Freeing the heel: Bishop telemark company expands with skis, gear and intense love for ‘free-heeling’
January 15, 2019
Dave Bombard is so passionate about telemark skiing, he started a local company around the sport, although he'd rather call it what it is: freeheeling.
"There is a special bond within the freeheel tribe," Bombard said. "When you meet another freeheeler at the resort or in the backcountry there is an immediate connection. Freeheelers have worked hard to learn and practice this challenging style of skiing and enjoy the reward when you nail the steezy, flowy free-heel turn."
Bombard is owner of Bishop, a Colorado telemark company based in Edwards. Everything is designed in-house and handmade with the soul of a freeheeler in mind. Two of the best pros you may have never heard of — Christopher Ewart, of Avon, and Andreas Sjobeck, of Sweden, both telemark big-air champions at the now-defunct Winter Mountain Games in Vail — ski for the Bishop athlete team.
Sjobeck's signature canvas jacket reads "Freeheel Life," the blocky text wrapped around a snarling wolf's face melting into rocky peaks. It's the name of North America's telemark freeskiing contest series, but it looks more like a punk band's logo.
"Punk" describes the way these guys ski: hard, fast and wild. They charge 40-degree chutes and throw 1080s, they drop 30-foot cliffs and toss front flips off cornices, all without ever locking their heels to their skis.
Bjorn Bauer, the team photographer, gets why people switch from alpine to freeheel skiing.
"I got into tele skiing because it was fun to try out a new style of skiing," Bauer said. "It made skiing fun again and I met a great group of people. There's a small, tight-knit tribe of tele skiers that are welcoming and want to spread the good word of free-heel freedom."
Bomber to Bishop
Bishop began as Bomber Industries, a hard-boot snowboarding company founded in Summit County by mad scientist-fabricator Fin Doyle. Bombard took over in 2013 and transitioned to freeheel bindings, designing gear from a DIY workshop in his garage. He soon moved to the Edwards space and taking the company to the next level with team members like Ewart, Sjobeck and a small corps of "Badassadors."
New this year, Bombard expands the Bishop brand again with freeheel skis, in addition to bindings, apparel and more to come. But the owner and his crew will never forget their roots.
"Why do we free-heel ski?" Bombard once asked his team after a full weekend of backcountry touring and cat-skiing in and around Monarch Ski Area.
"The satisfaction you get when you do it right is worth something," replied Carl Heath, a team skier who lives and works in Alta, Utah.
Freeheel skiing is a dance for some and a tribal gathering for others — Monarch holds a tele-only event every year in February, dubbed Telefestivus — and the Bishop team agrees: the tele nation exists because "freeing the heel" takes skiing beyond the experience of traditional alpine turns. The joyful tele turn takes time and energy to master, but the rewards are exclusive.
"The turn is our thing," said Doug Mock, a Bishop ambassador from Denver who even named his cat Bishop. "It's a beautiful way to be with the mountain. It's what allows you to dance with the mountain in a way that alpine skiers can't."
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