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Aug 20 2011

Review: Rottefella’s NTN Freeride

It’s been five years now that NTN has been available – four if you only count the retail seasons. In that time it has managed to develop a small but enthusiastic band of converts that is growing steadily. When first introduced to the media in January 2007, it was a rather impressive system. Though a tad heavy, it functioned far better than expected. Even so, growth has been slow, partly due to a poorly matched system during its debut year on retailers shelves, and reduced demand for tele gear ever since.

Why do you want NTN Freeride? Jason Layh demonstrates with breakable crust.

Superior Turning Power
Despite these troubles, NTN showed right away that it was possible to deliver more lateral rigidity for better edging than ever before seen with a telemark system. Better than 22 Designs Hammerhead, arguably better than Bomber’s Bishop. That feature of NTNs performance has never wavered, nor has its range of tele resistance, the forward flexing resistance of the spring system. It isn’t as easy to adjust as Axl or Hammerhead, but it’s simple and allows micro-adjustability. Combined with the range of bellows stiffness available from Crispi, Garmont, or Scarpa, there is an NTN boot/binding combination on the market to satisfy your particular flex flavor.

Many have called this binding the Duke of telemark, not necessarily implying a royal heritage or qualities, but because like it’s alpine counterpart it is a beefy, downhill oriented binding with acceptable uphill performance. For those driving anything wider than 100mm at the waist, which is the only size ski that seems to sell anymore, the NTN Freeride is an excellent answer to the horsepower question such girth demands. For smaller skis it seems overkill, but aficionados swear by it regardless of what planks they mount ‘em to.

The 11/12 version of the NTN Freeride binding uses tempered T6 Al for the baseplate.

In addition to providing ample turning power, the Freeride offers three other very compelling features. Though it isn’t quite a step-in binding, you can easily get in and out of it without having to bend over. Key to this is the inclusion of ski brakes, to hold your ski still while you line up your boot on the toeplate. For those who have made the switch, this is perhaps NTN’s most endearing feature since all the others are closely matched or bettered by existing 75mm offerings. However, not having to bend over to put your skis on is one of those little conveniences that acquires more value over time.

Safety Release
The other key feature NTN provides that is absent with most 75mm bindings is a safety release. No, it is not DIN rated, but neither is Voile’s CRB and the 7tm is the only TUV certified telebinding that is. Nor is the release independent of the spring tension which reduces its reliability, especially with regard to how much your heel is lifted. Despite these potential impediments to releasability the word from the field is that it not only can release when you need it too, it probably will. At which point, you’ll appreciate the fact that it has ski brakes.

Early versions of the baseplate tend to bind on the heads of the mounting plate screws.

Though Rottefella doesn’t appear to officially recognize it, perhaps the best part of the release feature is how easily you can eject from the binding. Simply lift the front lever and the mechanism that clamps your boot between the toe and second heel opens up. Twist your boot and you’re free of your skis. I haven’t tested this in a real situation but it seems this could be activated if caught in an avy, making it – potentially – the first backcountry binding with an avy release.

One Binding per Quiver

Underside of 11/12 baseplate to be recessed 2mm to provide clearance from mounting plate screws.

Another, less obvious feature of the NTN binding is the mounting system. The frame of the binding slides on to a mounting plate that fits the standard 4-hole pattern adopted in North America, or using Rottefella’s slightly wider 4-hole pattern. Regardless of where you place the mounting screws, this system allows you to swap a single pair of bindings among a quiver of skis, each with their own mounting plate. The baseplates in the field already tend to bind on the heads of the screws for the mounting plate, which makes this switch less convenient than you would expect. This years baseplate will have the undersurface milled down to eliminate the friction this creates, making position adjustments or swapping as easy as originally promised.

Touring Mode

It has more free range of motion than standard cable bindings, but resistance increases after 30°+.

Where NTN looses it’s luster is when you’re earning, not burning turns. The touring pivot has the smallest range of motion (ROM) of any free-pivoting tele binding on the market, a mere 30°. To be sure, this is 30° is more than standard cable bindings, but a full third less than Axl and half the ROM of BD’s O1.

For short days, and especially on low angle climbs 30°+ is enough. When it gets steeper and/or you need to make a kick-turn on a steep slope, you’ll realize 30° does impose limits on your uphill abilities.

The climbing peg is easy to use, but only has one setting, 40mm above flat. Once you flip it up, you can subtract another five degrees from an already small ROM.

The heel post flips up for steep climbing, but then the ROM gets reduced another 5°.

It needs to be pointed out that the touring mode is not a true, free-pivot either. It provides a very small amount of resistance, not even enough for your legs to notice, but if you lift the toe plate with your hand you’ll notice it, and if you’re breaking trail in deep, light snow you’ll notice that your ski tips won’t float to the surface like they do with a frictionless toe pivot like the TTS binding or any of the 75mm norm touring bindings. On the positive side, when you’re doing a side-stepping uphill traverse, this small bit of resistance keeps the tails of your skis from falling away. For those who are only harvesting untracked snow on the other side of the boundary line, NTN provides more than adequate backcountry performance.

