Aug 11 2010

NTN rumors at Summer OR 2010

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.

  • Mark

    I’d like to see competitors come forward and bring more offerings to the market. Competition is good.

  • https://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    Iron sharpens iron.

  • dj

    “If these ideas are successfully developed there may be an alternative NTN binding available in as little as two years.”

    No. Not in two years or twenty with this “technology”.

    Why? Because telemark BOOT technology is now almost 20 years old and it is obsolete. So why keep a system developed for an obsolete platform alive when a new system that was actually better could be developed?

    Anyway, without a new and much better boot (active and intelligent) a “good” telemark system is impossible. Without more range of motion at the “ball” of the foot, the binding will always be required to do more than just “bind” the boot to the ski.

    (All a binding should have to do and then it can be simple, light and strong, like dynafit.)

    Where it all falls apart is the need for the binding to also be active. This is necessary as today’s boots cannot provide the range of motion needed to do a “proper” telemark turn (not going into that debate right now). The ball of the foot has to come off the ski when the bellows pack in.

    Breaking contact with the ball of the foot and the ski is bad enough (and you can debate this all you want but biomechanically I am fully capable of keeping complete forefoot contact with my ski even in the deepest stance) but this requirement creates more problems than it solves for the binding system.

    To allow “telemark” motion requires either a lot of boot and binding slop in the system (as was the reality of the technology when the telemark technique was created) or a whole bunch of moving parts (pivots, axes, etc).

    A binding that allows this motion will therefore allow a lot of momentum to develop within the system (it is the distal joint in a long closed chain loop). More parts are needed to attenuate the forces and keep the system from being torn apart. The binding becomes complex, heavy and not strong enough (as it seems to be the case here).

    My prediction is we will see a few attempts that try to nail the forefoot to the deck using boots of today (dynafit toe with a rear hold down that allow dynafit style touring). There will be carnage when users want to (or have to) go into a low telemark stance. The boot will initially allow motion at the bellow but when they pack out there will be nothing to absorb this force. Tip dive in powder or ripped and busted binding will be the result.

    This is the reality of this kind of system and why no one will ever get it right. It cannot be done.

  • https://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie


    You make some interesting points. The only one I’ll quibble with you on is the ability to actually, physically hold the ball of your foot on the ski (er, the binding). I’ve NEVER seen it done in reality. I know that when we are executing a powerful feeling tele turn it sure feels like we have contact, but as I said years ago, it’s just “a figment of your sensation.”

    Time will tell if all your other predictions are accurate. They may be. I am not a strong proponent of the existing NTN system, but do hold out hope for the concept (not the current execution) since the idea of having tele boots that don’t require a duckbill is appealing from a mountaineering perspective. If you’re stickin’ to snow though, 75mm is good enough. Not that there isn’t room for improvement, but it reliably puts a grin on my face every time I go out. ;)

  • dj

    Oh I have the ability to keep the ball of my foot on the ski. What you are talking about is keeping the ball of the foot on the ski while the foot is in a ski boot and in a telemark binding.

    The old leather boot technology did not have enough true range of motion either and the ball of the foot would come off the ski in a deep tele turn. However there is enough range of motion in my FOOT to keep the ball on the ski even in the deepest stance.

    Don’t mistake the boot for the foot. This will keep you from seeing what is possible.

    Anyway, telemark technique grew out of the ski technology of the time. Today there is some perverse desire to take the telemark technique and develop new binding technology for said technique. This is a terrible premise for good development.

    Today there is way to much debate on what “telemark” really is. The plastic boot revolution took an elegant analog technique and forced it into a robotic digital experience. The new boots allow a lot for force to be transmitted into the ski and caused a lot of broken binding until they were upgraded to deal with this new reality.

    This then led us down the ridiculous path to the NTN.

    Since I was always a “skier” first, the technique I used I was secondary to the ability to get into the backcountry, summit peaks and ski powder. I telemarked for 20 years simply because that was the gear available for light and fast ski mountaineering. I would still like to telemark sometimes but the penalty for using the gear simply outweighs the advantages.

    When the rest of the players fail with this attempt may be someone will realize that a new boot is required before the “holy grail” can come to fruition.