Grail Quest — Vapor Bindings Begin to Condense on the Windshield

Post by blogger | December 9, 2006      

NTN telemark backcountry skiing binding.
Latest incarnation of NTN telemark binding. Holy grail?

For the past several years much talk has occurred in the telemark community about various new revolutionary tele bindings. Much appeared to be just that; talk that was more mist than reality — including some of our previous blog posts.

But the fog is condensing. Backcountry Access is now promoting the production model Rottefella NTN telemark binding they’re distributing. That’s the binding that’s said to have caused incredible strife for Rottefella and is still iffy in terms of acceptance by telemark consumers, but may offer telemarkers much of what they’re looking for in a binding.

Adding to the buzz, Black Diamond (BD) just published a press release detailing their effort to make what some folks call the “holy grail” of telemark bindings, as well as a new line of tele and rando boots. Interesting news, but somewhat of a downer as they’re now predicting no retail product until 2008. But good blog fodder nonetheless.

From what I’ve heard and read, by Black Diamond’s definition the grail appears to be a binding that has full backcountry touring free-pivot mode, step-in step-out convenience as well as safety release, but does NOT have a latch to allow fixed heel skiing. By our definition here at, the uber tele binding has to allow choice between fixed or free heel, or it’s still not the grail. But that’s just opinion — the market will vote with their wallets and make the final determination.

We know BD is incredibly passionate about developing their new binding and boot system — we thus have no doubt something incredible is in the works. Finances of the endeavor are interesting to say the least. Over at, publisher Mitch Weber quotes Black Diamond CEO Peter Metcalf sharing that by the time the new boot/binding system is on the shelves, they’ll have spent up to six million dollars on the project. That includes the AT boots, but still! For the sake of discussion, let’s say (optimistically) that BD can recoup an average of $300 of that from each customer. Do the math, and that means they’ll need perhaps 20,000 customers (for boots and binding). Knowing the size of the worldwide telemark market that sounds perfectly reasonable, though mind boggling considering telemarking was a fringe sport just several decades ago. Of course they’ll sell some AT boots as well, but they couldn’t be counting on that to carry the investment — unless they’ve got an AT boot coming out that’s so revolutionary it will shralp the market. If so, can I get a spy shot?

As for my own well known feelings about the archaic state of telemark bindings, telemarkers out there might think I’m full of it and just a “basher,” but it seems some telemarkers agree and have put six million dollars on the table to prove it.

We of course wish BD would spend six million on developing new and better AT bindings. Shucks. At least we have Dynafit. As consolation, part of BD’s new boot line will be AT models, and their ski line is of course always pushing to provide both fixed and free heel skiers with excellent planks… Here is the Black Diamond press release as received:

PR: Black Diamond Finalizes Ski Boot Timeline
December 8, 2006 (Salt Lake City, Utah) Black Diamond Equipment Ltd., a global leader in climbing and skiing manufacturing, announced today the final timeline for its much anticipated ski boot launch.

Peter Metcalf, BD’s President and CEO states, “BD Ski Boot Line will officially launch in Fall/Winter 2008. We are breaking this news well in advance of the SIA and OR Winter trade shows for many reasons, including the desire to test the boots for a full season before bringing them to market. We want to focus in winter 2007 on the unmatched strength of our new freeride ski line, refining our boots and honing the development of a proprietary binding system.”

Metcalf continues, “BD has been at the leading edge of boundary-free skiing for over twenty years, and while the progress on the ski boot program has been phenomenal to date, the emergence of a new lightweight, ingenious telemark binding design that can be integrated into a new boot/binding system has encouraged us to move the launch to 2008.â€?

Riding the current momentum from the award-winning Havoc, Verdict and Lyric skis, the Fritschi Freeride Plus binding and the new 01 telemark binding, BD has set the table for a strong Winter 07 with the launch of ten new styles in their Freeride Ski Line. In 2008, Black Diamond will dually launch their new alpine touring and telemark ski boot line in addition to the new integrated telemark binding system.

Metcalf details, “The new telemark binding is a patent pending design that integrates boot and binding in a step-in, 360-degree releasable, compact and light weight system. The Fall 2008 telemark boot line will be reverse compatible, meaning the new boots will work equally well with the new binding system as well as all existing 75mm bindings.”

The development of the freeride/alpine touring ski boots will coincide with the telemark boot launch in Fall 2008 as an equally dynamic and featured element of the line.

Black Diamond Equipment Ltd. is an employee-owned manufacturer of equipment for rock climbing, alpinism and freeride skiing. By consistently building innovative products and actively preserving the mountain environment, Black Diamond has assumed a leadership role in the international outdoor community. For more information on Black Diamond visit


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14 Responses to “Grail Quest — Vapor Bindings Begin to Condense on the Windshield”

  1. Scott Nelson December 9th, 2006 7:01 pm

    It looks more like an AT binding, albeit the fixed heel (at least from my limited perspective). Although, I wonder if it (and BD’s upcoming endeavor) will work with an AT boot, since the duckbill seems to be disappearing. It would be cool to have one boot do it all. That would be a lot easier on the pocketbook. I have to say though that the BD 01 skis very well. Heavy, and the new upcoming versions don’t appear very lightweight either, but very nice uphill and awesome down.

  2. Lynn December 9th, 2006 8:08 pm

    I am riding the O1’s mounted on Havocs and it is a sweet set up. The free pivoting touring mode is much more efficient than the traditional cable set up. I foolishly toured with my old set up one day and thought something was broken. I was wishing upon a star that I had brought my O1’s for that one.

