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Sep 27 2012

On the fence with NTN for 2012/13

 
There is little doubt that telemark bindings are going to go through a bit of turmoil for a few years. Keep in mind what I’m referring to is not the established technology for boots and bindings using the 75mm norm, but NTN, the new telemark norm.

Rottefella's Freedom NTN binding

The latest addition to the NTN family, Rottefella’s Freedom binding.

This season there will be four different bindings to chose from and if we’re lucky, five boot models as well, plus the F1 for those who chose to migrate to the NTN norm along the Dynafit style path illustrated by the Telemark Tech System (TTS), a hybrid NTN binding.

 
Backcountry favors a free-pivot

The Telemark Tech System practically disappears on the ascent.

From a backcountry perspective it seems clear that the TTS is the closest thing to final form for telemark systems for the long haul. In its infancy it offers the key attributes of superb touring and plenty of downhill control in a package light enough to make telemark Torries have second thoughts about locking their heels. It is not unrealistic to imagine a complete system including the option to switch between locked or yoked heels with a bit more development and refinement. In our dreams it will even offer a safety release, and one could argue it already has this, but not reliably. One must also point out that, strictly speaking it is not an NTN compatible binding since it does not latch onto the 2nd heel of the NTN sole. However, except for Scarpa’s F1, the only boots with a tele bellows and tech fittings are NTN boots.

NTN favors Convenience & Power

The NTN Freeride binding was revised last season to address issues with the baseplate cracking.

For the moment, the NTN system appears to be in a development phase which is both good and bad. What you buy now may soon be supplanted, but those changes will theoretically allow greater skiing performance, whether in or out of bounds. As the patent holder Rottefella has led the charge for use of the 2nd heel with NTN bindings, but the two models they offer, the Freeride and the Freedom both suffer from a touring feature that is not a true free pivot. The Freedom has certainly improved on the range of motion of the Freeride, from 30° to 50°+, but there remains a small but constant amount of tension in the movement of the binding plate. And while it isn’t the tank that the Freeride is, at three plus pounds per pair the Switchback is lighter with a true free pivot and similar downhill control.

Hybrid options

The heart of Burnt Mountain Design’s Spike is the toe plate that offers true step-in convenience.

As soon as you drop the use of the 2nd heel but keep the DIN toe and heel, two other options become viable for most NTN boots. TTS blows ‘em all out of the water weightwise at a smidgen over two pounds per pair. Lest I forget, there is a fourth binding available that works with NTN soled boots, Burn Mountain Design’s Spike Blade with true step-in convenience, a frictionless pivot for touring, and plenty of tele-résistançe.

Unfortunately, at this stage in the game TTS is on the bleeding edge of development so it is not without a few flaws. Chief among them are springs without enough travel to allow for a full knee-to-ski telemark turn, especially with big boots. While it can be argued this isn’t necessary if you have good form, even good telemark skiers with a tall stance occasionally take a fall. As history has proven, when the springs limit out, bindings separate from skis or break.

Bend cable rods aren’t the end of the world…just the beginning of it. ;)

A more likely result, however, is the solid cable bars may bend, not from the stress of springs limiting out, but because the cable bars press against the NTN sole and bend around the second heel. This is not typical for the center cable position on the TTS v2.0 binding, but is common if the cable is mounted on the forward, least active position. Even the bending of the cable bar is acceptable for the standard sized cable bar, but that only works for boots 27 (mondo size) or larger. For smaller boots, the forward position requires a smaller cable bar, with a bend resulting in the threaded section. I haven’t broken mine yet, but over time it seems inevitable. Hopefully a braided cable version is in the near future.

A DIY tele-tech binding using Axl springs.

For some this is reason enough to avoid the system, but the option of having adjustable power on par with Rottefella’s NTN Freeride, or 22 Designs Axl, Hammerhead, or Vice with the touring weight and efficiency of Dynafit is hard to ignore. The proof of the appeal is how many folks have taken things into their own hands and come up with their own DIY TTS bindings. While crude in appearance, there have been some good ideas put forth that, in time, will inevitably be incorporated.

Decisions, Decisions
For the average user, this means that telemark systems using NTN boots aren’t quite ready for prime time. On that I must concur, but it is close enough that those who are itching to get beyond the limits imposed by the 75mm norm the options that exist are acceptable, even superior with a few generic caveats.

There is the simple consideration that going NTN means replacing boots and bindings at a cost in the neighborhood of a C-note. You might get away with less, but not by much.

Is Bigger Better?
There are other considerations. Do you go with a NTN specific binding from Rottefella, either the Freedom or the Freeride, or a hybrid, TTS or NT Spike? The benefit of going with Rottefella is they are a big company (within the context of the telemark market) and have gone on record as being committed to the longevity and growth of the sport, and even making the point at their official introduction of the Freedom binding they have the resources and willpower to do so. The hybrid NTN bindings are from small guys.

Weighing the Features
However, beyond that it still boils down to features. If most of your days on snow are in-bounds, Rottefella’s options make sense. The more aggressively you ski, and the more time you spend in-bounds, the more the Freeride makes sense. The more you venture out-of-bounds, the more the Freedom makes sense. If you spend the majority of your time in the backcountry, the hybrids make more sense, either TTS or Spike NT Tour.

