Picking a Tele Trap

The Best Telemark Binding Guide for 2016

Picking a telemark binding can be as complicated as you want it to be. That means you can invest a whole lot of time in it, or you can just pick up something that hits the high points of what you want and then adapt to the new system.

Releasability

Genuflect three times and repeat after me..."Telemarking is Stupid."
Genuflect three times and repeat after me…”Telemarking is Stupid.”

This is an ageless feature with perplexing qualities. Since most telemark skiers began as alpine skiers, they are well versed in the need for a safety release. When your boot is locked flat and you make a twisting fall you want the ski to let go of your foot/boot. But if your boot can flex and twist without releasing, release is needed in fewer circumstances. Many experienced telemarkers count on those circumstances being so rare, or so avoidable, they don’t make safety release a requirement. Nonetheless, everyone knows release will inevitably be needed. That’s why it remains a high priority despite the low probability of need. Unless, of course, your knees are already compromised, in which case your need for release is constant, not occasional.

Here’s the caveat in all that. Of all the release options available, only one is TUV certified: the 7tm. That doesn’t mean other telemark bindings claiming release don’t release, but they haven’t been certified. Part of the problem is the certification doesn’t really test release when the heel of a boot is raised, which is the telemark condition at least half the time. Given this variable it is nigh impossible to test for realistic telemark release conditions so the testimonials of customers, while lacking the stamp of officialdom, is equally valid to claims of a certified release.

Thus, the allure of release, even when offered is not something that can be counted on, though it generally is good enough to release when you need it to, and not when you don’t.

75mm Release options

If you’re using a 75mm boot you can either 1) get a Telebry release plate and mount your fave binding to it, 2) hunt down a used pair of Voile CRBs, or 3) import the 7tm from Europe. The issue with all 75mm release bindings is that the binding stays attached to the boot, releasing from the ski. Compared to the cost of knee rehab, this is a minor inconvenience.

NTN Release options

The one that started it NTN Freeride
The one that started it
NTN Freeride

For those who want a safety release where the boot ejects from the binding, NTN is the way to go. Rottefella’s Freeride and Freedom bindings both come with ski brakes and a release function that is coupled to the tension of the springs. Thus a low tension setting will result in lower force releases, and higher tension takes more force to release.

The new Meidjo has a safety release that is independent of the turning tension, but also depends on the spring tension of pins clamping the toe of the boot via a low tech toe unit. As with Rottefella’s Freeride in the early days there is a lack of field evidence on how well this works. I can say it does work in a simple test of kicking a boot out at the heel. That’s all we could demonstrate in the early days of the Freeride too.

Olympus Mountain Gear’s Telemark Tech System claims release values in the DIN 8+ realm based on the spring clamping force of the toe pins. While I haven’t experienced it, it seems possible but unlikely since it requires the boot heel to move laterally far enough for the toes to release while under high cable tension. In my experience, that is unlikely.

The Standard Telemark Release Clause

Experienced telemark skiers pretty much agree the best way to avoid knee injuries with telemark gear is to know how to fall without needing a safety release. The trick is to fall forward so the flex in the sole of your boots absorbs much of the force, sparing your knee while you complete the forward fall with a full somersault back onto your feet.

Downhill Power

This is where preferences get personal. Downhill power refers to the tension a binding provides to help balance against with your rear heel raised, creating a sensation of driving power into the ski through the ball of your foot. How much tension you prefer to balance against depends on 1) your experience, 2) the flex stiffness of your boots and 3) how wide your skis are.

Make/Model
Cable Routing
Pivot Pos’n
(behind pin line)
Ramp Angle
Activity
(HH rating)
Lateral
Control
Blk Diamond O1
Under
2 cm
0
2-4
4
Brnt Mt. Spike XT
Under
3-5cm
0
3-5
4
Brnt Mt. Spike NT
Under
3-5cm
0
3-5
4
Brnt Mt. Spike Lite
n/a
n/a
n/a
1.5
2
G3 Targa Ascent
Side
2
2-3
2.5
G3 Enzo
Under
2.5-5cm
2-4.5
3
M-Equip Meidjo v2
Under
56mm
n/a
2-3
4.5
OMG TTS
Under
50–82mm
n/a
4-5
4.5
7tm Pwr Tour
Under
2cm
0
2-3
3
Rottefella FreeRide
Under
n/a
0
3-5
5
Rottefella Freedom
Under
n/a
curved
2-4
3.5
22D Axl
Under
3, 4, 5cm
3-5
4.5
22D Outlaw
Under
55 mm
3-5
55/div>
V Switchback X2
Side
3 cm
3.5
3.5
Voile 3-pin
n/a
n/a
0
1
2

In general the less telemarking experience you have, or the wider your ski, hence the stiffer flexing your boot is, the more cable tension or power you will want in a tele binding. The more experience you have, or the narrower your ski and the softer your boot, the less tension you may prefer.

