Telemark boot and binding technology has been slowly evolving since the original long, skinny skis with three-pin bindings attached to flexible leather boots. As the sport gained popularity skiers sought increased downhill performance at the expense of the comfort and light weight that made telemark equipment effective for backcountry touring. This led to increasingly wider skis and stiffer plastic boots that could be skied more aggressively. These larger skis and heavier boots put increased strain on the traditional three-pin binding that clamped the boot to the ski at the toe. To answer the demand for a more robust binding that could handle the higher stresses involved with the newer heavier equipment, binding manufacturers added a loop of cable around the heel of the boot, in place of or in addition to the three-pin mount at the toe. This stronger cable system increased the reliability of the binding, and also provided increased torsional stiffness to the boot/ski interface. But, the weight grew. Eventually, the cables in these bindings were replaced with solid rods to further increase stiffness and strength. And the weight went up again. Finally, the boots had become so stiff, and the equipment became so heavy that uphill climbing performance in the backcountry suffered noticeably. Unlike the flexible leather boots of old, the stiff bellows on the plastic boots took energy to compress with every uphill stride. In the past two years, binding manufacturers have responded by adding a low friction pivot in the toe area of the binding, such as used in Alpine Touring bindings…And this added still more weight. The telemark boot/binding system has evolved from a light, simple system for backcountry travel to a complex and heavy system which provides more power and control, but still lacks features common in conventional downhill ski equipment such as safety releasability, integrated ski brakes, and step-in capability. Today most tele skiers still have to bend down to fasten the heel latch on their bindings, attach leashes to prevent runaway skis, and lack the safety of a binding that will release the ski from the boot in a severe fall. Plus, today’s boots still retain a “duckbill” protruding off the front of the boot that can make walking awkward and limit their use in mountaineering situations.
The New Telemark Norm
The New Telemark Norm (NTN) boots from Scarpa and Alpina (Crispi), when used with the NTN binding from Rottefella address many of these shortcomings:
- The duckbill, breakage-prone cables, and heel latch are all eliminated, replaced with an attachment point under the ball of the foot that provides a stronger, more secure connection between the boot and the ski.
- The Scarpa Terminator X boot is also compatible with Dynafit Alpine Touring bindings, allowing the same boot to be used with tele and AT skis!
- Although not a true “step-in/step-out” binding, the Rottefella binding can be attached to the boot easily without bending over and fussing with heel levers.
- The binding features a low-friction pivot at the toe for improved climbing efficiency.
- An integrated ski brake on the Rottefella binding does away with the need to attach leashes to prevent runaway skis.
- The Rottefella binding features a release capability that provides some safety in a catastrophic fall.
All of these features add…you guessed it…weight. For the telemark skiing community, The NTN boots developed by Scarpa and Crispi, and the compatible binding by Rottefella may be the most exciting products shown this year at ORWM. However, ultralight backpackers looking for light, efficient telemark tools for travelling over snow might have to wait a few years for one or two buckle boots and simplified bindings made from lighter materials to emerge.