There’s been a lot of tele innovation lately, but it’s all been in the world of tele traps, those contraptions called bindings linking your boot to the ski while adding a bit of flavor to the flex. They are an intrinsic ingredient to the telemark turn. And there has been a lot change in the last seven years, all of it in the province of the New Telemark Norm.
It is past due time for the boot makers to step up and refine their side of the equation. Lately that refinement has been limited to pruning models that are withering on the vine or cutting features that represent a liability. Not exactly a picture of innovation, but one of retreat. Scott Sports did step up and add tech inserts to their NTN Voodoo, but only at the toe — the “Achilles insert” will not be included.
It’s enough to give a telemarker heartburn, yet hope springs eternal.
Since the dawn of the Terminator, Scarpa has been a leader in telemark boot development. Even before the Terminator, Scarpa’s Tele Sauvage was as mean as leather could get, except it wasn’t mean enough.
The limit of what is possible with a duckbilled system has been achieved and it has two insurmountable limits. The first is the ability to provide a reliable, non-plate release system. Nobody has come up with a way to do it, or hadn’t until the duckbill was castrated for NTN. The other issue, affecting tele mountaineers only, is compatibility with alpine crampons. It’s too small of a market to make crampon toe bails for duckbills. Though elegant for initiating flex, the ugly duckbill has consequences.
A few years back Kim Miller, president of Scarpa USA told me, “we want to make a new tele boot, but we want the bindings to settle down a bit. There’s a lot of change going on now.”
In a conversation with him before Christmas 2016 he reminded me the two paths of development were his fault, but not his intention. The basic NTN concept of clamping a boot between the toe and mid-foot was executed pretty well by Rottefella’s Freeride. Until they licensed the patent to 22 Designs, there wasn’t much variation to the concept, no new ideas. Even today, there are only three models of a “pure” NTN binding: Freedom, Freeride, and Outlaw.
However, there is another type of binding that NTN boots can work with, provided they are outfitted with inserts. With Dynafit inserts the boot can be held at the toe with a 2-pin tech binding. Known generically as telemark tech bindings, the Telemark Tech System was first tested, then patented in the US by Mark Lengel. It’s about a simple as it gets, and light to boot. Unbelievably, because those puny two pins at the toe can’t possible be strong enough, it skis as solid as a Hammerhead and tours like a Dynafit.
The presence of those inserts is where Kim Miller becomes culpable. As he told me, “those were a purely selfish feature we included just so I could use one boot to ski alpine or tele.”
But that opened the door to more than one way to connect to the boot, in a way only Fritz Barthel, the genius behind Dynafit, had ever bothered to conceive of. Fritz isn’t a telemarker, so why would he bother to purse that idea. But OMG’s Mark Lengel was. And Pierre Mouyade, as a new tele convert and a mechanical engineer couldn’t help but notice telemark bindings needed some help. He saw the value of the tech toe and the second heel connection of NTN so he merged them with the Meidjo binding.
When Outlaw came out the same year as Meidjo, and do-it-yourselfers began cobbling their own TTS together, Kim Miller could see binding designs converging and that was the signal to get back to work on a new boot. Or, as he mentioned last January in a meeting with Scarpa’s Italian design team, “we don’t just want to build a new boot, we’re looking at a new line of tele boots with features and capabilities that set a new threshold.”
Traditionally such a goal is done behind closed doors, to stay a step ahead of the competition. However, it is apparent none of the other players are interested in doing anything other than milking the molds they have while they can. Besides, it’s not the same world it was twenty years ago. While there is a lot of noise on the world wide web, there are also nuggets of information worth harvesting. Scarpa wants to leverage that as they embark upon developing the next generation of telemark boots. They know from experience good design can do more than just improve the performance of their products, it can provoke competition and help fuel growth of the sport.
It isn’t like the key features the tele tribe wants aren’t already on Scarpa’s list of design goals. Things like lighter weight and more cuff mobility seem obvious. What else have you been dreaming of? It’s the internet, tell us what you think below, at backcountrytalk.com, on telemarkskier.com’s FB page, EarnYourTurns.com’s FB page, and/or submit your ideas in the attached survey.