NTN—A 75mm Skier Learns to Love It
Since I started telemark skiing in the late 1980s, I have been using 75 mm bindings. But I have been “NTN curious” for some time, and this year, I finally had the chance to own a set up. And I have to say—I like it more than I expected to. A lot more.
If you don't know me, by way of knowing me a little as skier: I am a pro telemark skier and instructor, a member of the PSIA-E Telemark Examiner corps who is/has been an alpine and telemark staff trainer at several different ski schools, including Killington and Sunday River. I am the director of training for New England Telemark. I am an all-terrain backcountry skier. I am a former mogul racer in the Rocky Mountain Telemark Series. I say all this by way of indicating that I do have some history on telemark gear, and that I don’t completely suck.
As a telemark skier, I have historically been in the 75mm camp, most recently on Black Diamond (BD) Custom boots and BD 01 bindings with mid-stiff cartridges on 184cm BD Verdicts. I have long been a disdainer of the NTN gear. I skied it for a day a few years back, and while the experience wasn’t bad, it didn’t convert me. I voiced the typical anti-NTN rationales that 75mm curmudgeons use—the gear is too mechanical, too complex, too heavy, feels different, too expensive to switch—and continued to be perfectly happy on my 75mm gear. I recommended that my ski clients should purchase 75mm gear much more often than NTN.
But now I own a set up. I mounted them on the exact same ski as my 75mm bindings are on so I could really compare performance. And now that I have had a chance to ski NTN more and really compare it to my 75mm boots/bindings, I have to say that I was wrong about NTN. It doesn’t feel different. It doesn’t feel clunky. It feels good!
Most importantly—it doesn’t feel like I have to do anything different on this gear to ski as I’ve always skied. It feels pretty much like what I’ve been skiing on for years. My technique hasn’t changed. Rottefella and Scarpa have nailed a design that flexes and moves like the traditional set up, also but offers more powerful edging and step-in convenience. It’s an impressive achievement that really is pretty cool. I do have some minor gripes with some features, but I think that any 75mm skier can be completely happy on NTN gear. If you’re thinking of switching—my opinion is that there are no performance reasons not to do so, and several reasons that might make you decide you should.
Here are some more detailed observations on my set up.
Ski: I mounted my NTN set up on the exact same ski I have my 75 mm bindings on: 184cm 2014-15 Black Diamond Verdicts, a rugged fully-rockered ski perfect for New England ice, crud and powder.
Boots: I’m skiing the Scarpa TX Comp, which is the stiffest off-the-shelf NTN boot Scarpa makes. It doesn’t seem excessively stiff to me, especially in comparison to the 2014 BD Customs I’m in, which are the stiffest telemark boots I’ve ever skied. The TX Comp boot feels comparable in stiffness to the Black Diamond Push, and perhaps a bit stiffer than Scarpa’s T-1. In general it’s a comfy enough boot, with plenty of room in the toe box.
The boots ran big for me. I downsized my size from a 270mm in the Custom to a 265 for the TX Comp, and the boot still seems plenty roomy.
People tell me I’m going to love the Intuition liner, but so far it seems pretty unremarkable. I miss the BOA lacing system that the BD boots offered (thankfully I have an extra set that I plan to try in the TX Comps!), which really held the liner onto the lower leg and prevented heel lift.
The shells have four buckles, which include a cable buckle with a floating bail that gets hooked to a levered buckle closure. This buckle is considerably more of a hassle to use than a standard rigid wire buckle loop. It does create a lot of pull across the instep to hold the foot into the heel pocket, but I hope Scarpa improves the buckle. Or that I figure out how to use it more efficiently.
Overall, the boot is light (about a pound lighter than the Custom) and comfortable, and I expect I’ll like it more as I continue to fine tune how it fits.
The cost of the TX Comp is comparable to Scarpa’s classic T-1 Terminator 75mm boot.
Binding: I’m skiing the Rottefella NTN Freeride. One of the coolest aspects of the NTN Freeride is that it permits one binding to be used on a quiver of different skis as long as they have the NTN mounting plate installed on them. The binding also has ski brakes, a free pivot touring mode, and easy-to-adjust spring cartridges that are critical to fine tuning the system’s performance. My recommendation for 75mm skiers switching over to NTN is to experiment with spring tension—it wasn’t until I lightened up the tension on the cartridges that the bindings really began to perform the way I wanted. And having ski brakes and a release, even if it isn’t DIN-certified, are nice features.
The binding system feels very powerful in edge-to-edge movements, and is a great hard snow performer.
The binding is about a pound heavier than my my Black Diamond 01s, but given the lighter boot, the overall weight for the system is comparable to a high end 75mm set up. Rottefella does make a lighter binding for touring, the "Freedom", but it lacks the interchangeable from ski to ski feature. I have not yet done a long hike in the NTN set up, but as the system is about as heavy as my current system, I don't expect to notice much difference.
Most people I know have broken parts of the NTN system, which is another reason that I haven’t experimented with a set-up sooner (or chosen the lighter Freedom binding). But at this point, with the system in use for 8 years now (they were introduced in 2007), I’m hoping that most of the bugs and weaknesses have been worked out. I’ll let you know if they haven’t been. . .
The NTN Freeride binding is about $130 more than a high performance 75mm binding, and about $40 more than the only other NTN binding on the market, the 22 Designs Outlaw (which I have looked at closely but not yet skied).
The last word: NTN rocks. I don’t care if you switch over to it or not. But if you say it feels too different from a 75mm set up, I think you’re mistaken, and probably haven’t spent enough time on the gear. Having visited the future, I don’t know if I can go back, and expect to make the NTN set up my primary telemark binding going forward. There. I said it!