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Halvor Kleppen - Telemark Skiing, Norway's Gift to the World

The Renaissance of Telemark Skiing

p. 8: Photo of Fridjof Nansen.

p. 9: Around 1980, Norwegian ski enthusiasts noticed that Telemark skiing had re-emerged in the United States. Up to this time, cross-country and downhill skiing had become specialized, with little in common. Even in Norway, where Telemark skiing was born, Norwegians had abandoned it in favor of the specialized forms. The author credits five American skiers from Crested Butte, Colorado--Doug Buzzell, Craig Hall, Greg Dalbey, Jack Marcial and Rick Borkovec--with triggering the renaissance of Telemark skiing. They had read Stein Eriksen's book Come Ski With Me, which included a photo of Stein's father Marius Eriksen doing a Telemark turn. In 1971, these five began using Nordic touring skis to venture into virgin terrain. They found that conventional alpine technques were unsuitable and began experimenting with Telemark techniques. Art Burrows has written:

"Little did these five know that taking up this skiing technique again would lead to a renaissance of Telemark skiing. Its growing popularity marks the end of an era of specialization, and for many people the Telemark style is the best kind of skiing."

p. 12: Photo of Marius Eriksen performing a Telemark turn.

Morgedal - The Cradle of Skiing

p. 13: The author describes the community of Morgedal and its inhabitants. The word slalom comes from the words sla, or smooth slope, and lom, or track. The word was used in newspapers in connection with a skiing competition at Seljord in 1886. The first slalom competitions were judged on style, not time. Mikkel Hemmestveit said many years later that slalom was the oldest form of skiing in Telemark. The other form of early skiing was "the reckless track" down steep slopes and around obstacles at reckless speed. Sondre Norheim became famous for this kind of skiing. The author describes the Telemark jumping style and both the stemmed and scissored Telemark turns. (Note: The author uses the term "parallel" to describe the latter turn, which became known as the open christie in later years. I think "scissor" may be more descriptive.)

p. 19: In 1901, Cato Aal and Kristian and Olaf Tandberg were given the job of writing a set of rules for Norwegian skiing. They named Sondre Norheim's parallel turn the Christiania turn. Fritz Huitfeldt and others protested that this turn had nothing to do with Christiania. Later they tried to correct this blunder by calling the two turns Telemark turn A and Telemark turn B, but by then the damage had already been done.

Sondre Norheim, The Father of Modern Skiing

p. 20: According to the author, the best account of early skiing in Morgedal is Torjus Loupedalen's book, Morgedal, Skisportens Vogge (trans. "Morgedal, Cradle of Skiing", Olso, 1947). Sondre Norheim was born on June 10, 1825, on the tenant farm of Overbo. He was a tenant farmer and a maker of weaver's shuttles. The author recounts Norheim's ski descent of the Kastedal bluff (taken from Loupedalen), said to have been his most daring feat.

p. 21: Photo of Sondre Norheim.

p. 24: Sondre Norheim was married in 1854 and struggled throughout his life to provide for his six children. Many at the time thought he was a fool who thought of nothing but skiing and fun for the kids. He became a national figure in 1868, at age 42, when he skied with two friends from Telemark to Christiania for a competition at Iverslokken. The event was a combination of jumping, cross-country and slalom. Norheim won handily, even though he was past his prime. He demonstrated both the Telemark turn and the parallel turn that would later be named the Christiania. A month later, at a competition in Kviteseid, Norheim made a jump of 20 meters (66 feet, p. 29).

p. 31: Norheim emigrated to America in 1884, at age 59. He died in 1897 and was buried in the cemetery of Norway Church in Denbigh, North Dakota. In 1986, his great-granddaughter Pam Norheim competed for the U.S. biathalon team at the World Championships in Holmenkollen, Norway.

Sport and Politics in the Huseby Race 1883

p. 32: This chapter describes political tensions involving Telemark skiers in the years before Norway separated from Sweden in 1905. The brothers Torjus and Mikkel Hemmestveit started the world's first ski school in Christiania in 1881. They dominated ski competition in Norway in the 1880s before emigrating to the United States. Torjus died in Minneapolis in 1930. Mikkel returned to Telemark years earlier and died in Morgedal in 1958.

p. 35: Photo of Torjus and Mikkel Hemmestveit.

The Development of Cross-Country Skis

p. 37: Sondre Norheim's innovations (p. 28) included the first heel-strap bindings, which provided greater control and kept the skis on at high speeds, waisted skis, which made the skis easier to turn on edge, and the steered Telemark turn, which made it possible to negotiate terrain obstacles and deep powder snow. He used a shorter pole and shorter skis than others of his day. His skis were 2.4 meters long, rather than 3 meters, which enabled Norheim to demonstrate the "herringbone" technique for climbing up hills.

Norheim's skis were wide, made of pine, and without a groove underneath. They were 1.5 cms narrower in the middle than at the tip. Ski-makers experimented with other types of wood that held up better for jumping, such as elm, oak, ash and hickory. Design specialization for jumping and cross-country skis began to occur. Other people copied Sondre's skis, so they became known farther afield. In 1882, Fritz Huitfeldt went to Telemark to learn why the people there were such superior skiers and ski-makers. Huitfeldt manufactured his own skis based on what he learned. His model became known around the world, and its trademark, the little "sugarcube" on the tip of the ski, was the symbol of quality Norwegian skis. Thousands of pairs were sold, many in the USA. (See p. 29 for more on early Telemark ski-makers.)

