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Dec 07 2011

Rottefella to add Freedom to NTN choices

Ever since their bobbled introduction to the market in 2007 the long term future of Rottefella’s new telemark norm (NTN) has been suspect. Had Rottefella been able to deliver the beta version of their binding to the public, things might have gotten off to a better start. Except they modified it before coming to market to ‘fix’ problems they knew would inevitably kill it anyway.

New Telemark Norm - the shape of things to come,
or that came?

Thus, despite being at least two years late, they had a ‘classic’ introduction to the launch of a new system, full of promise and fraught with niggling shortcomings and problems with durability. Even so, the leading seller of NTN boots, Scarpa USA, has consistently maintained that for a new product introduction sales and growth of NTN are phenomenal. It may not seem that way compared to 75mm offerings, but it is easy to forget the plastic teleboot market had more than 15 years momentum when NTN was introduced.

In response to growing frustration by US retailers dealing with excessive returns Rottefella extended their warranty from one to two years this past summer, effectively kicking the can down the road on durability issues. Meanwhile, they revised the frame that NTN is built around, potentially solving them. As with all things NTN, only time will tell.

The shortcomings of NTN are only evident when compared to the feature set of the mythical Tele Grail, particularly with regard to how well it tours. It isn’t light by a long shot, and while it does have a relatively free pivot, 30 degrees is a noticeable limit that is clearly inferior to other telemark touring bindings.

It isn’t quite a step-in binding, but when you consider how well it skis, or that it offers releasability, the importance of touring fades, especially if you spend the majority of your time close to the lifts. And if manufacturers were correct to insist that the majority of telemarkers do spend most of their time in-bounds why hasn’t the still sizable tribe of telemarkers switched en masse?

Let me suggest two reasons.

First, while many telemarkers may make most of their turns under the lifts, the heart and soul of telemarking remains in the backcountry. So even if they don’t spend most of their time in the backcountry, but especially if they do, uphill performance matters as much as downhill for most telemarkers. Besides, even if they only use the free-pivot occasional, it only takes a couple hundred steps to recognize that 30° is a limit. It is acceptable to NTN’s zealous converts, but a limit nonetheless.

Thankfully Rottefella has not only recognized the importance of touring, but has taken steps to address it. Besides making structural changes to the NTN binding for this season, they also gave it a name. Prior to the Eleven-12 season it was simply known as the NTN binding. But now it has a name, the Freeride, in order to distinguish it from its soon to be introduced sibling, the Freedom, optimized for the tour.

According to sources who have skied it the Freedom will have a free-pivot range of motion over 65° (they claim 90° but I don’t believe it). To chop weight, the bulk of the frame has been abandoned and with it a noticeable (but not dramatic) amount of torsional rigidity and it retains releasability and convenient latching in or exiting the binding. With any luck, this will provide the missing ingredient necessary for any technology to survive – choice.

That’s the second thing, to date there is no competitive offering. It has become evident that without a choice, without competition, new products inevitably languish because their finite feature limits have a corresponding limit in the marketplace. With choice, the range of appeal expands and the acceptance of the base technology grows. Witness the explosion of Alpine Touring bindings once manufacturers realized backcountry converts demanded a binding that resembled their in-bounds version, but allowed for free-heeled skinning. Or the number of different tech-fiddle bindings now that the basic Dynafit patent has expired.

And so it will be for NTN. Interest in NTN is growing dramatically each year, but the numbers are still small compared to the overall telemark market. Until they allow or encourage competition, NTN will languish. By at least offering a choice of bindings Rottefella has done all they can to insure the platform will survive until such time as they can’t prevent competition. In this writers opinion, the sooner other ideas enter the marketplace, the sooner NTN will truly overcome the limitations the 75mm norm holds telemark to.

