I’ve been interested in this for a while, so thought I’d ask members of a Facebook group (Telemark Skiing Forum) who were back skiing post knee replacement about their experiences. Eighteen people completed my questionnaire so there are plenty of folk out there who’ve successfully returned to the slopes. A copy of my project, including details of the survey results can be found here: Returning to Telemark skiing after full or partial knee replacement
St Anton has a reputation as a resort for those who like to party hard. This is not without firm foundation, but it’s also a resort for those who like challenging skiing in an extremely civilised environment at sensible prices.
The village is very pretty and combines traditional Austrian style with modern convenience in a way only a place that skipped the building mistakes of the 1970s could manage. The Austrians went straight from wooden chalets with elaborate balconies to steel and glass. Road and rail links are excellent: the railway station is now tucked away at the back of the town and a motorway is secreted away underground. Uphill transport is equally convenient, with the amazing Galzig gondola to lift you straight into the heart of the ski area, high-speed chairs (including one with heated seats) and very few drag lifts.
St Anton connects with the huge Arlberg ski area that includes Lech and a range of smaller villages. To get around it means using the ski buses, but don’t be alarmed at the idea of having to get on a bus with your skis – the system is super-efficient and the buses are designed for their purpose. (No-one could be more sceptical about this than I was, having skied from my door in Les Trois Vallees for the past 15 years!) If you plan your travels properly, you can reach the far corners of the Arlberg with only a short bus ride. It just takes a bit of planning and know-how about when and where to hop on and off the ski bus.
And now to the skiing. It really is excellent, especially for intermediate and advanced skiers. St Anton is for sporty folk and, whilst it has plenty of style, it doesn’t put on the same sort of airs and graces that Lech does. If you want to hoof it round the mountain and enjoy a substantial bowl of goulash soup with a beer for lunch, St Anton’s for you. If you’d rather catch the lift up to the mid-station for a lettuce leaf and a glass of Champagne, go to Lech! That’s not to say that St Anton doesn’t have places to swank about; just that there are better places to go if that’s what you want. I’ve never met a Telemarker who yearned to swank about.
So what about learning to Telemark in St Anton? Well, you’re most likely a competent Alpine skier, in which case you’ll be fine as long as you’re not very timid (in which case you’re unlikely to be learning to Telemark). Some of the blue pistes have quite steep sections, so it’s important to choose a suitable route, but the plus side is this makes it easy to find appropriate challenges as your skill level develops. Telemarkers looking to improve their technique on-piste will find plenty to keep them occupied, with the possibility of straying onto the Ski Routes (marked and avalanche protected, quite well-skied but not groomed) as a great way of getting an introduction to the delights of off-piste adventures. Those who want to develop their off-piste skills, will be in paradise. The Sonnenkopf area is ideal for starters on easily accessible, gentle powder slopes, and only the Austrians would put a cable car up a mountain then leave most of it for off-piste!
Ski Routes like this one from the Schindler lift in St Anton, provide an excellent way of taking your first foray off-piste and learning to adapt your skiing to variable conditions.
I first put on Telemark skis over 15 years ago. It took a while for me to really get into it; in those days the skis were long and not that much wider than Nordic cross-country skis and the boots offered about the same level of ankle support as a pair of sturdy walking boots! Initially I thought I’d use it to pootle about on easy terrain those days when I fancied a change from Alpine skiing. That lasted about a week before I realised I couldn’t stay off the more challenging stuff and I got my hands on a pair of Scarpa T1s, which were amongst the first high performance Telemark boots. Now I no longer own skis with fixed heel bindings. Why clamp your foot down so you can’t move properly (why fix your feet together on a board, but that’s another story!)?
Over the years my friends have gone through various phases of humouring me, considering me bonkers and, latterly, wanting to give it a try. In the days when I fell over a lot, I perfected the Telemark roll, or how to roll out of a fall whilst sorting your legs and skis out before getting them back on the ground and skiing off without stopping. It’s one of the advantages of Telemark skiing that falls less often result in injury than other forms of snowsports. It also has to be said that if you want to be different, it’s certainly a way to stand out from the crowd. Other skiers find it hard to resist watching a Telemarker; it looks so smooth and elegant. People spontaneously stop to chat, especially other Telemarkers. I’ve even received a round of applause after skiing a black mogul field, from a group who’d stopped to watch!
One of the best aspects of being a Telemark skier has to be the camaraderie of what is, after all, a pretty small group of folk. This is the spirit which Kim has developed at Ski4Real and it’s something that we both want to encourage and build upon. You don’t just learn to ski Telemark, you join a community of people who love the mountains and are willing to take on the challenge of doing something that requires a little more effort in order to get a greater reward.