When it comes to telemark bindings, there are a lot of good choices to consider whether you’re in the 75mm camp (Nordic Norm), or NTN (New Telemark Norm). Which norm you choose depends on how you plan to use it: in- or out-of-bounds, standing tall, low, learning, or groovin’. Here’s a quick overview to guide you without belaboring the minutia.
NTN or 75mm
Newbies know these two terms are NOT intuitive; herewith a short explanation.
For decades the telemark boot/binding interface was called the Nordic or 75mm Norm. The 75mm term refers to the width of the boot sole (behind the 3-pin line) and the wedge-shaped toe piece that a 75mm, or duck-billed telemark boot fit in to. The beauty of a 75mm telemark boot/binding system is how instrumental that simple duckbill is in creating a smooth, sweet flexing boot for weighting your rear foot in a telemark turn. On the negative side, the wedge shape of all 75mm bindings means that there is always a little lateral slop to the system which compromises edge hold on icy snow. This is not to say you can’t hold an edge, but with a wedge-shaped toe cage you’ll have to work harder and hone your technique to achieve acceptable results. There are only a few 75mm bindings that are releasable, and they are hard to find. For learning the turn, duckbills are the cheapest option since there is plenty of used gear available from those who went to the darkside and abandoned tele (A.T.).
The New Telemark Norm (NTN) was developed to overcome the limitations of 75mm gear, especially with regard to step-in functionality, releasability, and improved control. There is no question that NTN systems have raised the bar in these characteristics, but the simple smooth flex of a 75mm system is not one of them. Not to say it isn’t possible with NTN gear, but it has taken time to develop options that replicate the legendary power transmission of Hammerhead. Because the connection point shifts from the real heel to the second heel (approximately in the middle of the boot) the flex sensation is a combination of the two components. With 75mm the boot sole dominates the flex sensation. With NTN, it is the synthesis of the boot’s flex pattern with spring tension applied at the duckbutt to compliment that flex. The net result is NTN systems offer a greater breadth of performance – downhill and uphill. Taking advantage of the downhill usually requires tweaking your technique. For those who have made the transition, it is worth it.
For those who don’t plan to go further than an occasional run out of bounds for a skin back up, Rottefella’s Freeride adds the security of release to the NTN equation. The release function is not DIN certified but it is adjustable and there’s plenty of testimonials proving it works. Touring range of motion is only 30 degrees, but it’s better than straining against a classic high tension heel cable.
Rottefella’s Freedom increases the touring range of motion to 50 degrees, but doesn’t deliver the edging power that the Freeride can.
For those looking for the ultimate in raw telemark power you should look at the Bishop BMF. The main difference with Bishop bindings is how lateral control comes from an old-fashioned metal plate. While one might argue that the difference between Bishops solid metal frame and 2-pin NTN bindings is negligible, there is no scientific proof of either — it’s all anecdotal. Even if such data could be verified independently with objective measurements I can assure you the difference you can perceive is imperceptable. Which does not nullify the claim that the BMF represents the epitome of lateral control from a telemark binding. Because it does. And it offers step in convenience, and a tour mode. What it does not offer is light weight. If you’re only harnessing gravity, weight is great. On an occasional uphill you can bear the weight, or for the masochistic, consider it training weight so you can slay your AT buddies in the uphill track when you adopt a 2-pin tele binding and that new tele boot made of unobtanium.
22 Designs Outlaw
If you’re new to NTN and you split your tele time between the backcountry and lifts, get the Outlaw. It’s powerful and adjustable. The tension turns on fast when you lift your heel. The 2nd heel connection delivers solid edging. And it has a free-pivot range of 55 degrees, plenty to make kick turns a snap on the uphill track. Perhaps best of all, it’s the easiest dang binding to get into, tele OR alpine. Slide the toe in the cage, step down, click, you’re in. With brakes it takes a bit more fiddling and practice to master jamming the toe in the cage, but you’ll get it. For those who’re switching from 75mm, the Outlaw is a no brainer. All the performance you’ve come to luv, only more of it. At least one ski in your quiver should have an Outlaw on the topside.
