Tele Tech and Singlespeeding — My Sophomore Ski Season

Post by blogger | December 13, 2016      

Aaron Mattix

As I packed up the first new mountain bike I had owned in fifteen years of riding for shipping to its new owner, I realized I had crossed a line. Mountain biking had been my raison d’etre for moving to Colorado; winter was the great white inconvenience that nearly drove me crazy as I waited for dry dirt.

Now I was selling off (at a great loss) a very carefully curated collection of two-wheeled parts to afford two sticks and associated equipment for exploring the very season I had once loathed.

Two seasons into my late-blooming ski career, it had gone from something to awkwardly pass time while waiting for dry dirt, to something I didn’t want to imagine being without. Now, as snow begins to pile up in the high country, I put off the maintenance and upgrades my bike needs and begin thinking about spending money I don’t have on more new ski gear.

Last season, I upgraded to tech bindings. This season, better clothing is my priority. As a mountain biker, Dickies shorts and pearl snap shirts are my go-to choices; I don’t find the 10x price increase for specialized “ride apparel” results in clothing that performs 10x better.

Ski touring does not allow such indifference. The softgoods, as much the hardware, make or break the experience when exploring the world of winter. Several sweaty tours, lugging a small thrift store inventory of layers in an over-stuffed pack made me realize lightweight, packable technical apparel is worth the premium price it commands.

Keith Bontrager probably wasn’t the first to say it, but in the bike world, he is credited with popularizing the the euphemism, “Light, Cheap, Strong — pick two.”

My bike component choices have rarely prioritized “Light,” and with ski touring I started on the same track. Muscling a chunky bike up the climbs seemed like a worthy reward in order to be able to charge the descents, but the more I lugged my frame bindings and four-buckle boots around the local woods of Babbish Gulch, and Williams Peak, the more I began to contemplate the lightweight merits of a tech set up.

Three strides into my first outing on my new Dynafit set up, I understood why the tech binding has come to define ski touring. Dragging around less beef on my feet resulted in longer tours, and deft maneuvering in all conditions that I care to ski in. Uphills are obviously where the wonderfully light weight of the tech system based ski touring setup shines. Yet, while it is often assumed this same lightweight advantage is a hindrance on the downhill, that’s clearly not a given. If your style is more dance and weave than charge and stomp, having less mass on your feet is just as fun on the way down as it is on the way up. More, the tech binding system has of course evolved to provide the full range, from tiny skimo race bindings to full-on freeride.

The tech binding arms race, combined with the evolution of ski design and construction, is pushing the capability of the ski-touring gear to a convergence similar to the current crop of sub 30 lb 5” trail / 6” enduro bikes. Innovations such as dropper seatposts (and before them, suspension forks) added weight, complexity, and maintenance requirements, but enhance the riding experience, and broaden the range of terrain accessible to such a significant degree riders have accepted them as indispensable. The newer generations of freeride oriented tech bindings such as the Marker Kingpin, and Fritcschi Vipec follow a similar paradigm. Not as lightweight and minimalist as a stripped-down race binding, and perhaps not the cliff-hucking burl of frame bindings (or is that perception rather than reality?), but capable over a broad range of conditions that the average ski tourer is likely to encounter.

On the other end of the spectrum are telemarkers, who are are essentially the Singlespeeders of the Skiing World, never missing a chance to tell you how they are having so much fun while you waited for them to catch up. Both telemarking and single speeding enjoyed peaks in the mid-late 90s, and carry on as a subculture impervious to outside opinions.

Singlespeeders tend more towards whiskey binges and punk rock; telemarkers prefer herbal remedies, and noodly jam bands. Singlespeeders and telemarkers both have an advantage in rolling terrain of moderate grades; except in the case of the preternaturally gifted who are unaffected by the inherent limitations of their archaic gear, and make everything look easy. Yes, those guys exist and command respect. (And if you think this is simply another anti-tele rant, please keep reading.)

