By the second day it was apparent that there was nothing new to report on for core ski mountaineering equipment from the Summer Outdoor Retailer show last week (03-06 aug10). Not in 15 years has there been this little evidence of winter at the Summer Outdoor Retailer show. According to Lou Dawson, “it’s because the show is sold out. There just isn’t any room for winter equipment.”
By and large Lou was spot on. The exceptions were Scarpa and Garmont who had their full line of ski boots available to view and fondle, but true to the summer focus, those boots were largely ignored.
The most intriguing news of the show must remain a rumor, but it does indicate that there is hope for the long term survival of the New Telemark Norm boot/binding system.
It appears that at least a few people have been thinking of alternative ways to implement use of the new sole of NTN boots with a binding that may or may not violate Rottefella’s patent on use of the second heel. As ever, this is another combination of existing concepts that threaten to provide power on par with Hammerhead, true free-pivot touring and all for less than the current tele benchmark of three pounds per pair. If these ideas are successfully developed there may be an alternative NTN binding available in as little as two years.
It has been my position for the past two years that NTN has fallen short on fulfilling its promise as a way to provide a ski mountaineering worthy telemark system. Lots of folks discount the necessity for ski mountaineering versatility but forget that this was the driving force for its development, or so we were led to believe.
NTN boots have the same toe and heel dimensions as AT boots which makes them compatible with most crampons and better for walking on dry trails, or scrambling on rock. However, that same mountaineering versatility is sadly lacking in the lone telebinding option since the touring range of motion for Rottefella’s NTN binding is only 30 degrees (29.5 actually). In launching NTN Rottefella has emphasized the improved downhill performance, safety release and ease of entry. The free-pivot has been reduced from the introductory 40 degrees to only 30. It is good enough for slackcountry performance, but is inadequate for long tours or breaking trail in deep snow.
Rottefella is reluctant to invest more money until they have recouped their investment in the development of NTN. Backcountry telemarkers are weary of compromise and more inclined to stick with 75mm technology that provides several free pivot options and plenty of power (though not as much edging power as NTN). The only way I see NTN gaining serious momentum is for Rottefella to not only allow, but encourage some competition. So far, every manufacturer who has contacted Rottefella about licensing the patent has been declined. It is understandable that Rottefella wants to gain some momentum before opening the floodgates of competition.
While manufacturers love to point out that most telemarkers ski in-bounds they are overlooking the fact that the soul of telemarking remains rooted in the backcountry. Therefore, unless a telemark binding addresses backcountry versatility as well as downhill performance it is not a compelling offering, especially at a cost of around $1000. Without competition to spur further development (as in backcountry performance, lighter weight, greater touring range of motion), NTN will languish. With luck, the rumors will blossom and the promise of NTN will be fulfilled, though not by its founder.