There are two basic choices for a telemark tech binding. The original, TTS by Olympus Mountain Gear (OMG) is a simple, lightweight, adjustable tech toe with a heel cable. Or you could merge the 2-pin tech toe with an NTN second heel connection with bindings like the Lynx or Meidjo.
TTS (Telemark Tech System)
For lightweight backcountry reliability simplicity is a core component. For that, you can’t do better than the original Telemark Tech System binding; a low-tech toe with a springy cable latched on the real heel, not that silly duckbutt. As such, it works with any bellowed boot with low-tech inserts. The basic difference between competitive brands boil down to differences in the 2-pin toepiece, and incompatible variations in the compression springs used. If you’re not impressed with the pre-defined packages offered, it is rather easy to build your own DIY TTS binding by mixing your favorite tech toe with OMG’s cable adapter kit, which uses a simple cable clamp and Voile spring cartridges. Or check out my Tele-Tech Chronicles (below) and do it yourself from scratch.
Olympus Mountain Gear TTS
The binding that proved 2-pin tech toes are strong enough to do the tele dance inspite of their diminutive size. As tech toes go, OMG’s toe pins open wider than any other brand on the market which tends to require more practice to click in the first time. The cable clamp is solid and simple. While inserts are not required on the cable block, they are recommended if you don’t really know which of the three available positions you want the cable pivot located at. The fave position tends to be 55-60mm behind pin line. Position that for the center position, and adjust until you decide your fave pivot point.
In this version of a TTS binding Voile uses their spartan Splitboard touring tech toe in combination with their classic spring yoke using a heel lever to snap the cables tight to you boot. The pivot positions measure out at 45mm and 60mm behind the pin line, but are a bit deeper than the classic TTS configuration. That makes them effectively further back and thus more active than similar TTS bindings.
There are also competitive TTS rigs across the Atlantic from Moonlight Mountain Gear or Kreuzspitz. Both of these Euro versions of TTS allow you to quickly remove the cables and stash ’em in your pack for an uber light rig when skinning. From a relative standpoint, Moonlight’s cables come off the easiest.
The latest addition to the 2-pin tele ranks is Lynx, from 22 Designs. What Lynx does different is use a composite plate to hold the claw that connects to the duckbutt. It acts like a leaf spring to deliver instantaneous engagement that is adjustable. You’ll love the spring-loaded climbing wires in two heights – 7 and 13 degrees. And it’s light, a smidgen over a pound per foot. 22D customers will appreciate the mounting pattern, same as the Outlaw or Hammerhead, but shifted relative to Axl.
|Lynx v2 Review||Lynx v2 upgrades||Review: Lynx v1|
Meidjo was the first to mix a low-tech toe with a step-in second heel connection. Turn engagement is instantaneous, with a wide range of power adjustment from nearly neutral to Hammerhead 4ish. The toe connection is among the easiest to use, and the step-in function is super reliable. It lets you know you’re connected solidly by giving an audible click as the magic red stub retracts inside the spring box. In tour mode the toes will hold you reliably when locked, and the heel post offers two climbing heights. Meidjo requires regular maintenance to clear the claw after skinning and it pays to add some anti-ice tape in strategic locations, especially on the underside. What Meidjo does that no other tele bindings can is offer an alpine heel in case you want the security of a locked heel.
|Review: Meidjo v2.1||Meidjo Installation Tips|
If you’re still hanging on to your duckbilled boots, or you doubled down with a new pair of Terminators then you’ve already got the binding you want. Or maybe you’re FINALLY ready to retire your Targas and see what all the fuss is about with a free pivot (took you long enough Gramps).
If you picked up a pair of abused duckbills to learn the turn, then get Axl unless you’re planning to tour a lot, then get Switchback to save weight. Axl is more powerful, Switchback and SWX2 more neutral. Your call. If you earn your turns at the office and burn them under the lifts, the Vice is an Axl without a touring pivot, and Hardwire is Voile’s in-bounds Switchback.