Related Posts
Official Rottefella Freedom page
Alex Paul skinning w/Freedom prototype
Review of NTN Freeride
Circle back to TTIPS discussion

© 2011
 

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    Actually, there is a third reason I avoided mentioning. That many telemark skiers, rather than buy a new free-pivoting tele binding simply switched to Dynafit and obtained a lighter, more efficient, releasable binding in exchange for abandoning the tele turn.

    Half of them will come back as soon as something like TTS or Rotte’s new touring binding catch fire.

  • nurse ben

    After six years, Rottefella et al can no longer use paint and chrome to obscure their lack of tech. Recognizing that they are at risk of falling behind the curve as new products outstrip NTN in performance, durability, and tourability, they are putting some money into making a touring binding when they ought to improve their existing binding.

    As it stands, NTN has never been more than a novel way to “step in” to a underfoot cable binding. Performance and durability remain lackluster, so instead of broadening the appeal of telemark, NTN has narrowed access and dumbed down performance.

    It’ll be interesting to see the new binding.

  • teletilyouresmelly

    Yes Nurse Ben, we crossovers from Teletips know of your particular dislike of NTN. But most of us that have tried it really like its performance and have stayed with it, many of us even find its current tourability quite good- but this is certainly a good step for the many who love NTN at the resort but find its current tourability lacking!

    So it sounds like this won’t available until next season?

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    ’tis true, it won’t be available until Fall 2012. I’m psyched to see the option coming though and just hope that one of the boot manufacturers will also be providing a boot that is more touring friendly at the same time.

  • nurse ben

    Yes, a lighter weight boot will be key, not everyone wants to haul around a four buckle boot. Lightweight, tourability, and flexibility remain the hallmark of the 75mm norm until a better choice comes along.

    Having skied TTS exclusively since last Spring, I’m amazed that there is so little discussion on the system, esp since it offers nearly all the pros of NTN, plus it’s lighter, tours better, and is more active.

  • http://loneclone.org rando

    I am one of those folks who gave up on tele after NTN came out. I moved to AT and Dynafit. I just got tired of waiting for the industry to come out with a decent lightweight releasable binding. Still waiting. I like the TTS system but the BIG drawback is no boots. Ok, I can lug a hefty NTN boot or a Scarpa F1, but I want to use something like a T2 or even a T3.

    Frankly the only thing tele setups buy me is ease of touring on long trips with not a lot of vert. With my AT I am skiing steeper lines and having a blast.

    I would be nice if BD bought TTS and then made tele boots with the DF insert.

  • snowy

    Dogpile on NTN? Not entirely. I am trying to absorb teletilyouresmelly’s points but I think I’m with Ben et al. Putting aside specific gripes about NTN, the thing I worry about from the larger perspective.

    Folks may not come back to tele when they’ve made the AT gear leap. The window for a light set up a la the TTS is not going to last forever. If there isn’t a critical mass that picks up tele soon it will continue to shrink. How small? Who can say? At retailers here in Canada it used to be half the backcountry ski section, now it is less than a third of the display area in some cases. If this continues tele will end up with something like monoboard status because a whole generation of skiers may just give it a pass. If that happens we all lose no matter your preferred binding flavor.

  • Pingback: Rottefella adds Freedom to NTN choices | Telemark skiing | Scoop.it

  • http://www.nstelemark.com nstelemark

    Josh Madsen shot some footage of the new Freedom binding on snow today.

    You can find some screen caps and the links to the video here

    I don’t see much more than 45° ROM. But since I don’t have an issue with 30° it is pretty moot to me :-)

  • nurse ben

    @ Rando:

    As long as telemark bindings continue to insist on pinching the boots between heel and toe, the system ain’t going anywhere different, and AT will continue to draw crowds.

    So last night, this “fraud and hack” took to the work bench and did the unthinkable: HH with Dynafit toes.

    Does it work? Wouldn’t you like to know. :)

    BTW, a pair of TX is only 240gm heavier than a Garmont Excursion, and the TX Pro is not much more, but if you must have a lighter boot, ala T3, simply buy some TX and cut the shell down, grind the heels and drill the heel block, you could have it all with a little elbow grease.

