Testing the Natural Walking Plate (NWP)


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  
Yep, that's a NWP on my feet.

Yep, that's a NWP on my feet. I tested. The weird color balance is because we were in Sol (near Kitzbuhel) -- a night skiing resort with lights. Click image to enlarge.

Stefano Maruelli went public with his Natural Walking Plate (NWP) ski binding add-on back in 2011. He’s been working on development and marketing ever since. Though the product isn’t mainstreamed by any means, I’ve always found NWP to be an interesting solution to a host of issues rising from the unnatural gait of walking with climbing skins on skis.

Maruelli makes strong claims for added efficiency — in the double digits. That might be optimistic but he makes a good argument, claiming that much of the energy savings is due to the ski never being lifted off the snow during the stride. He says that sliding the ski is markedly more efficient than lifting it — something most of us know intuitively since our skin climbing stride is usually that of a quiet gliding gait, rather than the gorilla stomp of a newbie.

Nonetheless, there are times when lifting the ski is at least somewhat is more efficient than sliding it. Also, it would take some fairly complex engineering calculations as well as bunches of real-world testing to ‘prove’ that the NWP is more efficient — whatever the claims are. It’ll be interesting to watch that, while meanwhile this is indeed something to look at actually owing and using if the repetitive motion of skinning is causing you any back or hip problems.

So, I tested. Did a resort uphill of about 700 meters vert, with quite a bit of different angles and snow conditions. A couple of conclusions:

First, yes the NWP in use looks like something from the Ministry of Silly Walks (google it), especially when Stefano exaggerates the motion to get the user to make a stride that takes advantage of the device. But really, it is just a ‘different’ stride, and if the device did become popular we’d probably get used to seeing it.

Of more importance, what exactly does the NWP potentially do for a backcountry skier? Or is it a solution without a problem? For starters, it was obvious to me right away, as mentioned above, that if you have any back or hip problems from years of skinning you might be able to purchase this simple little jingus and be healed. The motion you use with the NWP is that much more natural, and different.

The big question is does NWP increase efficiency enough to cancel out the weight, as well as giving a little something extra? I didn’t feel enough of a speed boost to give a nod to that. As mentioned above, Stefano does claim this to be so, and says he’s going to have an oxygen uptake study done to prove it. It’ll be terrific to see that, though ultimately he’ll need to step away and let people such as ski racers decide just how much faster this thing (perhaps) makes them.

Durability is also an issue. If NWP is made to be super light so it most definitly will compromise between durability and mass. If you take a forecefull fall with it deployed at full extension the leverage forces will be immense. Something would probably have to give. Basic logic, though we did not test durability.

Meanwhile, just a quick verbal description of how the NWP works. Really quite simple, though about seven years of work have gone into having something that could go retail.

The device is a plate (double rail frame), with a single hinge/linkage in the rear and a multiple extendable linkage in the front. The plate rises with the natural arc of a person’s foot while they’re doing a walking or running stride. Yes, you can do nearly the same motion with a regular AT binding, but when doing so you’d have to be lifting the ski tip up at part of the stride, then the whole ski during another part. All resulting in constant lifting of the ski and sucking of energy. The NWP simply allows that natural motion while nearly leaving the ski alone, sitting on the snow, quietly gliding forward at the appropriate time.

Stefano setting up some test skis.

Stefano setting up some test skis.

The idea is you never pick the ski up off the snow. More, your toe can also rise during the stride.

The idea is you never pick the ski up off the snow. More, your toe can also rise during the stride which makes the whole thing much more ergonomic. Watch the video and see the part where Stefano runs on skis/skins almost as if he doesn't have skis on.

When it comes to the weight issue, Maruelli is adamant in contending that the added efficiency of his system makes a bit of added weight of trivial concern. Nonetheless, our view is that weight still matters since you’ll not always be able to do the perfect stride even if you’re using the NWP, but more, because you may be carrying your skis on your rucksack.

Whatever the case, here are Maruelli’s official weights. He’s pretty careful about this sort of thing, so I trust these:

NWP-TLT 360gr each plate for the Dynaift TLT Speed binding (60gr can be removed from the TLT rear binding using an available screw base).

NWP-LITE 320 gr each plate (for LowTech race or Trab or ATK bindings on request).

NWP-RACE including integrated race bindings: 340gr each.

Again, something to watch, and even consider if you’ve got any physical ailements due to the ten-to-the-fourth-power number of skin strides you’ve done in your life. In my case, I could see at least owning a set of these on one of my pairs of workout uphilling skis. I think mixing it up a bit would really help my back and hips. Besides, perhaps I could get a job with those guys at the Ministry of Silly Walks.