As a singlespeeder, and natural-born contrarian, the more invective I heard hurled against telemarkers, the more intrigued I became. My first singlespeed was built as an alternative to my 7” freeride bike, which had rendered local trails less challenging. The same trails were totally different experiences on the two bikes, and each led to complimentary skills: The freeride bike showed me lines I never knew existed, the singlespeed taught me to make the most of the one that was there.

When the February drought hit, and conditions went from “all-time powder dreaminess,” to “at least it’s not as bad as last year,” I swapped a box of nearly obsolete bike parts for a Black Diamond telemark set up at the Gear Exchange in Glenwood Springs, CO. This was the first appeal in telemark gear; it’s even cheaper than trying to find a 26” singlespeed.

Learning the telemark turn made green runs on lunch break an exhilarating learning curve all over again. By the time I could make it down blue runs snowfall returned, and the concentration I had learned to focus on my edges made my fixed-heel charging more aggressive than before.

Much like riding a singlespeed, telemark skiing forced me to project much farther ahead. A singlespeed teaches you to conserve your momentum by anticipating upcoming obstacles, whether it be sprinting through a rolling dip to make it up the climb on the next side, or pacing yourself on a flat section to conserve energy for the tech rock move coming up. In a similar vein, your position in the telemark turn you are in dictates the shape of the next turn you will be able to make much more so than the fixed-heel control of alpine skiing.

I didn’t quite become a full-blown televangelist; I’m still sold on the tech binding for the precision and control it offers, and an equally elegant simplicity. Telemarking or singlespeeding can be a great way to broaden your experience, but if you like your knees, and keeping up with your friends, it shouldn’t be your only set up.

Ski touring (and yes, telemarking) changed my priorities by adding a new season of exploration, and causing me to re-evaluate my gear needs. Enjoying the benefits of lighter weight ski gear has inspired me to look for a similar weight reduction in my next bike, as I look to transcend the boundaries of my steel singlespeed. Once winter is done.

(Guest blogger Aaron Mattix grew up in Kansas and wrote a report on snowboarding in seventh grade. His first time to attempt snowboarding was in 2012, and soon switched over to skis for backcountry exploration near his home in Rifle, CO. His skill level is “occasionally makes complete runs without falling.” In the summer, he owns and operates Gumption Trail Works, building mountain bike singletrack and the occasional sweet jump.)


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32 Responses to “Tele Tech and Singlespeeding — My Sophomore Ski Season”

  1. justin December 13th, 2016 8:55 am

    Hey guys, I just noticed this recall, thought it might be important to share for some.

  2. Lou Dawson 2 December 13th, 2016 9:21 am

    Thanks Justin, a lot of stuff to keep track of out there! That’s old news we covered last summer, what probably changed is they made it official with the CPSC, which is the way many of these recalls should be done, even if volunatry, in my opinion. I’ll look at adding notes to our blog posts.


  3. OMR December 13th, 2016 10:31 am

    Great read Aaron! Just two things, and for what it’s worth I’ve been accused of being a grumpy old man (if 54 is old): (1) I know you joy, I love Tele, and (2) cycling clothing is equally important as ski clothing.
    My best days are on Tele gear, and if one has never felt that joy, there are no words to convince an atheist otherwise. That said, I’m now 90% locked down.
    And have you ever ridden the White Rim in a one day? Go try it in your Kmart shorts and you’ll be wishing you’ld paid top dollar for those elitist PI Chamois. Otherwise, plan on carrying a big can of Vasoline.

  4. wtofd December 13th, 2016 11:18 am

    Two mentions of telemarkers not being able to keep up with fixed heelers; hmmm, methinks he doth protest too much. Depends on who the telemarker is and who the fixed heelers are. It’s a pointless debate that, recently, seems more important to fixed heelers. I don’t understand why, when there are SO many mediocre skiers in both disciplines. As my father said to child-me at a Fourth of July parade when I asked why the hippy/homeless guy was wearing a vest but no shirt, “That’s what he owns. Don’t worry about what other men wear.”