    My TX are lighter than T3, just saying…

    Look for some more news on TTS in the next month, in the meantime save those pennies for some tech toes and tech boots.

    Support your local telemark tinkerer, down with the evil empire. ;)

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    nstele,

    What I noticed in the skinning vid is a technique that lacks glide in the stride. Rather than sliding the ski forward, the skier (Alex Paul?) is lifting his foot in a manner similar to a regular walking stride. If one skins that way, you don’t need much ROM.

    The screen grab shot on the downhill vid suggests that the Freedom is less active than the Freeride and allows your foot to rise up significantly. Makes me wonder about how strong the sensation of ball of foot pressure is.

  • danpeck

    Is it really true that most tele skiers spend most of their time in bounds? Really? I don’t believe that. I realize that I am one person and I don’t know all tele skiers in the world. But everyone I know, in WA, UT, and OR that teles spends most of their time in the backcountry–some NEVER go to the resorts.

    I am discouraged that the manufacturers and vendors have this perception because I’ve been patiently waiting for a lighter weight, powerful, touring, releasable binding. I feel like if someone would build this binding–skiers would flock to it. I feel that everyone is just holding out–waiting. NTN hasn’t fit the bill yet.

    Yes, AT with tech bindings is more efficient in many ways–It is my preferred way to go on High multi-day Traverses and sketchy conditions where safety and preservation of energy is key. But I prefer Tele in every other circumstance. I love having options. I love the soul in tele.

    NTN just seems to be over engineered–too many parts and pieces.

    I feel like the manufacturers are out of touch with their customers when it comes to the passion behind tele–especially when I hear that the perception is that tele skiers are primarily in bounds. Maybe they just interviewed tele skiers at the resorts? It makes sense that if that was the case the stats would be biased. Maybe they should go hunting for skiers in the backcountry.

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    Dan,

    If you’re using Dynafit for multi-day traverses already then the answer is already here – the TeleTechSystem. Lots of tele power, very little weight. It just requires a pair of NTN boots with the tech fittings.

    As for manufacturers insisting on tele skiers spending the majority of their time under the lifts — this is the result of flawed data sampling.

    Witness SIA claiming there are over 1-million telemark skiers in the United States. Encouraging, but not a reflection of reality.

  • danpeck

    Dostie,

    I just learned about the TTS–and I have to say I am extremely interested and excited by the developments here. I just read through the reviews here–I am very curious as to how it will feel. I like to go deep into my turns and so I’m curious how that will evolve as the system is perfected or made more flexible for different styles.

    But I think you are right–as to something for the high traverses I do, the TTS as it is now would work.

    Can’t wait to try it.

    I just read the article on the numbers of Tele skiers–my feeling is that tele may not necessarily grow, but it will stay constant and likely grow as equipment continues to improve.

    I like the idea that the more innovation we have, the more competition, the more all backcountry forms of riding will grow. I think that once the Holy Grail (Possibly TTS) is marketed, we’ll see a rebound in tele skiers investing in new set ups. I think a lot of us are just watching and waiting to see what happens.

    Thanks for the reply! It is encouraging to see positive beta that, in fact, tele is NOT dead!

  • teletilyouresmelly

    I don’t know how to quantify “most” in this context, but I know some tele skiers mostly BC, some mostly ski the resort, and most do both in fairly equal proportions- it’s not really something to argue about- there needs to be different products for different people depending on what they do. I’m pretty 50/50 but even if I was 100% BC I’d still use the NTN for it’s releasability, full-function brakes and step-in convenience which is really handy in tight spots. The new version will be great for those focusing on BC, and maybe for all of us if it has the same skiing performance and other features.

  • danpeck

    Teletilyoursmelly:

    Agreed. I just get discouraged when it appears that those investing in and making bindings have the allusion that tele is dying and that no one tele’s in the BC anymore. I’m hoping that others out there will invest and compete for the best tele bc releasable touring machine. I really believe that if the products are made that modern tele demands, it will thrive and grow. There is simply nothing like it.