Consider the Turn
Then there is the matter of downhill technique. There will be some adjustment in technique required whether you are using a true NTN binding that grabs your boot at the second heel, or a hybrid NTN binding that latches at the heel, like TTS or Burnt Mountains NT Spike. Of the four options, the NT Spike and Rottefella’s Freedom will ski most like a 75mm binding, while TTS and Rottefella’s Freeride work best when you weight both skis simultaneously when transitioning between turns.

Weighing the Options
There are other considerations, but none insurmountable as long as there is enough interest to fund further development. For the manufacturers it may seem like I’m emphasizing the negative over the positive. Indeed I am, not to scare people aware but to be blunt honest about the status of the new telemark norm. There are plenty of positive reasons to make the switch now, but it is not yet a clearly superior system. The ability to get in and out of NTN bindings without bending over, or having a safety release are unquestionably superior. If all the positive features – “step-in” convenience, plenty of power (user defined), a frictionless free-pivot for touring and light weight could be combined in one binding with more boots to chose from, the switch from 75mm to NTN would be a done deal.

For the moment we must figure out our priorities and chose accordingly. If safety release, convenient entry and exit from the binding and excellent downhill control are at the top of your list, the Freeride is a good option with inferior but acceptable touring performance. If you don’t need turbo power for turns, with good touring, though not a true free-pivot, Rottefella’s Freedom is the way to go. If you want step-in convenience, don’t need safety release, with solid control and excellent touring, look at NT Spike. If you want Dynafit caliber touring performance and Hammerhead power with catastrophic release capability, TTS is your rig.

If you love your current 75mm boots stick with 75mm options like O1, Axl, Enzo, RT Spike, Switchback or the X2 version, and if you must have a safety release, 7tm Power Tour.

My alpine friends are always quick to point out that if we would just fix the heel we could fix the problems, but telemark is not about fixing the heel but freeing it and therein lies both the rub and the appeal.

© 2012
 

  • mike bartholow

    more blah blah blah than you can shake a lurk at…

    still no reason for me to change from 75mm yet

  • http://ern.reeders.net.au/blog/ Ern Reeders

    Re release with 75mm bindings, there are also the Telebry Safeouts that are reliable and DIN-rated. Yes, they add weight but give some peace of mind as well as brakes.

    You can have a mount plate on each ski in the quiver and move your fave binding from one to the other via the release plate (assuming all are either standard or narrow size).

  • Dostie

    He he. For most folks that is what I would expect. Thought it worth detailing more of the blah, blah now that there are some choices in the realm of NTN. Bootwise 75mm still gives the most options, and I’m quite happy with the binding choices as well. But the ability to add more features is limited in 75mm, so it is good to see the development continue. Slow adopters will be rewarded – and we can thank the early adopters for flushing out the flaws. ;)

  • skier

    nicely balanced article..as a skier who has both NT Spike and NTN Freeride (and soon Freedoms mounted up) I agree the NT Spike “skis” closest to the 75mm setup , 7TM Powers I had before. But the NT Spike offers free pivot, and much more edge control on hard snow than the 7TMs ever did.
    When I wore out my 75mm Ener-G boots, I made the move to the NTN Scarpa TX. The NTN boots are generally lighter, you have the option of using a Dynafit binding, they walk better, and are much easier to kick steps in, too.

  • http://ern.reeders.net.au/blog/ Ern Reeders

    Agree.

    But if you want to keep your old duckbill boots and want all the fruit salad, then 7TM offers it all (one caveat below): step-in (kind of), crampons, brakes, tour-mode, releaseability, active option (Power model).

    Caveat: the 7TM release really only works with lateral twist. I have a snapped ACL to prove it.

    And I guess the whole kit if you went for it just means more complexity and weight. Though I’ve not kept up with user posts reliability still seems to be good.

    It’s all a matter of what trade-offs you can live with.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ben.kadas Ben Kadas

    There are certainly some positive TTS developments on the horizon. This year Crispi Rando boots are coming into full production, bringing the total number of tech toe tele boots to five (six if you include the defunct F3).

    Speaking of DIY TTS, the set up pictured above with the Axl springs is one of two sets I built and skied last season, which along with a set of TTS Hammerheads, are ready to rock another season. These binding were well worth the effort for those looking to go big with TTS.

    The “next telemark norm” is looking better than ever :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/ben.kadas Ben Kadas

    7TM is pretty lackluster in the “power” category and the touring version has a lot of stack height and packs a pretty solid weight penalty. I agree there’s no reason to upgrade if your bindings and boots are “fresh”, but there’s also no reason to throw good money at old tech neither. Keep an eye on TTS, it’s just now starting to show it’s colors, pretty soon you’ll be able to have your cake and eat it too, all without ever having to play the NTN game.

  • Ern

    Yeah, I’m watching and waiting.
    Re the power of the 7TM Power binding, I’d rate it at about 2.5-3 of a HH.

