Telemark vs Cross-Country Skiing: What’s the Difference?

Telemark and cross-country skiing is two very similar disciplines of skiing, but in fact they are very different in many respects. Let’s take a look at those.

What is the Difference between Telemark and Cross-Country Skiing?

Telemark skiing is actually a close relative of cross-country skiing. While both being separate disciplines of Nordic Skiing, they are distinct in terms of how they traverse through ungroomed terrain: while cross-country skiers are restricted in their means of upward skiing, telemark skis are able to travel through vertical landscapes.

Now let’s explore the key differences between telemark skiing and cross-country.



While both cross-country and telemark skis allow for ungroomed terrain, but telemark skis are essentially cut out for skiing through vertical terrain.

Telemark skiers can easily travel both uphill and downhill, and though cross-country skiers are also able to ski uphill and downhill, they are constructed for less steep and less intimidating hills compared to the mountaineering style robust structure of telemark skis.


Skis: As I just mentioned, telemark skis are way more robust and heavy than any cross-country skis which are designed to be narrow, skinny and so light that you could practically run with it. Thus, telemark skis are very similar to alpine skis.

Ski Boots: Telemark boots are available in two versions: heavy and more rigid boots that are similar to alpine boots, these are designed for on-piste telemark skiing. While off-piste touring telemark boots are more similar to a heavier version of cross-country ski boots. On the other hand cross-country ski boots are very lightweight and comfortable, similar to any lightweight technical winter boots.

Ski Bindings: Cross-country ski bindings work with a free-heel system just as telemark ski bindings, however telemark ski binding either use a cable or a spring to attach the heel to ski, and provide enough tension and control for sharp turns and uphill movement.
Cross-country ski bindings don’t have any of those. They make use of their lightness, mobility and free heels to stride and glide forward.

What is Telemark Skiing?

In this type of Nordic skiing technique, the skier combines cross-country skiing with elements of alpine/ downhill skiing, where the skiers can explore ungroomed backcountry terrain and climb uphill along with skiing downhill.

For this reason, the Telemark skiers need a piece of stronger and more rigid skiing equipment – something similar to skiers for regular downhill skiing. The stronger and firmer skis ensure that the skiers can easily navigate uphill (using attachable skins) as well as downhill, with a boot and binding system that gives the skiers free heel movement.

Compared to the more popular alpine touring skis, telemark skis are more rigid and much more heavier, and for this reason they are decreasing in popularity. Just as cross-country skiing, alpine touring and telemark skiing are both disciplines of Nordic skiing. Each of these involve a partially similar, but altogether different set of equipment and techniques.


Why is it Called Telemark Skiing?

Telemark skiing is named after what is considered the birthplace of the skiing sport. The Telemark region of Norway is famous for being the hometown of the world-renown skiing pioneer Sondre Norheim, who constructed the first telemark skis.

Though Norheim skied in the 1800s (more precisely around 1868), he is considered as the pioneer of modern skiing. Norheim experimented with the skiing and binding structure and was the one who introduced ski’s side cuts and heel bindings. You can see his statue in the Norwegian Ski Museum situated in Morgedal.

Do you want to know more about Sondre Norheim?

Check out our article about the history of cross-country skiing and get familiar with the origins of Nordic skiing and how Norheim Sondre revolutionized the world of skiing.