Freestyle, Telemark, which type of skier are you?

In Outdoor, People / Groups

The word ‘ski’ comes from the Old Norse word ‘skíð’ literally meaning ‘stick of wood’ and is a sport thought to have been practised as far back as 4,500-5,000 years ago in Rødøy, Norway. Since then, the sport has evolved into many sub-varieties and – in the spirit of trying new things – we are going to take a look at each. Indeed, there’s a type of skiing to suit anyone...

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Downhill Skiing


If you’ve ever been skiing, then this is the form you’ve probably tried. Also known as ‘alpine skiing’ it is, without a doubt, the most popular form of the sport. It’s often expensive, because ski passes that give you access to the carefully-maintained piste can be costly – but the price contributes to paying for chair lifts and button lifts, as well as the operators. One of the best things about downhill skiing is the range of pisted runs available in most resorts, often with different levels of difficulty. You can stick to green and blue runs if you’re a novice and graduate to red and black runs once you’ve mastered them. Head off-piste for a real challenge – but only if you know what you’re doing.

What does the kit look like?

It depends on the size of the skier and their proficiency level. Some downhill skiers opt for thinner skis to make them go faster, others will prefer broader skis for control and taking on moguls. Most downhill skiers use poles for support.

Great for: refining your technique, social skiing in a group, less-hazardous skiing, going fast.

Cross-Country Skier


Also known as ‘Nordic skiing’, this involves quite literally crossing flat terrain without the conventional assistance of chairlifts, button lifts etc. Historically reserved as a legitimate method of transport for those living in the mountains when walking in snow is exhausting, historians date cross-country skiing back to the Sami people of Northern Scandinavia. You can choose between two different techniques, classic – where your skis move back and forth in parallel lines – or skating-style. It’s tough on the muscles but easier on the joints than regular downhill skiing, which also makes it popular for older skiers wanting to improve their strength, balance and cardiovascular conditioning. At competitive level, it is up there as one of the most cardiovascular-intensive sports in the world.

What does the kit look like?

The skis are narrower than regular alpine skiing, to allow the weight of the skier to be distributed evenly. Cross-country boots are attached to the ski with a binding, but the heel remains free and moveable.

Great for: getting fit, saving money on ski passes, taking in scenery off the beaten track.

Freestyle Skiing


For confident skiers, there’s always freestyle skiing to indulge in. Broadly speaking, freestyle incorporates several different subversions of downhill skiing: mogul skiing, halfpipe and aerials. Snow parks, like their skate park equivalents, are built to incorporate obstacles, such as picnic benches, wooden ramps and steel pipes for skiers to navigate.

Advanced freestyle also incorporates tricks, jumps and somersaults, like a hybrid of acrobatics and skiing, and normally takes place within a snow park. You know you’re doing it right when you’re getting air over jumps and doing tricks in the air. Yes, it’s an Olympic sport, but you don’t have to be an athlete to try it, just adventurous. For beginners, try a freestyle lesson to start and then see where you end up.

What does the kit look like?

Normal downhill boots, though some skiers use twin tips, which make it easier to turn on the snow and ride over moguls. Some freestylers opt for snow blades, which are incredibly small skis, and most have poles.

Great for: trying something different without venturing far, exhilarating tricks, challenging your nerve.


‘Backcountry skiing’ is an umbrella term taken to mean any form of skiing outside of the groomed, maintained piste. Unmarked, unpatrolled areas often house the best virgin snow. It’s less of a style with a specific technique, but requires more nerve, with an increased risk of avalanches, exposed rock and tree wells.

Most hardcore backcountry skiers will argue that it’s worth the risk for the isolated, unspoilt and untracked powder, but getting to skiable mountains often means no chairlifts, so it’s certainly not for the fainthearted. Instead, backcountry skiers ‘earn their turns’ by hiking uphill and venturing into areas outside of the groomed piste. They will often carry avalanche safety equipment and have done some safety training before setting out.

What does the kit look like?

In deep powder conditions it’s more advantageous to have broad, wider skis to allow you to distribute your weight evenly. Backcountry skis are typically heavier and wider than their classic counterparts, with metal edges for extra grip. They’re also a lot larger, roughly 150-195cm, depending on the height of the person using them.

Great for: a rush of adrenalin, seeking solitude on a busy mountain, discovering unspoilt territory.


Named after the Telemark region of Norway where it hails from, it’s a form of downhill skiing that remains a minority sport, but is becoming increasingly trendy. It involves a slightly different technique using a squat-like motion with your heels unattached to the boot.

It’s like a cross between cross-country and alpine skiing. The technique required is distinctive; the downhill ski is moved ahead of the uphill ski, with the inside leg that’s closest to the mountain bent in a sort of lunge position. It’s a more taxing, athletic way to get yourself down the mountain and demanding on the legs. Telemark skiers tend to have progressed after a period of downhill experience. Works well both on and off-piste.

What does the kit look like?

Most Telemark skiers will use poles and more flexible skis. The heels are not attached to the skis, making it easier to climb hills. Telemark skiers are sometimes referred to as ‘free-heelers’.

Great for: trying an exhilarating new challenge, increasing strength in your thighs, making the most of the powder.


Once again, not a different sport per se but a subversion – like skiing on steroids – the French coined the expression ‘Le Ski Extreme’ in the 1970s to mean any form of high-risk skiing that takes place on long and often very steep mountainous terrain. Lots of skiers graduate to extreme skiing once they’ve conquered the piste and start getting bored. Typically, slope gradients are pretty serious, ranging from 45-60 degrees upwards and it’s very much about making-the-run-up-as-you-go-along. Finding the terrain can be dangerous though, but dropping huge falls and flying through the snow can really get your heart racing. Not for beginners!

What does the kit look like?

Some extreme skiers have advanced and subverted the sport further by developing air foils or wing suits (think flying squirrel) but generally it involves well-waxed broad skis to save their outer coating from the hidden rocks underneath. Lots of protective gear, helmet and back protection are all musts.

Great for: a huge adrenalin rush, expert skiers wanting to take it up a gear, mountain solitude.


Also a backcountry skiing variant, but for ludicrous adrenalin junkies. Off-trail, downhill skiing accessed by a helicopter instead of your average button lift. Similar risks apply, you have avalanches, rocks and trees to contend with, but using a helicopter allows you to access completely unchartered territory – possibly slopes that have never been skied on before – and explore the mountain from a bird’s eye view. Again, this is for the more advanced skier and safety/avalanche training is recommended before you consider it.

What does the kit look like?

Relatively wide skis that help you navigate a range of snow terrains underfoot. Predictably, lots of snow safety gear is the order of the day, and often people pack shovels in case they’re caught short in an avalanche, along with radio beacons.

Great for: thrill-seekers, exploring the mountains, incredible views.

If you’re heading off for a skiing holiday why not try something different this year? You should always ski according to your experience level but there’s no reason why – with lessons/practice/guides – you can’t broaden your ski skills and have fun whilst doing it.


Image Copyright:CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING Copyright: lightpoet / 123RF Stock Photo FREESTYLE SKIING Copyright: anko / 123RF Stock Photo BACKCOUNTRY SKIING Copyright: eksdesign / 123RF Stock Photo Copyright: michelangeloop / 123RF Stock Photo EXTREME SKIING Copyright: derkien / 123RF Stock Photo HELISKIING Copyright: anko / 123RF Stock Photo