For newbies I strongly recommend a binding that allows quick and noticeable adjustment of cable tension. When you’re learning it is easier to figure out the telemark turn with more cable tension. As you get more confident, I recommend dialing the tension down.

The dominant factor in adjusting cable tension is the pivot position of the cable relative to the pin line of your boot. The further back it is, the stronger the tension feels, and the more “active” the binding is. Most cable bindings cannot adjust the pivot location, only the spring rate by increasing the pre-tension of the spring.

The easiest binding to adjust for pivot location is 22 Design’s Vice or Axl, followed closely by G3’s Enzo R. The forerunner of easy to adjust cable pivots is the classic Hammerhead binding. If you can find one used, pick it up.

For those with NTN boots, OMG’s TTS has three cable pivot locations but changing positions means unscrewing the cable block, then re-tightening it. If you do this often inserts are advised for the cable block.

Touring Efficiency

You can't beat a 2-pin toe for touring efficiency.
You can’t beat a 2-pin toe for touring efficiency.

If you’re a resort bound slope dope this feature is not required. Compared to alpine resort bindings any telemark binding is a tour capable binding. However, you will soon realize the truth of the Borg slogan, “resistance is futile.” When you’re walking with your skis, across flats or uphill, there’s no good reason to increase walking resistance with cable tension. If you plan to earn your turns at all, get a binding with a free-pivot touring mode. If you’re sticking to the slopes under chairlifts, this a feature you don’t need to pay for, but you might anyway in case you change your mind about hiking for turns.

While any tele binding with a tour mode is better than one with none, there are subtle differences that become more noticeable the longer or more often you tour. The most obvious is the amount of resistance to lifting your heel imparted by the binding. Less is better. Zero is best.

Axl delivers 45° ROM, which is enough to yield unhindered snap kick turns on a tight switchback.
Axl delivers 45° ROM, which is enough to yield unhindered snap kick turns on a tight switchback.

Another factor is the range of motion when touring. In this instance, more is better. Limited range of motion affects the length of your stride, or your ability to do uphill maneuvers like a snap kick turn. Once you know know how and when to do this, you’ll want your binding to help, not hinder, this practical move.

The location of the touring pivot relative to the end of your big toe affects efficiency too. When you walk you tend to push off the back of your big toe with each stride. The closer the pivot is to this point, the more natural and efficient will be your stride. Pivots out front increase inertial resistance by increasing the distance the weight of your boot is from the pivot axis. This is not discernable with a few steps, but may increase fatigue after tens of thousands of steps, a not unrealistic number on a long tour.

All other parts of the touring resistance being equal, lighter is better too but a heavier binding with a free pivot will suck less energy than a lighter binding with more touring resistance. In the table below the relative touring efficiency of each binding is rated on a five point scale. A higher number means better touring and takes into account the degree of touring resistance, weight, overall range of motion, tendency to ice up, and how easy the climbing post is to operate. The numbers are not absolute but relative to give my interpretation of which bindings tour better than others, or are equivalent.

Make/Model
Class
Weight
(oz)
Weight
(grams)
Pivot
(mm)
ROM
Icing
Peg Ease
Rating
Blk Diamond O1
A
30
850
-2
60+°
2
2.5
4.5
Brnt Mt. Spike XT
A
28
750
+8
45+°
n/a
3
3.75
Brnt Mt. Spike NT
A
28
750
+8
45+°
?
3
3.75
Bnt Mt. Spike Lite
B
13
370
n/a
½
3
3
G3 Ascent
A
25
710
+5
55+°
4
5
4
G3 Enzo
A
31
880
0
50+°
0
4
4.5
7tm Pwr Tour
A-
33
940
+14
65+°
½
1
3.75
M-Equip Meidjo
A
20
575
0
90°
2
4
4.75
OMG TTS
A
17½
495
0
90°
2
4.75
Rotte Freeride
B+
32.6
925
+5
30°
1
3
2.5
Rotte Freedom
A-
27
775
-5
50+°
3
4
3.75
22D Axl
A
32
910
0
45+°
5
4.25
22D Outlaw
A
29½
835
0
55+°
5
4.5
Voile Switchback
A
24
680
+4
50+°
½
3
5
V Switchback X2
A
26
740
+4
50+°
¾
3
4.75
Voile 3-pin
B
440
0
2.5

The Telemark Tech System exhibits more ROM than you ever need and all you lift is your boot, not boot plus springs.
The Telemark Tech System exhibits more ROM than you ever need and all you lift is your boot, not boot plus springs.