  5. Lou Dawson 2 December 13th, 2016 11:36 am

    I think Aaron did a pretty good job of expressing that many of us do get outskied by the better tele skiers out there (happens to me all the time, though they’re often 1/3 my age…). But the fact exists that Aaron is clearly not one of them, and I think he used a good bit of humor to express that. Let’s not get any panties in a bunch, it’s all in good fun. What I’m always waiting for is skimo jokes. Bring em on. Lou

  6. DJ December 13th, 2016 3:38 pm

    What do you call two dudes on skimo gear skinning uphill together?

    A race.

  7. Lou Dawson 2 December 13th, 2016 4:46 pm

    How many skimo racers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Anyone bite?

  8. Tim December 13th, 2016 4:46 pm

    Great post on two wonderful disciplines. For those folks out there who have left tele for AT solely on the basis of binding weight and touring performance (rather than for the assistance of a fixed heel when coming back down) I would point you to the binding I thought was being referenced in the post title. Look it up: the tele tech binding. Nearly as light as a race setup, simple and skis like a charm. I have no affiliation aside from regular personal use and enjoyment. If this binding had come around 15 years ago, the mass exodus from tele by phenomenal skiers might never have happened. Admittedly it can’t compete with my rando race setup, mostly because there is no one making a light articulating tele boot for those few of us still interested. I suppose there are worse things happening in our world to worry about.

  9. Aaron Mattix December 13th, 2016 6:02 pm

    I’m quite intrigued by the tele tech setup, but not quite sure if the weight savings justifies the subsequent lightness of wallet. The relative cheapness of the 75mm/duckbill platform is one of the things that makes it most appealing to me.

    A tele setup combined with a patterned base ski such as the Volie Vector BC seems like the closest thing to replicate the “up-and-down-ablity” of a mountain bike. There’s some local rolling, low-angle terrain I’d like to explore without having to mess with skins, but be able to ski more aggressively than xc equipment permits. You know, something like my singlespeed with a 6″ travel fork.

    For those who may be concerned to know; I’ve passed geared bikes on my singlespeed (both up and down) and been passed by tele skiers on my fixed heel setup (both up and down).

  10. Alison Birkenfeld December 13th, 2016 6:13 pm

    Aaron has also been passed by his girlfriend, while she rides a geared bike on the downhill. Not always, but sometimes. 🙂

  11. Lou Dawson 2 December 13th, 2016 7:52 pm

    I forgot to put a comma between Tele and Tech in the title, but now I’m glad I didn’t as it becomes a double entendre (smile). Lou

  12. Thomas December 13th, 2016 7:54 pm

    Great write up Aaron. My winter “mountain bike rides” here in Routt County happen on some Voile Chargers with Dynafit Speed Turns. Slays pow and wanders the woods with little hassle.

  13. wtofd December 14th, 2016 6:18 am

    In the spirit of ecumenicism,
    Two college roommates are reunited at a local ski area after having lost touch for twenty years. The visitor steps into his alpine bindings and enjoys the view while his local friend struggles to engage his new Dynafit bindings. After a few misfires, he starts over, taps the snow out of the toe holes and attempts without luck to engage the binding. Five minutes later he finally clicks in and two poles over to the lift.
    “Sorry about the wait.”
    “No problem. How long have you been telemarking for?”

  14. Lou Dawson 2 December 14th, 2016 7:04 am


  15. ryan curry December 14th, 2016 8:32 am


    I am sure you remember the first time I took you to Marble, it was a long time ago and boy howdy how things there have changed.Glad to see the Dawson clan posting your blogs.Lets hook up soon


  16. Zoran December 14th, 2016 10:48 am

    Let’s Nick says some tele jokes? 🙂

  17. Tom December 14th, 2016 11:01 am

    Completely off-topic, but since Lou said:
    don’t worry about being off topic.