Switching to touring mode is done by flipping the inside lever in front of your toe. I’ve had mixed performance on this. For some bindings, it flips up easily with a tug from the underside of my ski pole handle. With others, it had too much resistance and required me to bend over and flip it up by hand. It would be nice to see Rottefella improve tolerances so it was always easy.

Sizing
One rather annoying aspect of the NTN Freeride is the decision to offer two different sized bindings, normal for boots mondo size 27.0 and larger, and a smaller version for shells mondo size 26.5 and smaller. Offering different sized bindings is a good thing, since the position of the second heel relative to the bellows must affect the flex of the system and you wouldn’t want the second heel to be in the same place for a size 24 as you would for size 30. However, making the break between a large and small near the middle of the curve for the most popular boot sizes defies practical logic.

Durability

Side view of the drawing for the 11/12 baseplate. Note the trimming of the baseplate at the lower rear.

In terms of durability, NTN’s performance is a bit tarnished. Numerous reports of the aluminum frame cracking have been published on the telemarktips.com forum (hdiddy’s compilation of NTN breakage on TTIPs). I haven’t experienced any cracks but such flaws aren’t a stretch considering how soft and easily bent the frame is.

Rottefella maintains that most of the problems are with the first generation of production bindings, er, after their first round of major “small” changes. For existing users, this link of Preventative Maintenance for NTN crackin’ frames may be worth perusing.

According to Rottefella engineers, they make small adjustments to their bindings every year, the NTN Freeride is no exception. Depending on how you define versions, the binding being sold for the 11/12 season will be v3 or v2.3. The biggest changes for this year appear to be using T6 aluminum for the frame with some additional heat treating. Radiuses have been increased at stress points and the lower rear corners are trimmed back to allow the ski to flex without compressing the frame. Just to be sure, Rottefella has increased the warranty back to two years.

A quick comparison of features for equally powerful tele bindings.

If fat is where it\’s at for you, NTN delivers rock solid control, plus release.

Conclusion
There is no denying that NTN delivers some righteous turns, especially if your preference is for planks from the fat farm. The way the toe plate clamps your boot fore and aft give it unbeatable torsional rigidity, on par with alpine bindings yet with a free heel. For aggressive skiing, it is worth serious consideration. When you’re ready to head out of bounds, just flip the lever up and enjoy the freedom of a free heel. Perfect for the telemarker who prefers to maximize turning, but isn’t afraid of the occasional tour for freshies either. It would be nice to have more range of motion, and less weight, but for that you’ll have to wait for Rottefella’s touring version (Freedom), available soon, geologically speaking.

NTN Freeride 11/12 • $ 395 • 4 lbs. 1 oz. (1.85 kg) per pair
Size range (mondo): Std – 27-31.5, Small – 23 – 26.5
Ski Brake widths: 95mm, 110mm, 125mm • 2nd Ski Mounting Plate w/heel (MSRP): $ 59.95

 

Other relevant posts:
Rottefella’s NTN arrives…FINALLY! – Beta version,
reprinted from Couloir Vol. XIV-5, March 2007 (RIP).

3rd time’s the Charm: NTN Revelation originally published at backcountrymagazine.com.

NTN Wiki

Vid showing NTN’s downhill advantage.

© 2011

 

  • http://nnmae.org Sangre de Cristo

    Nice comprehensive review Mr. D. I have a couple of things to add:

    - The mounting pattern for newer NTNs (shipped 10-11) was only the six-hole Rotte pattern. The four hole standard/Rotte mount seems to be discontinued.

    - An NTN wiki has been developed and has a lot of good tech info and resources:
    http://www.newtelemarkguide.com/wiki/New_Telemark_Guide

  • http://www.bae1.com davismatt66

    Craig- it’s “the guy with the yellow shorts” from Little Baja. Happy to have found your site on BC skiing. Much as I’m looking forward to the snow, let’s hope the wind keeps going in the Delta a bit longer!

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    Matt,

    Amen to that. I’m hoping for another on time winter (resorts open by Thanksgiving) but an extension of summer at Sherman Island until the end of September. I’d like to learn how to self launch so I can start sailing in my back yard (literally). ;)

    Sangre,

    Thanks for the update and correction. Obviously I haven’t actually taken the new binding out for a whirl…but the main performance features haven’t changed all that much. With luck it will be worth spending more time on NTN this coming winter.

  • teletilyouresmelly

    Excellent, glad I correctly predicted frame changes to address the cracking issue! So is that all 3 new telebindings from the show (new NTN frame, TTS, Switchback2)?

