Skiing in the context of the British Army is rather different from skiing for leisure or sport. The British Army use a method of skiing known as ‘Telemark’ skiing. The encyclopaedia definition of Telemark Skiing is:
Telemark skiing is a skiing technique that combines elements of Alpine and Nordic skiing. Telemark skiing is named after the Telemark region of Norway, where the discipline originated. Sondre Norheim is often credited for first demonstrating the turn in ski races, which included cross country, slalom and jumping, in Norway around 1868. Sondre Norheim also experimented with ski and binding design, introducing side cuts to skis and heel bindings (like a cable).
Telemark skiing was reborn in 1971 in the United States. Doug Buzzell, Craig Hall, Greg Dalbey, Jack Marcial and Rick Borcovec are credited with reintroducing the style after reading the book Come Ski With Me by Stein Eriksen. Telemark skiing gained popularity during the 1970s and 1980s. The appeal of Telemark skiing lies in access: long pieces of synthetic fabric, known as skins, can be attached to the bottom of the skis to allow travel uphill.
Telemark skiing uses a specialized type of equipment. Generally, Telemark skiers use flexible Alpine skis with specially designed bindings that fix only the toe of the ski boot to the ski, thereby creating the “free heel”. Oftentimes the heel is attached to the front of the binding by a hinged cable, which holds the ski boot firmly in the binding. These bindings are often non-releasable.In a military context this method of skiing is hugely beneficial as troops are often carrying heavy loads and weapons and need to ski in mountainous areas. By having the heel easily removed from the ski it is possible to walk in the skis which makes it much easier to navigate Arctic terrain. In order to work with Telemark skis, a special type of boot is needed and it is a pair of these ski march boots we are looking at tonight:The most distinctive features of these boots are the square toes that slot into the front bindings of the ski:And a large groove around the heel that allows the spring rear clip on the ski to be easily attached or detached:The base of the soles of these boots are made of rubber with decent grips for use on the ice. Note the brand name for these boots, ‘Skeesol’:At the heel a leather loop is fitted to help when pulling on the boots:This design of boots was used for many years, but this example is dated 1986 and the details are stamped inside the boot along with an NSN number:This design of boot has now been replaced with more modern patterns from companies such as ALCO, but still remains popular amongst some cross country skiers due to how robust it is. This is another great addition to my little Arctic Warfare collection and I just need to get the skis to go with it…
Over the last couple of years we have covered a number of the padded liners issued to troops for service in extreme cold weather, including the parka liner here. This liner was designed to be fitted into the arctic parka used by British troops in extreme cold weather. Happily I have been able to add an example of one of these parkas to my collection and we are able to take a closer look at this garment tonight. The parka is a distinct garment, different from the more usual smocks. It is longer and baggier than the traditional windproof or parachutist’s smock and has a permanently attached hood:The hood itself is padded with a quilted liner and has wire around the front to allow it to be shaped to suit the wearer’s preferences:Large baggy patch pockets are sewn to the front of the parka, secured with green plastic buttons:A heavy duty zip with a Velcro fly is fitted to the front of the parka:And two buttons are sewn to the lower front skirt of the garment:These are to allow a tail flap to be passed between the legs, much like the parachutist’s smock and fastened to the front. However where the parachutists smock used press studs, this example uses large buttons. When the flap is not needed it buttons into the inside rear of the parka:The same buttons go through two button holes to also act as the fastening for the large soft kit pocket that runs all across the back of the parka:The parka is designed to be worn with a liner, so large patches of Velcro are sewn into the inside of the garment:These are the loop half and the corresponding hook part of the Velcro is on the outside of the liner to allow the two pieces to be attached together.
The sleeves of the parka are also distinctive with large double thickness elbow sections to add extra protection and comfort when shooting:The cuffs are unusual in having a tab with Velcro to secure them:This design allows the wearer to tighten the cuffs, even when wearing heavy arctic mittens.
It should be noted that there also exists an arctic windproof smock that was issued at the same time as this parka. It has been suggested that the smock was for infantrymen, whilst the parka was for more static troops such as those maintaining vehicles or in non-combat roles that required them to stand still in the cold for longer. I have been unable to confirm if this is indeed the case, but it seems a plausible theory. These parkas are extremely well made and I was lucky enough to find this one in a vintage clothes shop for a very reasonable price. Strangely this is only the second parka in my collection, the other being an earlier olive green example I picked up several years ago.
A long time ago on the blog I looked at a pair of cold weather mittens here. That pair were quite long, with the body of the glove coming half way up the forearm. Tonight we have a second pair of snow gloves, but these are much shorter, just covering the hand itself:These gloves are made form a closely woven but lightweight cotton, as such they would afford no warmth to the wearer. They would have been worn over a pair of woollen gloves or mittens, the woollen layer offering warmth and the cotton outer glove providing camouflage and some degree of waterproofing. The layer of air trapped between the inner and outer glove would also add to the insulation and help keep the wearer’s hands warm.
The wrists of the gloves are secured with a piece of elastic:Each glove is /|\ marked and dated 1942:They are marked as having been manufactured by J B & Co Ltd- unfortunately I have been unable to link this with a specific manufacturer.
I am not sure how widespread the use of these mittens actually was- photographs of troops wearing cold weather kit are unusual in the first place and all those I have seen just show men wearing just the woollen gloves and mittens, without the white outer mitten. Certainly this pair are in mint condition and don’t seem to have ever been issued.