Comments

22 Responses to “Testing the Natural Walking Plate (NWP)”

  1. AndyC March 16th, 2012 9:13 am

    I watched 1/2 the video and was surprised to see that most of the time he was lifting boot, binding, and ski off the snow! Kind of defeats the purpose. Even with my TLT5s, verticals, and Manaslus, my old knees start to pop when I lift the whole system off the snow with each stride; so I strive to use the hip and upper leg to slide the ski forward, just lifting the boot heel a bit. I also noticed his stride tended to make the ski tip dip–just the opposite of what I appreciate most from my AT setup–the tip lifts, sliding on top of the deeper snows. I can see this setup could get some traction :-) with ski racers, especially for running with skins.

  2. Jon March 16th, 2012 9:21 am

    Thanks, Lou, this is really interesting.

    Could you clarify how this works when going up steeper slopes–it appears that sometimes he uses a heel lifter, other times not. (?) You’d think there’d be the same issue with achilles tendon strain on steeper slopes when not using heel lifters, but maybe I’m missing something about how this works.

    I’ve got really bad hips (just treading water until I need a hip resurfacing) and lumbar issues as well. FWIW, I find that “rear’ish” pivot point of Pure bindings a real help. In fact, skinning is always something that makes my displastic hips feel better. But… there’s always room for improvement–would be interesting to demo these….

  3. Matt Kinney March 16th, 2012 9:25 am

    Fascinating. “Free the Feet” or in this case the toe. Seems like you need a consistently long stride to initiate the full benefit of the binding.

    Wonder how it works with straight side-stepping a slope? The video show lots of basic straight skinning. Did I miss the kick-turns in the video?

    Took forever for telemarkers to get the free-pivcot thing figured out.(duh…) Perhaps this is the next evolution for all of us, thus falling under the “duh” factor of ski innovations like fat skis, tech bindings, chapstick, etc…..

  4. Lou March 16th, 2012 9:38 am

    First time I’ve ever seen a ski binding compared to chapstick. Thanks for that (grin).

  5. Lou March 16th, 2012 9:40 am

    It’s obvious but perhaps I should have mentioned in review, the plate locks down for alpine mode, or if rough terrain, sidestepping, or whatever makes it unnecessary or a hindrance. Once locked down, all you have is the bit of extra weight and stack height.

    Glad you guys are seeing that this could actually be a very nice item if you have any ergonomic problems. In terms of added efficiency, I think the jury is out.

  6. Dan March 16th, 2012 9:54 am

    So, the NWP may or may not be worthwhile in a skin track…what happens with 18 inches of new snow and sustained trail-breaking is required? Looks a bit gimmicky, sort of like the “power towers”.

  7. Lou March 16th, 2012 10:04 am

    The inventor claims it makes trail breaking easier. Perhaps he’ll chime in…

  8. tom March 16th, 2012 10:20 am

    I can sense the skepticism from everyone (i’m very skeptical too), but I’m 100% for people trying to innovate and improve touring bindings on the uphill and down. At the very least this could inspire some other ideas.

  9. Hojo March 16th, 2012 10:23 am

    Lou, would you be so kind to encourage them to redo the video and not place the titles over the area we’re suppose to be analyzing?

  10. Mike March 16th, 2012 10:49 am

    My first thought was adding a plate to a tech binding seems to eliminate one of the best benefits of a tech binding. Then I started thinking if the system requires a plate maybe this would be a good way for plate bindings to solve the problem of toe clearance while touring, which reminded me that the Naxo binding already tried this. Is the stride similar to the Naxo? Is the side hilling performance better?

  11. Gentle Sasquatch March 16th, 2012 11:32 am

    What happens if you get stuck in deep in a treewell or just in really deep snow where you have only ‘yeay’ many inches to lift your foot to get out of the hole. With this binding you lift your foot while the ski is still stuck down deep.

  12. Ryan Stefani March 16th, 2012 11:35 am

    You referenced Monty Python and the Flying Circus! I love you, Lou.

  13. Stefano March 16th, 2012 12:04 pm

    Thanks Lou for your review !

    I won’t bore you with my opinion on…

    I just say to every body ,that “there must be a reason” behind this long works.

    Try it: you will immediately understand why it works better, in any condition.

    This April will be very important for me sice several national Team will test our new NWP Vertical Race plate that is just 260gr includings bindings…

    I’ve posted the picture of the protorype to Lou, I hope he can put here too.