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    Nope. You’re batting 1 out of 3 on that comment. Maybe one and a half. ;)

  • teletilyouresmelly

    hmm, well if they can add release & brakes to the TTS then I’ll be a convert . . .

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    You can have brakes by using the La Sportiva toe. Release is already indigenous, though not the same sort of safety release you have with Rottefella’s NTN Freeride. I’d call it an unreliable, catastrophic release. It may be reliable, but there aren’t enough folks using it to be able to make that determination based on feedback from the field.

  • hdiddy

    I’ll bite: Rotte will announce the NTN BC version for the ’12/’13 season and show it off at SIA/OR this coming winter.

    Feature:
    * Tech fitting style binding for the toe. Total free ROM for the up.
    * Underfoot cabling as in NTN Freeride.
    * Less weight than Freeride, but still heavier than dynafit.

    My proof: Look at every boot manufacturer (except for Garmont) – they all have serious boots with tech fittings in the toe. Garmont probably has a tech fitting NTN boot in the works but it seems they always like to announce things much later than everybody else (see how the Prophet was released to the public). TTS lit the fire under Rotte’s ass and cannot afford to leave it out there unchallenged. It’s a win for consumers either way.

  • nurse ben

    Gotta wonder if increasing the stiffness/strength of the NTN frame will lead to increased binding pull out, esp if Rotte hasn’t increase ROM at the same time. Overall it looks like the same package, longer warranty, same problems…

    Hey Dostie, I’m gonna give the TTS another shot this season, will let you know how that turns out. Apparently the new TTS plate has multiple positions for changing resitance and with the possibility of brakes using the La Sportiva toe, lightweight, true free pivot, and true release.

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    hdiddy,

    You got it. I don’t know all the details, but yes, Rotte’s planning to introduce a touring version of NTN. Don’t think tech fittings are part of the plan, but they’re not sharing details yet.

    Nurse Ben,

    Looking forward to your report. After having bent the NTN frame repeatedly during a binding test with Backcountry Mag, and the things still worked, I’ve always wondered why they have so much superflous mass off the back. Seems you need to support the toe, but the sidewalls don’t do anything that I can tell once past the ski brake.

  • http://www.thompsonpass.com Valdez Telehead

    Thanks for a good review. I though this was originally a touring binding and now its not? I pointed out very early in the NTN debate about the ROM and the telegod(s) at ttips seemed to simply ignore that fact as not a deal breaker. Seems now it is very big deal and Rotte may be coming out with a “touring version.” What is really laughable is a 4 pound telemark binding in 2012.

    I agree with Dawson…MOUSETRAP!

  • tele.skier

    Craig, if you look at the back portion of your flex plate, you will see how the rails of the binding scar the end of the flex plate. I think the rails help to capture the flex plate when it’s down and transfer lateral force into the frame/ski.

    The ROM isn’t a big deal VT, it’s more the pivot mode. After a few thousand feet of climbing, there’s a big difference between free pivot and almost free pivot…. I could live with 30 degrees if they had an actual free pivot.

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    re: use of T6 aluminum. My bad. Rottefella began using heat treated aluminum in the baseplate two years ago. I’ll update the post to reflect that. However, as to exactly what sort of aluminum alloy they’re using, that information was not provided. Hopefully it will be forthcoming but that won’t be the last of the public criticisms – you can bet on that. :-)

  • teletilyouresmelly

    Everyone seems to have a different opinion on the tour mode – I don’t notice the 30 degrees only, even on a steep skin track (and I made my own free-pivot bindings before they were available – I recognize the importance of a good tour mode), and I cannot notice the 3 oz of resistance even on long climbs & switchbacks (and I actually like it when I need to lift my feet out of the snow to make a move). Yes it’s heavy compared to tech fitting bindings (and the TTS may be a game changer), but it’s comparable to other tour mode bindings, especially when the weight of the boots is factored in.

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    Part of the beauty of tele is that performance is more like a continuum, not a specific value. Thus, while I recognize the value of more or less power in turn mode, I prefer medium. Not too much, not too little.

    In tour mode, range of motion does matter and I CAN tell the difference with NTN, or Axl, or Switchback. TTYS can tell too, but NTN’s ROM doesn’t cramp his style. Awesome. It does limit mine. Thank goodness we have choices.

    And thanks for chiming in. My reviews are my perspective. Yours may differ. Presenting the reason for the differences is important to share so others can glean insight.

  • nurse ben

    Lack of ROM does make a difference, it’s why we are discussing it, and it’s why free pivot bindings were invented.

    The advantage of NTN has always been in the overall package versus a single characteristic, problem is, folks want NTN to improve and it’s really not.

    Hopefully this year there will be more TTS users to flush out that system and a full fledged “big boot/ski” alternative from Burnt Mountain Designs.

    Holding out on Rotte to do anything more than change bindings colors is challenging to even the most failthful, it has been five years already…

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