    As Lou said, the only thing that could make it better would be releasable. But thanks to BD for bringing this model out so we free heelers can experience the freedom of the toe.

  3. Paul December 11th, 2006 5:53 am

    How do we know that they will be getting rid of the duckbill? It says it will be backward compatible. Wouldn’t you have to have the duckbill for it to be backward compatible? I am not a telemarketer, but I was just trying to picture it.

  4. Mark Burggraff December 11th, 2006 6:04 am

    If you go to the forum over at Telemarktips the volume of response that BD’s announcement generated is incredible. I think it goes to show that there is a real thirst out there for something different. I myself would like to see BD’s binding/boot combo before the speculation sets in. I’d also like to see a version of Craig Dostie’s “Dostinator” that Lou mentioned a few weeks ago in the blog. If I remember correctly it has all the “grail-like” features plus a lockable heel.

  5. Lou December 11th, 2006 7:31 am

    They could easily design a boot with a removable duckbill. My hope is that the boot would morph to one with an AT shaped sole. Convergence is cool.

    Mainly, I’m thankful we have such incredible AT bindings to choose from and don’t have to exert energy on such an issue.

  6. Lou December 11th, 2006 9:12 am

    The big difference between tele and AT bindings is that modern tele bindings actually change ski performance. Personally that’s one of many reasons I love AT, much less complex than trying to make a binding that not only releases and tours, but also functions as part of the downhill turn leverage system in an active way. Because tele bindings are “active,” they thus receive an amazing amount of attention from telemarkers. I have to admit I find this somewhat amusing, as I click into a simple 13 ounce Dynafit and ski off the summit of a fourteener — but I also totally understand the obsession. Shoot, we talk about AT bindings as well…

    Dostinator works. See

  7. Lou December 11th, 2006 9:16 am

    Lynn, the freedom of the TOE!? Free the heel, free the mind, now free the toe? LOL

  8. Greydon Clark December 11th, 2006 2:06 pm

    Lou, not sure if “active� bindings change the performance of a ski, but they do make it easier to flex the bellows of the boot which makes tele turns easier. Or are you thinking of the “tip dive� phenomena?

    While I haven’t seen BD’s still somewhat theoretical new norm, I appreciate that the boots will be compatible with most 75mm tele bindings. The backwards compatibility makes it more appealing to be an early adopter.

    Excited to see how this plays out.

  9. Lou December 12th, 2006 6:33 am

    Greydon, not only am I thinking of tip dive, but also, with cable bindings that have resistance, when you lift your heel it places a force on the ski that helps bend it into an arc. Really just part of the tip dive phenom, when on hardpack or firm powder the tip doesn’t dive and the force has to do something else. Fixed heel setup does the same thing when a person drives their knees forward or leans forward. Difference is that the alpine skier has a choice about whether they do this or not. In free heel skiing, if you tele turn the force is applied whether you like it or not (as those that experience tip dive can relate to).

  10. Cory December 13th, 2006 11:38 am

    In the spirit of the holiday season, I’d like to offer my services as a beta tester to any of the companies offering the new generation of telebindings.

    P.S. There are definitely some wonderful things that AT can do that tele can’t. For me, the one place where tele is still the clear winner is on low-angled, slow-speed, powder turns. The ability to do a simple lead change with your skis and have a turn is fantastic. As much as I Iove AT, you just can’t do it without some up and down motion (which results in a loss of speed and thus the inability to make the turn.)

  11. Lou December 13th, 2006 12:01 pm

    Cory, I beg to differ. Ever heard of a snowplow or stem turn? More, with modern skis I can ski low angled powder slowly and without up/down by just tilting ankles and knees. Do it all the time for fun. It’s much less motion than a tele lead change. In fact, when I see a telemarker making lead changes down through a powder meadow it looks a bit over-done and flamboyant to me. But then, I’m that blasphemic guy who thinks alpine turns are just as elegant, exceptional and fun as telemark turns.

    If they send me any NTN bindings to test, you’ll be the first to know (grin).

  12. Cory December 13th, 2006 1:55 pm

    Begging…c’mon Lou, it’s beneath you 😉 I’ll give you the angulation turn (knees and ankles), but not the stem or snowplow. The snowplow lowers your speed simply by it’s shape and the stem slows you down due to the step. (Basically on a stem turn, your weight distribution starts on two skis and then goes to one on a turn initation. This change in the weight distribution to surface area ratio causes the ski to dip into the pow resulting in a loss of speed). You may be able to make these turn styles work on one or two turns in a slow-speed, low-angled powder situation, but you definitely can’t link turns. The key here is a turn that works without scrubbing speed. The skis must remain parallel and your weight distribution between your skis must be 50/50. That’s why I gave you the angulation turn. Now we get into the asthetics. The tele’er may look flamboyant in this situation, but the AT’er looks like they overdosed on fiber. So it goes.

  13. Lou December 13th, 2006 2:09 pm

    Fiber, or maybe cheese? Pretty good there Cory… I guess we can agree that low angled pow is simply not somewhere we should be? (smile)

  14. Backcountry Larry August 17th, 2008 7:36 pm

    This is the best backcountry skiing website in the universe. When I’m not fixing windshields at my glass repair business in Wyoming, I’m sitting there at my computer reading everything on I can not get enough of it — addictive! How much stuff have you got on here, anyway? I’ve been reading for weeks and keep finding new things. Lou, do you ever ski? You must sit there writing this thing 15 hours a day!

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