At long last, the New Telemark Norm (NTN) binding system has been revealed to the public. The unveiling took place at the Live Free Heel Fest (formerly known as La Skieda) in Livigno, Italy. The attendees of the Tele Expo held at the beginning of the Fest had a chance to see (but not ski) the near-final binding system with two boot samples.
The NTN system has been under development for over five years, primarily being pushed by Rottefella. The main idea is to eliminate the antiquated 75 mm duckbill from telemark boots. This change will allow the NTN boots to kick steps in snow and climb on rock significantly better than current telemark boots, although the flexible sole means rigid AT boots will still have the performance edge. It also allows standard climbing crampons to easily attach; another weak point for boots with duckbills though there are workarounds. And there will no longer be a left and right binding.
The binding itself has a front throw so it will be easier to secure than reaching behind to futz with a heel throw as we do now. It isn't a step-in binding but it's good enough, however, ski leashes may still be required. The stainless-steel toe section wraps around the front lip of the boot and a sliding mechanism grabs a molded lip that is under the arch. This allows the heel to lift up while keeping the forefoot attached to the ski, the essential ingredient for a telemark turn.
As SNEWSÂ® has reported in past articles, the initial binding design will not offer any release function. Rottefella first wants to prove the concept skis well before adding the complexity of release. While we are reasonably certain that the system will indeed ski quite well, the lack of release (common with most current tele bindings) increases the risk of injury and even death when skiing in avalanche terrain.
The NTN bindings and boots will only be available in Norway for the 2005/06 season. This will give the companies time to determine what improvements are required before it hits the mass market.
Details such as weight and whether the system utilizes the existing telemark hole pattern are still unknown. And it is unclear whether the binding tours as well as an AT system that has a free pivot or if there is a provision for switching between tour and downhill mode.
The potential problem with icing of boots and bindings in wet snow is an area of concern. Also worrisome is durability of the lips on the boots after significant hiking over rock; ideally, these critical binding interfaces would be replaceable (think Sidi SRS mountain bike shoes). And there is no mention yet of whether a ski crampon will be available.
The first boots made to fit NTN are modified versions of the new Scarpa T2X ($570 retail) and the Crispi XR ($685). Although no pricing has been announced yet, it's reasonable to assume the first model of NTN binding (scheduled to hit the U.S. market in 2006/07) will be in the $200 range. Thus, a consumer will be looking at an $800 to $900 outlay for rather modest gains over what they have now.
According to Paul Parker, Garmont is no longer involved with development of the NTN system. Similarly, Roch Horton at Black Diamond told us they are not participating at this time -- Scarpa in Italy is going it alone (just as it did with the Grivel crampon system). However, it's fairly certain that future boot molds from all three telemark boot companies will be designed with NTN in mind.
On the plus side, it appears that the new boots will also fit in AT bindings. So it may be possible to eliminate a pair of boots from the closet for skiers who want the best of both worlds.
SNEWSÂ® View: Part of the staying power of the 75 mm duckbill is due to it being an open system that has allowed many small companies to innovate and create superior bindings (7TM, Bomber, Hammerhead, Tele Bulldog, etc). With its patents on NTN, Rottefella pretty much has an exclusive until others can figure out how to avoid infringing or pony up a licensing fee. While this may sound appealing to the Norwegians, it may backfire and runs the risk of limiting the systems' use and potentially lead to its demise.
Rottefella should be applauded for trying to move telemark bindings out of the Dark Ages. However, the NTN system has a long way to go before significant numbers of telemark skiers make the switch. It is a small step in the right direction of modernizing the binding system. Developing a releasable binding and ski crampon are absolutely essential for things to move forward. Eventually, bindings with step-in, runaway brakes, and even heel lockdown could convince reluctant alpine skiers to crossover.