Christian Lund from Oslo started the Northland Ski Company in Minnesota in 1910. The Asnes brothers, who had worked for twelve years in a ski factory in Christiania, opened their own factory in Straumsnes in 1922. The Asnes factory was still producing skis when this book was published. In 1933 Hans Ullevalseter patented the Splitkein method of laminating skis.

p. 45: In 1981, Steve Barnett wrote in Cross-Country magazine, "The Telemark revolution has gone too far." The equipment has become too similiar to alpine equipment and the races that have become more and more like slalom competitions with parallel turns.

p. 46: The author provides a table showing curvature and width of cross-country skis from 1850 to today. He offers recommendations for the design of good Telemark skis. He also discusses boots for cross-country skiing (p. 47).

p. 48: Two pages of photos summarize the development of ski bindings:


p. 50: Many of the ski competitions in Telemark in the 1860s combined jumping, slalom and cross-country in a single event. In the 1880s, the events became more specialized. Some people proposed that competitors be required to use the same skis for both cross-country and jumping, but this suggestion was not adopted. In 1901, rules were set down which established the pattern of combined competitions that we have today.

p. 51: Photo of Mikkel Hemmestveit in later years.

Girl Skiers

In 1878 there was a skiing competition for women in Morgedal. In 1889, women of the town of Steinkjer organized a ski club named for Skade, the ski goddess of old Norse mythology. The author discusses skiing by women up to the present time.

Norwegian Ski-Trails, the First in America

p. 58: From 1825 to 1925, almost 800,000 Norwegians emigrated to America. Many young people left farms that were too small to be divided up. Jon Tosteinsen emigrated from Telemark to the U.S., where he became famous as Snowshoe Thompson, delivering mail across the Sierra Nevada, starting in 1856.

p. 63: Between 1875 and 1895, over 260,000 Norwegians emigrated to the U.S., among them some of the elite skiers from Telemark. These included Sondre Norheim and the Hemmestveit brothers. In the 1880s Norwegian ski clubs grew up in the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. In 1904, the National Ski Association was formed in Ishpeming, Michigan, with Karl Tellefsen as its first president.

Austria and Alpine Skiing

p. 68: The spread of skiing to Central Europe was boosted by Fridtjof Nansen's account of his expedition across Greenland on skis. In 1892, Baron Georg Wedel Jarlsberg gave a lecture on skiing in Vienna, which led to the formation of the Niederosterreichischer Ski-Verein. The first skiing competition was held in Austria in 1893, and included Masterbaker Samson from Kristiania. Other competitions were held in 1895 and 1897.

p. 71: Photo of Mathias Zdarsky on skis.

p. 72: The author discusses the contributions of Mathias Zdarsky of Lillienfeld, Austria, to alpine skiing on steep slopes. He is called the father of alpine skiing. Zdarsky generated much controversy, calling Norwegian ski technique primitive nonsense.

p. 74: Viktor Sohn founded the Arlberg Ski Club in 1901. In 1906, Sohn organized the first ski instruction in the Arlberg area. One of the pupils was 16 year-old Hannes Schneider. The following year, Schneider started working as a ski instructor in St Anton. In 1922, Schneider founded the world renowned Arlberg Ski School (see also p. 79). In the same year, Arnold Lunn of England proposed rules for slalom that employed marked gates and eliminated style in the scoring, relying on time alone. No restrictions were placed on technique and Christiania turns came to dominate alpine ski racing. In 1930, the FIS recognized downhill and slalom competition, placing them on an equal level with jumping and cross-country.

p. 78: The author writes that the Ruud brothers, Sigmund, Birger and Asbjorn, together with a few others, brought Alpine skiing and slalom back to Norway. They went to Central Europe to compete in ski jumping, but took part in slalom and downhill competitions just for the fun of it. They were the last skiers in the genuine Telemark tradition. When Birger Ruud became Olympic champion in both downhill and jumping in 1936, he marked the end of an era.

p. 79: Photos of Hannes Schneider and Stein Ericksen.

p. 83: Following World War II, alpine skiing changed in several ways. Stein Eriksen of Norway was instrumental in these changes. By winning gold and silver medals at the 1952 Oslo Olympics, he showed that one did not have to be from the Alps to be the best in the world. He raised the level of professionalism in alpine skiing to that of other sports. The author notes, "Stein Eriksen's skill in making money became a model for skiers and agents for many years to come." Eriksen also promoted the idea that skiing should not only be judged against a stopwatch, but also on the basis of style and elegance. His well-publicized sommersaults opened the way for the sport of freestyle skiing. His distinctive skiing style was the object of the slogan, "Ski like Stein." The author concludes: "When one picture in his book was instrumental in releasing the new Telemark renaissance, it emphasizes the enormous influence Stein Eriksen has had on all-round American skiing."

Timex Skiathlom, Idea and Background

p. 84: In the spring of 1981, the Trak Telemark Camp at Mazama, Washington, organized a strange competition called the "Berzerkebeinerrennet," a reaction against specialized slalom competitions for Telemark skiers. The event, conceived by Steve Barnett and Eric Sanford, was designed as a proper mountain trip in miniature, with climbs, traverses, flat terrain, and downhill runs. These ideas didn't gain much acceptance in the U.S., but were proposed again, in another form, as the Timex Skiathlom in Norway in 1985. This chapter includes diagrams of both competitions on p. 87.

We Have Come A Full Circle, The Loop Is Completed

p. 99: The author writes, "The style of skiing that [Sondre Norheim] helped to release in the Morgedal hills over a hundred years ago is back as the best and most engaging form for cross-country skiing."

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