    Thanks again !
    Ciao
    Stefano

  14. ScottP March 16th, 2012 12:59 pm

    Mike, to me it looks like a similar principle as the Naxo, but this takes it way farther. The Naxo didn’t really provide that much of an improvement in stride compared to to anything else; there’s a difference, sure, but it’s not world-altering. This, on the other hand, really does seem to allow for a much more “natural” stride. Whether or not that’s something that you really want or need seems debatable and situation-specific, but I have a hard time imagining that it would not be very noticeable and make a very large difference. At the least I’m intrigued.

  15. stefano March 16th, 2012 2:22 pm

    Sorry I forgot some important data info:

    Lou kindly play in the review about the “real” benefit of this plate…

    I would just like to remember that we did SEVERAL climbing TEST with GPS, Chrono and camera too.

    You can find some picture here:

    http://www.maruelli.com/naturalwalkingplate/nwpactionpict/Natural%20Walking%20Plate%20in%20action.htm

    For example in this test at over 3000m altitude 2 over sixsty expert Guide did from start to finish point:

    1st: 6 minutes 25″ track with normal bindings
    2th: 5 minute 59″ track with Natural Walking Pate + TLT (so +360gr each feet) in open mode.

    So 5% faster with zero back pain problems, without resting and in the second so bad condition…

    I’m able to climb 700m in 55’40″ (with the NWP) still if I’m not an athlete and I’ve no time at all this year for training…

    We have also many other results, all positive.

    Pls friends remember that this is not a play for us and “virtual test” can be a boomerang…

    I kindly ask to Lou to check the GPS File I’ll send him + full video of the test to confirm this results.

    A complete set of data will come from Racers test in April.

    I’ll let you know.

    Thanks
    Ciao
    Stefano

  16. Lou March 16th, 2012 3:44 pm

    Stefano is never boring.

  17. Dan March 16th, 2012 6:52 pm

    That Stefano is never boring is apparent from the stuff that he dreams up and builds…looking forward to his April test results.

  18. travis March 16th, 2012 7:35 pm

    Video looks much more natural than I would expect from the still images alone.

    I have Stefano’s Radical Anti-Twist on order – I’m glad he’s thinking and creating solutions.

  19. stefano May 13th, 2012 11:56 pm

    Hi friends,

    Here a short video of a nice evening with Lou and Fritz in Austria where I go to show them our Natural Walking Plate.

    http://youtu.be/YR0BcgSLatM

    Thanks to Lou and Fritz for walking and doing comparison using one ski doing old technique, one ski with NWP open I hope is more clear the difference.

    In old technique the ski jump and rise with each step, good skiers do this less but it still happens each step, with NWP the stride is more natural, body more relaxed, ski onto the snow all the time…and much more.

    Again, thanks Lou for this short test. I invite you to see more videos on my youtube channel:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/stmrobotec?feature=mhee

    (the one with at the International Guide meeting in Tignes I hope will be interesting…)

    We never stop our R&D and our product line is always growing. Please remember we have our Dynafit anti-rotation devices, our safety “fuse” for your ski leashes.

    Ciao
    Stefano

  20. Lou May 14th, 2012 4:43 am

    Thanks for reminding us about that Stefano. All, if you watch that vid you can see the comparo between one foot with the NWP working as designed, while the other foot is on a ski with the plate locked down and thus working as a conventional tech binding. The idea is the NWP lets your foot move in a natural arc without lifting the ski. Part of what Stefano claims is the advantage of NWP is that the energy used to lift the ski each step is saved, thus adding to efficiency. I was recovering from illness during this test so I didn’t have a good sense of added efficiency, but it felt nice on the hardpack and certainly didn’t slow me down even though it does add a bit of weight. I was less certain of how well it worked while breaking trail, but it did function. To me, perhaps the most important thing about NWP is it has the potential to cure the back and hip problems some long-time backcountry skiers have developed as a result of repetitive motion in the touring stride. If you have any back and knee problems, I’d encourage you to try the NWP. You might not use it for all your touring, but if you do a lot of fitness uphilling, for example, using it for that would perhaps cure your back or hip problem as you’d be mixing in some different ergonomics over the season. Lou

  21. stefano May 15th, 2012 11:45 pm

    Thanks Lou,

    I hope you’ll have a chance in your next EU Alps tour to come with us in a long mixed trip where I hope you will be fully convinced on how much energy you will save as more than 1000 skiers, chrono and bio-test, already confirm us.

    Ciao
    Stefano

  22. Erik Erikson June 6th, 2013 2:04 am

    Hi stephano,

    Do you have data by now about the natural walking plate from the racers test you mentionend in you comment from march 2012?

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