/protects. All skiing is good skiing, we're all in this together, snowboarding is actually pretty rad, did you know your credit card can link wirelessly onto your season's pass, etc. etc.
All of which belies a stark, venomous reality: there is an arms race afoot in every ski shop. It rides up on every chairlift, pretends to be having fun in every skintrack, and roars from within every powder turn. You can see its ravenous, red-eyed glow hiding just beneath the benign smiles of children rocking power-pizzas down the bunny hill; it lurks, masterfully cloaked, in the helpful wisdom of your backcountry guide. Every winter sports enthusiast feels its teeth-gnashing pull, only to deny its presence and declare, "Oh yeah bro, there's plenty of powder here for everyone."
We are all, each and every, locked in a furious, relentless, technologically advanced Race To The Most Fun. Competing in this race is pretty much the best thing ever though. It's especially rewarding for us telemark skiers, the most thoroughly evolved of cold weather recreationalists.
But OH! Can you hear the angry voices?! Those crazy dissenters shouting down—or better still, pretending to ignore—the graceful purity of our free-minded supremacy? These voices resound from the pages of nationally circulated ski magazines that won't publish tele-photos just as loudly as from the chairs above when I'm ripping lift line pow: "Telemarking is stupid!" "What's wrong with your bindings?" "Take a shower, hippie!"
Admittedly, much of this derision is our own, and our industry's, fault. For as long as rugged individualists have been making freeheel turns (which, I'm sure I don't need to remind you, is longer than anyone else has been making turns), the appeal of our turn has been limited by three major factors: telemark skiing requires much practice, balance, and physical fitness just to get down the groomers (undeniable fact); the telemark skiers who master these demands become god-like powder elitists (debatable, case-by-case basis); and telemark gear flat-out sucks (truth, bro).
Let's explore this third truth.
I'll save you a long-winded leather boots and rat traps description of the history of sucky tele gear. Nonetheless, the focus of such a description would be the inevitable downfall (generally a propulsive, face-planting sort of downfall, as seen above) of tele gear to date: a lack of resistance to forward flex—what the Telemark Talk gurus used to call "activity"—in telemark bindings. Those gurus would lionize the "touch" and "feedback" that less active bindings provided to the uphill ski in a telemark turn. This neutrality offered tele skiing its sweet, surfy feel. It was also very difficult to do and, with Alpine Touring bindings still in their infancy, kept backcountry powder free of tracks.
Then skis got bigger and stiffer, Alpine Touring gear got lighter and somewhat more reliable, and, as backcountry stashes steadily began to look like Vail, the vast majority of my friends sold off their telemark gear. Inevitably, there will always be some historic Cro-Magnons —the ones who almost evolved to perfection, then just missed—for every Homo Sapiens. Evolution crowns far more losers than kings, and our poor, locked heel brethren have come up short at the finish line of ontogenesis.
The Race To The Most Fun is now consistently won by freeheel skiers. A new
generation of telemark gear offers unparalleled versatility of turn shapes and styles; the ability to bend the biggest skis; hold edge at Olympic speeds; rip fat arcs with heels down or heels up; and surf, slarve, huck, dance, straightline, pop, and play better than any ski gear before it.The telemark skiers who've mastered this gear are the most impressive athletes on any mountain. Stylish. Graceful. Creative. Powerful. Dangerously attractive to the opposite sex.
We are the Kings of the Hill.
We are Badass Muther F*@%ers.
There's only one binding that has our name on it.
And good golly is it active.