    How do you folks like the ATK Raider 2.0 bindings? Light, cool brake design, magnetic heel riser, etc. I want them. Any feedback?

  18. Phil December 14th, 2016 11:56 am

    I have Scarpa T4s that I use to drive Madshus Epoch (10th Mountain) skis through Voile 3-pin bindings. They don’t get much use compared to my racey and pow-pow setups, but I won’t ditch them.

    For me, this is where tele remains relevant. It’s far less efficient than either Nordic gear or a tech setup, but it makes the most of moderate terrain at a relaxed pace.

    Which is just like my single-speed 26″ bike!

  19. VT skier December 14th, 2016 4:45 pm

    Speaking of tele jokes,
    what did the Tele skier say when he ran out of weed?
    “These bindings suck !”

    or “Free the heel, make your friends wait ”

    and I have been a telemarker since 1976… 😉

  20. Aaron Mattix December 14th, 2016 5:35 pm

    Ryan – I’ve been to Marble a few more times of late, and every time I pass through, I think of that first trip, and am grateful for friends who share sweet places. Would definitely love to ski with you now that I’ve taken up the habit.

    OMR – point well made about longer distance rides justifying at least a quality chamois. Basic rule I learned at my first bike shop job (heavy roadie influence): Spend a dollar for every mile you plan on riding. Plan on most of your rides being less 50 miles? Then you’ll be fine with the $50 chamois. Planning on logging multiple centuries? Then you’ll want the $100+ bibs. These days most of my dirt rides are in the 7-10 mile range, and spend most of my time standing up on the singlespeed, so fancy underwear isn’t as necessary.

  21. rocksnow December 15th, 2016 12:28 pm

    Curious if anyone has experimented using a tele tech binding with a non-bellowed AT race boot? I am a long time free-heeler and would love to reduce my weight per foot (set up for last several years has been older 2 buckle Scarpas with Voile switchbacks) but loathe to give up the free heel mobility (even though 95+ percent of my turns are alpine). My dream is a bellowed boot with weights as light as a Syborg or Alien and a modern beartrap tech binding that weighs no more than a tech race binding! 🙂

  22. Paddy December 15th, 2016 1:16 pm

    Rocksnow –
    Many years ago I was on an almost identical setup to you – T3’s / Voile Switchbacks / Atomic TM’s. Then I gave up tele, went to the dark side, and, after a few years in the purgatory of “beef” AT gear, I’ve settled on a setup I LOVE (and I think you would too). Scarpa Aliens + Dynafit Speed Superlite 2.0 Bindings. I’m skiing them on a pair of Dynafit Cho Oyu’s, which feel about perfect with that boot/binding combo. I think us “ex-tele” guys are the perfect people for a super lite setup. We don’t need beef to ski, because even a boot as light/soft as the Alien feels “beefy” in ski mode compared to tele stuff.

  23. rocksnow December 15th, 2016 4:53 pm

    Thanks Paddy – actually been looking at some Syborgs I think I will get. Love how light and articulated they are. Just wondering if a tele tech binding might work with them? I would not be trying to tele turn, just hoping to make traverses, flats, sidestepping easier. Ever since I started free heel skiing, I’ve disliked having my heel locked.

  24. MBR December 17th, 2016 10:53 am

    “…it [tele] can’t compete with my rando race setup, mostly because there is no one making a light articulating tele boot for those few of us still interested.”
    I’m both still interested and still waiting. However, I don’t think new and lighter tele boots are going to happen in my lifetime. Ironically, tele, being lighter than alpine/AT gear, is what got me entrenched on the free-heel side of skiing since the ’80s. Tele gear never had the corrupting power of alpine, but at least it was lighter. Not even close these days, at least for boot weight. Don’t think I’d take something like an Alien tele equivalent in the BC, but a tele equivalent of something like a lighter tele Scarpa F1 equivalent would be so nice. For the manufacturers, it’s about volume and profit. Passion loses to the bottom line…

  25. MBR December 17th, 2016 10:56 am

    BTW… I forgot to mention… that was a most excellent article!

