Alpine Touring, AT or Randonnee, is downhill ski gear that has a touring mode in which the heel releases for climbing uphill with skins or using skis with a kick pattern like XC skis. AT gear is designed for the backcountry; most lift served skiers find no performance downgrade in this ultra-lightweight choice. Who wouldn’t want to cut the weight of their alpine ski gear? The boots have curved, lugged, rubber soles, which help you walk comfortably and confidently anywhere. The bindings have release functions with traditional “DIN” settings like downhill bindings and have become quite durable. Telemark ski gear leaves the heel loose for both climbing and descent. Telemark boots have a baffle in the top to help them flex, making walking out of the skis a little easier than AT. That’s only a concern when your skis are on your pack.
Telemark gear is now available with releasable bindings. The telemark release is not as reliable as that found in AT bindings – evidenced by the fact that ski shops will not rent the “releasable tele” gear due to liability. Sooner or later you are going to take a fall and something is going to be torqued; your bindings, your leg bones or your knee joint is going to give. Consider that in your gear choice.
When improved AT products from Fritschi, Scarpa, and Dynafit hit the United States years ago, the sport began to really grow. People realized you didn’t have to learn to telemark to explore the backcountry. Today, AT gear is lighter weight and costs about the same as telemark gear. AT gear sales surpassed telemark gear sales years ago in the US. In Europe and Canada, AT skiers outnumber telemark skiers by a staggering percentage. The term Alpine Touring says it all. AT gear is for exploring the “alpine” or high mountains. The sport of telemark skiing is just that; a type of turn you can make if you want to ignore the evolution of alpine skiing. Telemark gear works great for backcountry skiing as well. But without the desire to master the telemark turn, most ski mountaineering pros usually suggest AT gear. If cost is a concern, you can pickup used tele gear at bargain prices due to so many switching to AT.