By P.M. Fadden
Dirt Bag At Large
Even with all the varied and glorious funk of season-ender-fiestas in full swing, it’s still easy to spot a Telemarker harvesting corn.
The curious technique is stylish, and iconic–as is their reverence for flex-y boots and deep turns.
But what really stands out is the go-lucky welcome which somehow organically links each enthusiast to the next; hippies or punks, misfits or socialites; man, woman, or child—perfect strangers form like family when the heel is free.
With surprisingly few manufacturers, globally, telemark is an apparent small world society by necessity. But where there are mountains there is a way. And as it happens, there’s a crew with an international rep who is busy cranking out top-tier kit down a little dirt road in Teton Valley, Wy-Daho.
The company/facility known as 22 Designs is the clubhouse Calvin & Hobbes would have built had the comic book pair traded the toboggan for skis. The shop floor is a craftsman’s combo of Tech-meets-Tang, replete with a gigantic, sticker-plastered fridge.
As luck would have it, the crew at 22 have carved a moment to guide an introduction to telemark. But the qual-mark of a dyed-in-the-wool ski hooligan is tardiness.
If They weren’t obsessive (about turns, product, or tom-foolery) there’d be no problem being on time, and thereby nothing separating Them from the Average, so to watch the sunrise while waiting forgotten in an icy car park actually bodes well. It indicates that whatever happens next, at the very least it will be genuine.
The first 22 crew member to arrive is Devin. He works assembly. But he’s not there not for the article. In fact, he’s unaware of any article at all. Rather, somewhere in the morning’s adventures, his truck has suffered a puncture so he’s grabbing a couple of tools. Devin opens the factory and, inadvertently, the lesson too.
Slic Pins and Slide Plates, Bellows and Climbing Bales; Heel Tubes, Tail Throws, Latches, and Claws; the pieces of a Tele-Puzzle are many. Each component can trace its origin to good ol’creative necessity. And all of them come together thanks to the innovation of engineered monkey business.
“This is where all the pieces meet,” Devin has paused tire repair to talk shop. “Twenty-two is an industry leader. Everyone here is ‘in’ because they’re stoked about telemark and having fun with friends. Plus we’re proud that our gear is made in the USA.”
Behind the doors of 22 Designs 25,000 pairs of bindings—built to the New Telemark Norm—were produced by hand and shipped worldwide in the last year alone. Zooming outward to look at the wider industry, Telemark products saw a 127% percent growth rate over the prior year–a rather big clue that what’s going down is far from ‘fringe.’
Sprung from the ready-fire-aim roots of 3-pin bindings, leather boots, and loose living, Telemark skiing, somehow, organically cultivates a garden in which all varieties are welcome to grow. Add to that the technological rigor brought by 22 Designs—plus others like them—and Tele-Society has the healthy sort of micro-climate that’s likely to stick around a while, as well as entice increasing numbers of the skiing public.
And the current main attraction is ‘New Telemark Norm’—NTN for short.
As if adding punctuation to this juncture in the lesson plan, the factory door suddenly bursts open, and in saunters Jake—an ambassador of 22 Designs and chief wild man to today’s foray into all that is telemark. With practiced ease, he leads a brief parade through the machinery which tools the NTN tech about to be demoed today.
“I got hooked on this gear thanks to a buddy,” Jake smiles. “He gave me a set-up, then had me skin up Mt. Hood in July—never having skied in my life.”
“It was 6,000 vert feet of face planting but still I remember thinking, this actually feels good! I’m committing.”
And straight from ‘start,’ NTN does feel like natural innovation, resulting from generations of Dreamer/Tinkerers who planted the seeds of modern tele (while charging on skis like whaling harpoons). Better still, the new school approach of NTN still manages to stay true to its roots.
Like underwear, the innovation behind NTN is all about support and performance.
Adaptable to wide planks and increasingly gnarly descents, NTN tech grabs hold of the Underfoot as well as the Toe to achieve maximum stability and precision. It’s an elegant contraption. And as field testing certainly suggests, it marks the next horizon in telemark.
Once on the mountain, the downhill experience is a dance between form and grace—with a dash of homecoming welcome throw-in. And mischief, of course, is a mainstay from the first chair to the last call.
Devin, who’s fixed the tire, has decided to copilot today’s tutorial. He and Jake head straight to a wide rolling pitch where technique can be put on full display. Atop the slope, there’s no need for more words. The skiing will speak.
To hear Jake later describe it, there’s a silent dialog between Ski and Skier; a two-way conversation to feel out the optimal way down the mountain.
From the moment Devin and Jake set to making turns, it’s apparent there’s boundless style to this method of falling downhill. The pair are equally accomplished, but from opposite coasts, and with entirely unique iterations of the all-hallowed turn.
First discovery while on the journey to find one’s ‘turn’ is that it’s less about lifting the heel and more about ‘crushing the can.’ Under the toe piece on every uphill, or inside ski, there’s a pop-top vessel wishing with all its aluminum might to be compressed. To grant the request, the hip and knee coil in unison to form a piston firing smoothly downward. It plants atop the can, presses it flat, and locks in the turn. But it’s easier written than done.
Like most things, the first iterations are awkward, even accident-prone; but polish comes with practice.
“It’s a feng-shui,” says Jake. “Terrain might keep you on your toes, but when it’s groove time, you put the pressure down, flex it, and go,” he laughs.
Tight quick edgework marks Devin’s progress down the mountain while Jake’s mechanics are a more series of strides across the face. Each style appears, somehow, effortless. And both Fellas are clearly reveling in the time of their lives yet perhaps most impressive is the vibe.
“This red-headed bastard of skiing, it’s loveable as hell,” Jake shakes his head. “And it’s growing.”
As it happens, there’s quite a population of Telemarkers in the hills with Devin and Jake. Even as strangers, it’s apparent that each is connected to the next by a friendly playground atmosphere that’s almost tangible. Devin and Jake laughingly boom jovial crassness or encouragement. It’s instinctively returned, like recognized language. The distinct impression is that of a community; one that makes its happy way through a snowy day on a mountain that doubles as a neighborhood.
Indeed the simple, vital gravitas surrounding Telemark feels natural when realizing the social connection which binds its people. It’s thrilling. It’s inclusive. And there’s every reason to suspect that it just might save skiing from itself.