While some of these details may seem like too much minutia, in the world of efficiency the race is won by saving a few percent here and there, which can collectively add up to a 10% improvement overall. You might not be racing, but on a long day having 10% reserve energy can’t hurt.

Duckbill (75mm) or Duckbutt (NTN)?

The above features are the main criteria to consider when picking a telemark binding. To confuse the issue there are two telemark systems available, 75mm or NTN. The boots and bindings of each are incompatible with the other.

Which one you chose depends on your situation. First and foremost make sure the boot you chose fits your foot well. In theory the manufacturers are the same for both norms, but that doesn’t mean the “last” is the same between norms.

The Case for 75mm

If you’ve been telemarking for awhile and have 75mm boots in good condition, about the only reason you need to get a new binding is you’re ready to go out of bounds and admit the superiority of a free pivot for earning turns. Otherwise, just get a replacement cable for your Targas.

The other reason to go 75mm is because you’re learning to telemark and want to limit expenses until you know you’re hooked. There are plenty of well worn duckbilled boots and 75mm bindings available from those who abandoned the turn to join the locked heel herd. Even if you don’t feel the need to be dumpster diving for gear, 75mm gear has more new boot choices (12 new models and umpteen used) and the bindings are mature, solid, and proven for telemarking, in or out of bounds. Although there are at least a dozen current models, the choices boil down to the Switchback or Switchback X2 for those who like a slow engaging binding, or the Axl or Vice if you want adjustable power to spare.

The Case for NTN

If you can afford a thousand-plus for boots and bindings, NTN offers a wide assortment of binding features with limited boot choices; five boot models this year, six in 2017. There are nine bindings to consider, five that require tech inserts in the boots, four that do not.

If you’re a backcountry telemarker, get boots with tech fittings so you have the option to chose one of the new 2-pin telemark bindings that offer touring efficiency on par with Dynafit bindings. These boots will work with NTN and 2-pin telemark bindings. Boots without tech inserts will only work with NTN compatible bindings, meaning Rottefella’s NTN Freeride and Freedom, 22 Design’s Outlaw, and Burnt Mountain Design’s Spike NTN. All of these are super easy to click in to and come with brakes. Only Rottefella’s NTN bindings make a claim of safety release though. For NTN bindings with power to spare, consider the Freeride or Outlaw.

If you want touring efficiency with power too, Outlaw delivers that, but Olympus Mountain Gear’s Telemark Tech System is the second lightest telemark binding available, followed by Moonlight’s Tele Pure with a strong cable that latches on the heel step. The cable position of TTS can be adjusted with effort, of the 2017 Tele Pure with ease (2016 Tele Pure was not adjustable).

For the ultimate in touring efficiency, it is hard to beat ATK’s Newmark, a telemark binding using a 2-pin tech toe with wings that hold the sole of the boot flat in front of the bellows. This yields an extremely light binding without the weight of springs and tech efficient touring. It requires special plates be mounted to your boots so they don’t wear out. A soft bellows is recommended.

For someone who wants it all, The M Equipment’s Meidjo offers step-in functionality with a ski brake, 2-pin touring efficiency, uncertified safety release, light weight, and adequate power, which many have described as “sweet.” The consistency of this response is hard to miss. In addition, an optional tech heel will be available in winter 2016 for those who want to lock the heel if the situation warrants it.

There are a lot of potential advantages to going with an NTN system, but a wide range of boot choices is not one of them. The new telemark norm was created to overcome the limits of the classic 75mm system in regards to safety release, the use of ski brakes, step-in functionality, and better touring. Those have now been achieved, but lagging sales in telemark equipment has stalled development of NTN compatible boots. There is some evidence interest is growing with Scott planning to add tech inserts to the Voodoo NTN boot for 2017, and persistent rumors that Scarpa is working on a new NTN boot. As long as one of the boots available fits you, there’s a binding made to maximize your telemark smile. Get out there and rip it up.

(Editor’s note: Minor updates made Nov. 2016 to reflect changes in the field of available products and to include Table 2, a comparison of touring efficiency.)

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