Decision time can be a nail biting experience. At what point do you go ahead and make the plunge? When it’s time for a new binding or boot the question on the table is whether to stick with the duckbill (75mm) or switch to a duckbutt (NTN).
Since its introduction in 2007 telemarkers are slowly being magnetized by the power and control that NTN provides. Those who spend most days burning turns have already fallen under the spell of NTN. With the announcement that the Freedom binding will have touring performance on par with 75mm offerings, NTN has even more appeal.
Telemarkers who earn more than they burn have been holding out for better uphill performance, at least 50° worth. Rottefella claims 90° but they’re talking about the range of motion possible at your knee, which is a combination of the range of motion of the toe plate, plus the flex of your sole, ankle, and knee. Based on a photo of a boot pivoted forward while in tour mode the ROM of the NTN Freedom is at least 50°. It may not be record setting, but 50° is plenty for making jack-knife sharp kick turns when you need them.Like its predecessor the Freeride, there remains a light amount of tension while touring with the Freedom. Even though the pivot is not frictionless, it has way less resistance than when the toe is locked. If you’re just heading up a skin track, it is difficult to even notice. When you want to make a tight switchback, that resistance means you need to snap the tail of the ski just right, and with enough force to overcome the light tension to get the tips to come up. It isn’t anything a bit of practice can’t cure, unless you’re too lazy to learn.
That light resistance feels like a lot when you lift the toe plate with your hands in tour mode, but you can hardly feel it with your legs. There will, however, be a few other consequences to this. Firstly, ski tips will not float to the surface in super light fluff. This will be more evident the lighter the snow is, and less obvious as snow density increases, or the width of your ski increases. Also, that minor tension may take a toll on a big vertical day, sapping strength slowly but surely. However the good news is that light tension will allow you to do a side-stepping motion on a traverse without the tails of your skis dropping your way. For the majority of days and conditions though, the light resistance is an acceptable compromise to enjoy the many other benefits that NTN offers.
When I finally had a chance to handle the binding one of my concerns was that you would need to bend over to pull on the pink tab to put it in touring mode. Indeed, you can, but there’s really no need. To flip it in to tour mode, flip up the front lever with the ledge of your ski pole handle. This will release the clamp on the 2nd heel, but as it releases the cable tension in the binding it also causes the mode switch to pop up. With it accordioned up you can toggle the front lever back down leaving your boot clamped to the binding, but in touring mode. An easy maneuver, and you don’t need to bend over either.
To get the total weight under 3½ pounds and keep Rottefella’s touring mechanism – a design first seen on the Cobra Free and used with the NTN Freeride – required some serious rethinking. At a certain point weight does make a serious difference, and four pounds, while bearable, is pushing the limits of reasonable weight for a touring binding.
So Rottefella went back to the drawing board, so to speak.
Metal was pared back where ever possible, from skeletonizing the front lever to flat out eliminating the binding frame and mounting plate. I realized the necessity of the binding frame was questionable when I bent about four of them during a test for Backcountry magazine in 2008. They iced up on to the mounting plate and the plates were binding on the heads of the mounting screws. Since I didn’t have a hammer, I tried kicking them off and bent the frames in the process. Andrew McLean had big fun documenting that. After rebending ‘em with pliers they survived the rest of the test.
Current NTN customers will complain about the loss of the mounting plate but it simply had to go to keep the weight down. In addition the mounting pattern was changed from a 4-hole to a 6-hole pattern. This same 6-hole pattern will be adopted on future mounting plates for the NTN Freeride to make swapping bindings possible without drilling new holes, but swapping bindings between Freedom and Freeride won’t be easy.
Overall entrance and exit to the binding is the same as the NTN Freeride. It’s fast and easy, maybe even easier than the Freeride version.
How does it feel when arcing? . . . Like an NTN binding.
On an early morning tour at the recent Outdoor Retailer On-Snow Demo day Rottefella reps took pains to explain that the Freedom wasn’t as powerful, torsionally rigid, or as quick to respond as the Freeride. That may be true, but in two quick runs on scrappy hardpack the difference was hard to tell, even though I compared the two bindings side by side for half a run. My experience suggests the Freedom delivers powerful yet soulfully deep tele turns, and holds a solid edge on hardpack. For reference I was skiing in TX-Pro boots with blue springs at level 3 (out of 5).
It is worth mentioning that not everyone in the media group was enamored with how NTN skied. Then again, I remember having to make adjustments to my telemark style when first converting from leather to plastic, and again from 75mm to NTN. Thus, the basic ‘feel’ of the Freedom binding is very similar to the Freeride and will require some technique adjustment if you’re coming directly from a 75mm cable binding.
I would be remiss if I overlooked one of the more compelling features of NTN — the release system. When the heel is flat it offers a safety release based on the tension of the clamping cable. It isn’t DIN rated or TUV certified, but it does seem to work. Plus, I’ll keep saying it, it has a quick release that could make it easy to jettison those skis on command if you’re riding a rumbling slab of doom. Just pull up on the front lever and your binding opens up and you get to say bye bye to those anchors formerly known as skis. This move ought to help you stay on top – but no guarantees.
Overall my first impression is that Rottefella has finally delivered a binding that not only provides powerful turns, safety release, convenient entrance and exit from the binding, and brakes, but now it comes with a touring feature that isn’t limited by a less than adequate range of motion. Rottefella is even planning to offer crampons to go with the Freedom binding. If you’ve been waiting for the promise of NTN to be fulfilled, there isn’t much reason to sit on the fence any longer, but you will have to wait until Fall 2012.