  26. atfred December 17th, 2016 3:09 pm

    “light articulating tele boot” – isn’t that leather? I’ve still got a pair in my basement.

    How about a super light leather boot with tech inserts for cruising the hills with fish scales – now that would be something.

  27. MBR December 18th, 2016 8:16 am

    atfred wrote: “light articulating tele boot” – isn’t that leather? I’ve still got a pair in my basement.
    From The Graduate – One word… are you listening… Plastics!

  28. Jim Milstein December 18th, 2016 7:46 pm

    When I still lived in error, telemarking, I ran across some friends somewhere in the wilds near Wolf Creek Pass. They had converted to AT years before. We resolved to ski together. At the end of a long steep pitch, they stopped and looked back to wait for me, but I was next to them. There’s your stereotyped prejudiced expectation. However, now that I too have abandoned the elegant telemark due to advancing age (I need all the help I can get), I ski faster than I did, but not by choice — it just happens. Even without the telemark, I can still have fun in the snow.

  29. Lou Dawson 2 December 18th, 2016 7:54 pm

    All turns, done well, are elegant. Done poorly, another story, that is unless a smile is present then it doesn’t matter. Seriously, after being a student of skiing for many years, enjoying seeing everything from World Cup downhill to park, to freeride, to modern carving, I really don’t see the telemark as anything special, and I find it interesting that it engenders so many strong feelings. And yes, I’ve done it myself, many times.

  30. Jim Milstein December 18th, 2016 9:09 pm

    In my family, the telemark is a tradition, sort of. My father and his brothers learned the telemark first, back in the thirties. Later, though, they were embarrassed when caught doing it. Arlberg was all the rage. When the telemark was revived in the seventies, I returned to my roots, sort of, but proudly and without embarrassment. Also, the gear was much lighter than contemporary AT gear. My son learned the telemark (and most all other ski and board techniques). So, family tradition!

    Unlike my father and uncles, I cannot be embarrassed caught doing a telemark. Modern locked heel bindings do not permit an emergency telemark like the old leather boots and cable bindings with a relaxed set of cable guides. Also, I gave away all my telemark gear to a happy recipient.

    To Lou’s point about the specialness of telemarks. What other turn involves striding rhythmically down a snowy hill? Walking is very basic to us humans. Lou is right that any well-executed turn can be beautiful.

  31. rocksnow December 19th, 2016 1:28 pm

    Its nice to have a choice of turns. For steeps and deeps, alpine turns are the way to go usually and you definitely don’t need your heels locked down to do them. In low angle terrain tele turns can be fun but where the tele stance really shine is in situations where you want fore-aft stability like abrupt dips, for example. Also when you need to do a little traverse, side-step or flat mid run? Way easier with your heels free. How long has man been tromping around with skis on their feet? I’d guess 99 percent of the time its been with free heels and its not because they couldn’t figure out how to lock their heels down. Its just much more natural and mobile to have them free. Skiing in its truest form if you ask me! How old are you MBR? I’m sure hoping in my lifetime we can get back to having free heel setups as light as the current race gear.

  32. Jim Milstein December 19th, 2016 4:48 pm

    To Rocksnow’s point about having a free heel when you need it, Some AT setups are more versatile in that regard than others. The Vipec switches quickly between free and locked heel modes. Not real light, but not heavy either. I prefer boots that separate locking the cuff and clamping the cuff. Sometimes I want one but not the other. Lots of choices, some quite light, the Atomic Backland Carbon Light, for example. For an old telemarker, the Atomic BCL is a “beef” boot. I had been seen long ago telemarking down gnarly couloirs with NNN BC gear. Nevermore. By the way, in those days I saved parallel turns with free-heel gear for hard surface snow. The tele rocks in steep deep snow. It does take more energy, though. That is one of the reasons I am an apostate to the telemark faith.

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