This week's back-to-back announcements from Rottefella and Black Diamond set the stage for a major battle 18 months from now. The big news from Rottefella is official word that the long-awaited NTN system is soon to be a reality. Shortly thereafter, Black Diamond confirmed what everyone in the industry has long suspected: the company will introduce its own line of telemark and alpine touring boots.
Rottefella going NTN
Designed to replace the antiquated 75 mm binding system, NTN does away with the duckbill toe of boots by using an underfoot clamping system on the new binding. All three current boot manufacturers -- Crispi, Garmont and Scarpa -- will offer boot models for the new system.
Rottefella is limiting the introduction to Norway for the 2006-07 season. It will reach North America for 2007-08. Much of the details of the system were already known (see the current issue of GearTrendsÂ® magazine), however, one new detail is that the boots will also be compatible with AT bindings. This means that skiers will no longer require two pair of boots if they enjoy both free- and fixed-heel skiing.
Black Diamond developing boot line
When Black Diamond and Scarpa parted ways in July 2005, Peter Metcalf, Black Diamond's CEO, told SNEWSÂ®, "Yes, it is likely we will be back into the ski boot business. Ski boots is in our DNA. Telemark and AT -- it is just a matter of time."Â Apparently, a matter of time meant just several months. Scheduled for launch in the 2007-08 season, Metcalf confirmed that a seven-man design team is actively working on the new line. At present, the company is not discussing the number of models or where production will occur.
Notably missing from the BD announcement was any mention of which binding system the telemark boots will adopt. Some are speculating that the boots will be neither 75 mm nor NTN, setting the stage for a full-blown battle of systems.
SNEWSÂ® View: Oh, are we glad we don't make actual buying decisions now. As more details emerge and the new boot and binding systems receive widespread media attention, it is increasingly likely that consumers may take a wait-and-see approach. And that could leave retailers stocking shelves with current product sitting on old stock that no one wants. Since telemark boots retail for around $600 and last many seasons, stores and manufacturers will need to be extra careful to avoid excess carryover next spring.
Of course, shops will have even bigger decisions about which boots and bindings to stock for 2007-08. Certainly, 75 mm isn't going to disappear overnight since that system has the widest offerings of bindings. Rottefella will get a lot of attention and perhaps will have more than one style of binding by then. Black Diamond will have the advantage of a broad and well-established distribution network to encourage strong dealer support for its new program.
All of this means that the next few seasons are going to be exciting for gear testers and potentially very frustrating for retail buyers. We have seen system battles in the past with Nordic gear (50 mm, adidas, Salomon, etc.), and to a minor degree for AT gear (the Silvretta SL quickly lost out to Dynafit). However, this will be the first major two- or three-way battle with boots and binding packages that carry a price tag of around $1,000. At least we have a common hole pattern that companies would be foolish to break and that means telemark skis with inserts are soon going to have another advantage.
In the long run, telemark skiers will undoubtedly end up with better gear than they have now -- especially if better releasable bindings appear to round out the package. And if someone really gets it right (full release, locking heel, touring mode, brakes, crampon, reliable performance), the sport really could boom both on and off piste.