  • Dostie

    @LW,

    First off – my apologies for not approving your comment in a timely fashion. Your embedded link prevented automatic approval and I don’t check that part of my site’s back end very often (obviously). You probably thought I was censoring you. Not on purpose. ;-)

    Now, to address your points.

    re: #1, the number of NTN tele boots.

    Apparently I wasn’t clear enough when I qualified the number five with “for those who chose to migrate to the NTN norm along the Dynafit style path illustrated by the Telemark Tech System (TTS)”. I can see how you thought I was selling NTN short. My perspective is and always has been backcountry focused and it appears that maybe I’m taking too strong of a stance on promoting the mountaineering aspect.

    Limiting the boots to 5 was intentional, but only because I wanted to be able to compare apples with apples, i.e., the same boot on any combination of those bindings. TTS does limit things there because of
    the tech inserts. I’m on record that is the future for tele. Without requiring tech inserts, there are plenty of good NTN telemark boots
    and thank you for providing all the details.

    re: #2 – TTS being a demonstrator binding, i.e., not ready for prime time.

    While
    in the long run I agree that TTS as it currently exists is still in beta form, call it beta-ii, it is commercially available. Not in great quantities, and neither is Spike. I consider them valid because there is a small cadre of pinners who have used ‘em and they DO work. Regarding the safety release of TTS, I agree it is not reliable; thought I have made that clear on several occasions. But it IS there and it is possible. Furthermore, it might be made to be more consistent and reliable for release in the future. I can dream, okay?

    #3, Freedom’s touring mode being much less resistive than the Freeride.

    We just disagree on this one. I’ll grant you the Freeride “might” provide a little bit less resistance than the Freeride, but it’s in the same range and is still significantly more than the Switchback brothers, O1, Enzo, Axl, or 7tm’s Tour let alone Dynafit, La Sportiva, Plum, Silvretta or Fritschi.

    #4, NTN being “simply the best” tele binding available.

    What part of “excellent downhill control” do you disagree with? To you it is simply the best and your point on “rewarding precise technique” is spot on. To me it is a valid option with excellent skiing performance, has a form of safety release that works well even though it isn’t certified, is easy to get in and out of, but falls short in the uphill efficiency department. A frictionless pivot matters a lot to me since I do a lot of skinning. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. ;)

    re: AT Apostle (Andrew McLean) being right that Dynafit is THE way to go if you want light weight and NTN is THE way if you want to tele.

    I’m half with you. If you really want to enjoy skiing, tele. Power is always fun to wield, so get a tele binding that helps deliver the goods. NTN is a great choice – but there are others and that’s part of the beauty of tele is that not everyone likes the same level of power. The Freedom offers a moderate power choice for those who are looking at new boots, and as you pointed out, there are a lot of them out there. In fact, there aren’t many more boot models available in the 75mm realm anymore either. If you’re going NTN, my advice is to get boots with Tech fittings so you can take advantage of what that has to offer down the road; either Dynafit with training heels or TTS, or both.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ben.kadas Ben Kadas

    I skied NTN bindings for a number of years, still have a set kicking around, but after breaking numerous versions from years one, two, and three, and having mediocre performance to boot, it’s a stretch to call them the best telemark binding.

    NTN skis okay, not as good as Axls, maybe as good as BD 01′s, but with unresolved issues including fragility, icing, excessive weight, non free pivot, and marginal power transfer, they are a long ways from perfect.

    NTN is essentially an underfoot cable/cartridge telemark binding with a midfoot retention point, nothing novel, the design is not going anywhere fast.

    On the other hand, TTS, though still in it’s infancy, promises lighter weight, the seperation of release from retention, and when it is fully fleshed out, a simple, durable, and powerful telemark binding.

    Granted, waiting is a hard thing to do, but it’s not like NTN is going anywhere fast, so you might as well keep an eye on TTS, it has the promise that NTN hasn’t kept.

  • http://ern.reeders.net.au/blog/ Ern Reeders

    Some big calls here.

    Midfoot retention *was* new.

    Issues:
    Excessive weight: shoot, Axls weigh near on 1 kg each.
    Fragility: at the start, yes with boots. But you must ski like Godzilla to trash the bindings.
    Pivot: there is now a good-enough pivot version.
    Marginal power transfer?: you gotta be kidding.

    I don’t hear anyone saying they’re perfect.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rupert.wong.7 Rupert Wong

    anyone know if the Freeride slides on the same mounting plate as the 1st gen NTN binding?

  • Dostie

    It does not. The plate had to be dropped to save weight. And the mounting plate for the Freeride is now pink plastic. Not sure who Rottefella consulted on their color scheme, but it certainly is at odds with the neon green trend.

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  • way2ski

    Good article, but there are a couple points not made. one- The NTN seems to be a lot heavier than lighter 75mm bindings. The Switchback is whole pound lighter than the Freeride. Using big heavy tele boots with big heavy skis it probably doesn’t matter, but I just got some cool carbon Megawatts that weigh less than my Scarpa boots! I hope Scarpa will put some carbon into a “next gen” tele boot and get few pounds out.

    The other point is crampons. I do envy AT gear for being about to use crampons that don’t “drag” on the slide. If NTN setups can accommodate AT type crampons that’d be a big plus for NTN.