Steamboat Springs Telemark skiing equipment accounts for a tiny share of the overall skiing and riding hardware sales in North America. Folks in Crested Butte will quibble, but Steamboat Springs just might be the epicenter of tele sales on the continent.
"Telemark skiing is still on the rise," Dave Dietrich of Ski Haus said Friday. "You can go out in two hours and pretty much hammer yourself. And it's more economical?you're still spending $475 for a boot, but it's generally less expensive than Alpine. And there are still people who buy the Telemark stuff and make parallel turns."
Telemark was once the lost Scandinavian art of turning skis by dropping the knee of the downhill ski. It enjoyed a rebirth in North American the early '80s.
The power of the Telemark turn has only been amplified by the transformation of Alpine skis to the "fat" models that dominate the market. Tele manufacturers have adapted the radical new sidecuts to their industry.
"K2's Super Stinx was our hottest seller last year," Dietrich said, pulling an exotic looking pair of boards out of a demo rack. "they do everything well ? powder, bumps and crud."
Dietrich explained the old standard of describing a ski's traits by its overall length is old school.
This year's Super Stinx come no longer than 188 centimeters. But the real measure of the new tele skis is the combination of the widths of the tips, waist and tails, Dietrich said. The Super Stinx is fat, but not super fat, at 107 millimeters. That's enough to float the skis in powder. A relatively narrow waist of 70mm is good for carving turns and the 97mm tails provide flotation in deep snow without hanging the ski up for strong skiers who know how to finish their turns.
This year, Dietrich said, K2 hopes to capitalize on the success of the Stinx, with a similar, but softer ski designed with women in mind. It's called "She's Piste," a play on words that will click for people familiar with French skiing terms.
"She's Piste" comes in a gaudy floral design and G3 has come out with a matching binding called the "Roxy."
Dietrich said one of the biggest trends in Steamboat this winter is a move to all-terrain our "randonee" bindings that allow skiers to climb with the freedom of Nordic bindings, but permit the heel to be locked down for Alpine-style descents. Lowa is making special rubber soled, soft-flexing boots, that fit into Swiss made Fritschi bindings. They allow powder hogs, who are willing to work for their turns to elevated climbing positions.
Some telemark skiers are prone to forsake the backcountry in an unabashed search for lift-served vertical. They have other equipment choices to make.
Big fat skis are what it's all about, John Boyer said, a telemarker working at Back Door Sports. He mentioned the K2 Work Stinx, but leans more toward Alpine skis for downhill tele action.
The new Rossignol Scratch BC is the tool he said Alpiners and telemarkers alike are raving about this year,.
The ski measures 122 millimeters at the tip, 90 millimeters under foot and 118 millimeters at the tail.
"That's a big ski, and that's what's happening with telemarking," Boyer said.
The skis provide stability and support, allowing telemarkers to do things only alpiners and snowboarders are supposed to do, like riding the halfpipe and launching big air.
Boyer believes telemarking will be the next big sport to go mainstream and points to a new publication, "Freeheel Magazine: Telemark Skier," which has only printed one edition. On its cover is skier Ben Dolenc, who is a freeheeler from Boulder and is fully sponsored by Nike. He is doing an iron cross aerial on telemark skis.
"Pushing the limit on skis is great. Pushing the limit on teles is even better," Boyer said.
New G3 compression springs bindings, giving riders more precision and control, is another key change.
"In my mind, telemark skiing is the revolution," Boyer said. "A few years ago, snowboarding was the thing. Now, everybody is saying that telemarking is the cool thing."