Telemark Ski Trail History
Tony Wise had a vision to have the best cross country ski trails in the world. He wanted to not only attract the best racers, but to be a destination every cross-country skier loved and wanted to visit. While he always ensured there was a great time to be had après ski, it was the amazing trail system that made Telemark the centerpiece of cross-country skiing in the US. From the US Ski team Olympic trials in 1975, to the very first World Cup in 1978, and the American Birkebeiner which began in 1973, the trails at Telemark would become world renowned and an always a sought-after experience for decades.
The original cross-country ski trail system was designed and brought to life in the 1970’s under the watchful eye of Sven Wiik and Marty Hall. The two were sought after by Wise as he was known for recruiting some of the best in the world to bring his vision to fruition. Wiik arrived in the United States in 1949 from Sweden. He coached the US Ski team at the championships in 1958 and led the team to the Winter Olympics in 1960 at Squaw Velley, California. In 1981 Wiik was inducted into the US Ski and Snowbaord Hall of Fame. Hall was also a US Ski Team coach who aided Bill Koch in earning a silver medal at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.
Wise had a gift for recruiting and engaging some of the industry leaders of his time, capturing them with his vision and no-nonsense approach to getting stuff done. The trails quickly became the iconic symbol of Telemark. Allison’s Trail, The Bauer, The Bill Koch, Wall, Elevator shaft, Roller coaster, Arterial Bypass, Cadillac Road…the names stir up emotions for so many as trails that challenged them and created such memorable ski experiences!
Unfortunately, by the turn of the century the trails began to lack the maintenance and attention they deserved, and mother nature quickly began to take them back. By the time the property went through a sheriff’s auction in 2013, followed by complete dormancy, they were all but impassable.
Enter the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) and the historical trail knowledge of Jim Sokup, ABSF’s Director of Facilities and Operations. The push to rehab and reopen much of the original system began shortly after ABSF’s purchase of the property in 2021. The property has been segmented into two sections, one consisting of 384 acres that was designated the Mt. Telemark Village Land Conservancy to ensure access to silent sports for generations to come, the other 296 acres are being developed into Mt. Telemark Village and will house trails, an outdoor center, lookout tower, skating pond, rock climbing walls, and more.
So, what must happen to get us to a final cross country ski trail system that can be enjoyed by all? Lots of baby-steps! First the decision was made on what trails should be reopened, what needed to get built, and what trails should be retired for good. This process was significantly easier thanks to the help of Allan Serrano, former event director for ABSF and current International Ski Federation (FIS) Technical Delegate. Serrano brought trail homologation knowledge to the selection of 25km of trails that will allow ABSF to host international-worthy competitions.
Next, enter the trail crew and their amazing ability to take an obsolete trail bed and build a modern trail which meets the standards sought after by the today’s elite and recreational skiers. It is estimated that this process will take 2-3 summers to get the entire system up to the high standards of the ABSF. Alongside that progress, a team led by Jeff Tumbleson, ABSF Trails and Facilities Senior Manager, will be mapping the existing trails and creating a way-finding system. The hope is that the experience once out on the ski trail is understandable and easy to follow. As of the writing of this article, approx. 12km of the original Telemark trails have been re-opened and will be groomed throughout the 2022-2023 winter ski season (snow permitting).
While some of the original trails crossed the old golf course and traveled to the west of the “Powerlines” the re-developed Mt. Telemark Village trail system will mainly be contained on the property owned by ABSF. Additional trail sections will eventually be opened, like the old “Korte Trail” which goes around the back of the mountain, traversing to Bayfield County land. This section of trail was historically used when the Kortelopet started and finished at Telemark.
A new layer of excitement will also be added to a portion of the trails – snowmaking. When all is said and done, there will be snowmaking on about 7km of the Mt. Telemark Village trail system. Five of those kilometers will include the competition trails, along with around 2km of easier skiing. Increasing machine made snow coverage ensures ABSF will have a reliable venue for events and recreational skiing, even during years with limited snowfall.
The trail system will primarily be accessed from the new Mt. Telemark Village outdoor center, which is slated to break ground during the spring of 2023. This building will be located on the old Telemark Lodge coliseum pad, for those familiar with the previous building. The outdoor center will serve as a launch point for outdoor adventure offering equipment rentals and demos, food, changing areas, showers, and plenty of places to hang out and get ready to take on an adventure.
The vision of the rehabbed and reopened trail system at Mt. Telemark Village is to create a cross-country ski system that is enjoyable for everyone. Easy green trails for those eager to learn the sport, double black diamonds that will challenge even the best skiers of the World Cup, and everything in between!
Ben Popp grew up in Northern Wisconsin skiing on the original trails at Telemark Resort. After enjoying 25+ years of racing, coaching and hosting xc ski events, Ben returned to Northern Wisconsin to serve as the Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation. Ben is now back coaching the Rails on Trails ski team in Spooner WI and has a passion for getting kids and adults hooked on the sport that has shaped his life.