    I’m very honed in on the safety of a releasable binding. W/ 4 children and a lovely wife–I can’t die in the BC :)…. So I’m intrigued by the 2 options: NTN and TTS. Which one is for me? …

  • Ben Kadas

    Dan, you are not asking for too much, release is one of the most important features and it has been sorely neglected in telemark bindings for some time. The few telemark bindings that have a reliable release are not bad bindings per se, but they are not as performance oriented as the non-releasables. It’s sad that binding mfgs seem to be telling us to choose performance or release, but not both.

    TTS has a very nice release with the toe in ski mode (unlocked), though only about DIN 5 and not adjustable unless upgraded to an RTK/La Sportiva toe. It is a safer way to ski in dangerous conditions, when learning, or if you need to have both legs to do your job :-)

    About the only real downside to TTS, other than lacking data points, is the cost of the set up. In contrast to other high end telemark bindings, TTS will cost a minimum $500 which includes tech toes, mounting plates, and spring assembly. The pair I review in my upcoming article is a $750 investment not including sweat equity.

    TTS works, and in the end that’s what really matters.

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    In Rottefella’s defense, I’m hopeful this new binding will have enough power, ROM, and the same level of release as the existing NTN binding. Am rather impressed by Marcus’ account at Turns All Year of getting caught in a slide and losing a ski because it released (as one would hope in this situation).

    While I’m no longer convinced of the necessity for a “safety” release with telemark, in the case of an avalanche I do want an easy release. The fact that he lost his ski – apparently without any ‘manual’ intervention, seems to suggest that it is a release mechanism that will let go in an avalanche. How reliable that is is anyone’s guess, but I know that even AT bindings don’t release reliably in this situation.

    Would TTS release as well in an avy? I doubt it.

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

    Thanks for the update.

  • Ben Kadas

    “Would TTS release as well in an avy?”

    They release fine, not that I’ve had mine come off in an avalanche; I tend to avoid sliding snow, but like I said: “DIN 5 unlocked, DIN 10 locked”.

    If I can get my lazy arse to the local ski shop, I want to borrow their test equipment and get some release values, maybe this week if I can get some shopping done.

    What is clear to me is that if we can go from counting “clicks” on the tech toe piece to a measurable scale, possibly using an RTK toe, TTS could be a viable releasable tele binding.

    Other than the potential releasability for TTS, the only binding I would trust to release is 7TM.

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    Release in an avy is not the same as safety release at all. The only binding I might “trust” for release in an avy is NTN (by manually pulling up on the toe lever).

    As for safety release in a bad fall, I’d pretty much trust ‘em all, including (or especially) Voile’s CRB. I don’t use any of them because of weight and my personal experience suggesting safety release for tele is not that necessary.

  • NW to SW

    I became a tele skier when I couldn’t afford lift tickets in college. At that point, it was a departure from the steeps and more focus on the turn; it is a beautiful thing. I’ve always had light BC gear, with a T3 as my stiffest boot and a Superloop binding.

    Now in my late 30s, I’ve become more ‘aggressive’ with my skiing and bought into the NTN with the TX and K2 Wayback. The control is amazing, and complements my alpine skiing background. I’m not a ‘knee on the ground’ tele skier like some of my friends. What really sold me is the one boot idea as I want to get a light TLT setup and ski the steeps. I was however humbled at Silverton last month and kept my tele turns to the nice cruisers, and was able to power through the steeps just fine without dropping my knee. On any other setup, I’d probably be leaning back and burning out. The one thing that would seal the deal for me is a lockable heel on the NTN system, then I can have one ski – one boot – one binding.

  • hammer_vn

    re. cost of a TTS system

    I’m not sure why Ben said it would cost a minimum of $500 to get a TTS binding.
    I set one up for $300 plus another $150 for some used F1 boots.

    Dynafit toes: about $125-200

    Riser/pivots and connecting rods: $150 from Mark Lengel.
    You could make these yourself, but his kit works and is well made.
    You may choose to not use his mounting plate depending on your toes and boots.
    Heel springs/throws: $0?
    Most people who are thinking about putting a TTS binding together have
    old telemark bindings – I just used old G3 heel parts (springs and heel throws).

    I’m just starting to ski my setup regularly, but it skis well.
    I’ve been exclusively skiing without the toe locked and I’ve had no inadvertent releases. Extremely powerful with the F1 and pivot location I’ve chosen…

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    I don’t understand why Ben thinks $500 either, except I also don’t think many people need or are willing to go to the lengths to tinker with their bindings to the degree that Ben has, or even tele.skier has (see modifying NTN for better touring).

    Mark Lengel has made what is a rather large project for the average telemarker a relatively easy upgrade for a few hundred bucks. When you add in what your time is worth, plus all scrounging and modifying all the parts an upgrade kit is a steal. Shoot, even a full binding with the Dynafit toes is a good deal when you consider what your time is worth in building it yourself.

    But some folks won’t be satisfied any other way. C’est la vie.

  • hammer_vn

    Yep, the TTS binding is definitely a fun opportunity to test out a new idea at a reasonable cost (if you choose).

    I do hope the NTN Freedom proves to be very successful and finally jump starts that market (they are now posted at 1480g/pair – not bad for release and brakes!). Clearly some people love NTN and get excellent long-term durability while some seem to break them. Whatever the reason, success on the NTN front will help development in telemark gear. I agree with the discussion above that more competition in binding makers using the NTN platform can only help.

    On the TeleTech system, I hope Mark Lengel can ladder some of his efforts into a production binding – likely working with one of the big boys. Unless serious testing by groups with appropriate facilities proves that the TTS concept isn’t durable (for the wide range of telemark styles), I’d be surprised if one of the binding manufactures doesn’t come out with that system. G3 seems to be very well positioned since they make all of the components already! We’ll see.

    The other required development for tele is to get at least a couple of light boot choices on the market again. It’s frustrating seeing the surge of light AT boots and not having any comparable tele boot offerings. It’s especially frustrating when one used to ski boots that were light… So far, the F1s seem to work quite well on the TTS binding. I’d like to get a few more skis in different conditions in before I really pass judgment, but so far so good.

    As for touring in the F1, it’s a joy to be in a boot that hikes so well – something that friends using F1s, Maestrales and TLT5s have been delighting in for a while now. If you can design an F1 to walk like that it should be built into all non-race tele-boots. Why NOT?

    Sorry for the long rambling post. I guess I’m just excited about the potential for improvements in tele gear is there right now. It will be fun to watch what develops over the next year.

  • danpeck

    Yes.

    We need the lightweight tele boot and the lightweight, releasable, touring, tele machine binding!

    Who will do it?

    I agree that it is frustrating to see AT get all the development.

    Dan

  • Ben Kadas

    Hammer,

    My pricing is based on having to buy a complete tech binding, heels and toes; sales of toes “only” are very limited in the USA. If you spend $250 on some TLT Speed, then add in some plates, heels, wires and cartridges, the cost won’t be quite $500, but it is certainly more than a couple hundred dollars.

    I am now skiing two sets of TTS bindings, one based on the Axl (reviewed) and one based on the Hammerhead (review pending). These bindings were purpose built for big skiers who charge hard and ski low (my style).

    I met with Mark over the holidays, showed him my bindings, all in hopes that he’ll work on developing some heavy telemark bindings to complement the current TTS. He liked the TTS Axl :)

    So will NTN be any better in the new clothes? Perhaps, but the system will still be fighting the same fundamental problem that has plagued telemark since the loss of the three pins: retention of the toe being dependent on the use of a heel.

    I think folks get overly concerned about weight. Lightweight, durablity, and performance: pick two.