Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson
Posted December 5th, 2010
Photo by Emberphoto.com
Once again, this year’s crop of Alpine touring and telemark boots and bindings is more impressive than ever. After several years of hopping along, Rottefella’s New Telemark Norm telemark binding is now gaining some real momentum. The NTN design offers step-in convenience, release-ability, a nearly resistance-free touring mode,and unparalleled control for more aggressive telemark skiers. On the binding front, options for AT bindings are more numerous than ever, and nearly all telemark bindings now feature a flip-of-the-switch tour mode, offering skiers the same resistance-free uphill performance that AT-skiers have enjoyed for years. With boots, flex and touring comfort continues to improve across the board, and the addition of tech-fittings on many AT boots simply opens up more options for skiers.
Below is a selection of boots and bindings that are more suited to downhill-oriented off-piste and backcountry adventures here in the Northeast.
Black Diamond Prime/Swift
$600; 7 lbs. 4 oz. (Prime) 6lbs. 11oz. (Swift); bdel.com
The new Prime (and women’s Swift) is BD’s latest mid-weight AT boot, and it seems to be a great choice for the following: skiers who like to spend long days covering lots of ground while earning their turns in the mountains; and skiers who simply don’t need or care for the power and support of a larger, four-buckle boot. Featuring tech-fittings, a power strap, a cozy and thermo-formable liner, and a very-flexible walk mode option, don’t be surprised to find these on your feet well into your après-ski festivities.
$740; 6 lbs. 11 oz.; garmontusa.com
The women-specific Luster is back again this year as a powerful, downhill-oriented boot that is also suitable for backcountry touring. It would be wise to ease into long tours with these boots, however, as they are a far cry from your grandpa’s slippers. For the descent, the Luster offers excellent control, power, and boot-to-ski sensitivity. Other highlights include tech fittings and a thermo-formable liner.
Dynafit TLT5 Mountain
$750; 5 lbs. 6 oz.; dynafit.com
The tech-fitted TLT5 Mountain is a more affordable (and heavier by 8 oz.) version of the carbon-equipped TLT5, both of which feature only two buckles and a power strap. Still, these boots can drive a ski at least as well as most three-buckle boots, yet they are light and comfortable enough to tour with, endlessly. Dynafit has built its reputation on high performance, touring-oriented performance, and the TLT5s are just the latest addition to their line of top-notch backcountry tools.
Scarpa TX Pro
$690; 7 lbs. 4 oz.; scarpausa.com
Scarpa’s been hard at work in partnership with Garmont and Crispi, developing a better NTN experience for skiers, and the TX Pro is one of Scarpa’s latest NTN-compatible boots. It’s a relatively powerful, but smooth-flexing four-buckle boot that is also compatible with tech-fitted AT bindings. While most skiers will find the TX-Pro (and the NTN, generally) to be a bit overkill for extensive backcountry touring, more aggressive skiers will enjoy the power and control offered by the TX-Pro and NTN package.
Garmont Priestess (NTN)
$710; 7 lbs. 8 oz.; garmontusa.com
The NTN-compatible Priestess is a powerful, mid-weight, three-buckle boot that is a great choice for lift-served and backcountry skiers alike. Featuring a comfortable walk mode, a power strap, a thermo-formable liner, and an exceptionally nice flex, the versatile Priestess makes NTN technology accessible to female skiers.
Black Diamond Trance
$600; 7 lbs. 3 oz.; bdel.com
If you are not looking for an NTN-compatible boot, but you are looking for something versatile, like the Garmont Priestess, consider the BD Trance. This is another powerful and very comfortable mid-weight, three-buckle telemark boot that, with good technique, can handle nearly all types of terrain and snow conditions with authority.
$550; 3 lbs. 2 oz. (w/brakes); genuineguidegear.com
Last year’s release of the Oynx represented the first non-Dynafit binding that is compatible with the four-pin tech-fit system that many AT and NTN boots now feature. Although it is approximately 50 percent heavier than most Dynafit bindings, the Onyx is significantly lighter than most alpine-style AT plate bindings, such as the Marker Duke, Fritschi Freeride, and Fritschi Eagle. With the Onyx’s ski-pole friendly levers and plenty of practice, switching from ski to tour mode and back is no sweat. Other highlights: optional brakes and ski crampons; and you can buy extra base plates and use one set of bindings for multiple skis.
Fritschi Freeride Pro
$500; 4 lbs. 13 oz.; dynafit.com
For those craving a powerful binding for lift-served skiing and don’t mind a few extra pounds of gear on the feet when climbing, the new Freeride Pro is a great new option. Compatible with ski crampons, the Freeride Pro is a fully releasable binding similar in function to the high-end alpine bindings on the market. Featuring a wide, 80mm chassis, it provides an ideal platform for driving today’s widest skis. Switching in and out of tour mode is simple, and an updated and efficient toe-pivot location makes up for a bit of its heft.
$400; 4 lbs. 1 oz.; rottefella.com
The NTN is the latest in telemark binding technology, and after its second full season on the market it seems to be gaining momentum. The NTN eliminates the need for the cumbersome 75mm duck-billed telemark toe, while offering releasability, step-in convenience, a free-pivot touring mode, and excellent control. Users can purchase extra NTN binding plates for other skis, and move the main body of the NTN binding from ski to ski with ease. Also, with tech-fittings, NTN boots can be combined with a tech-fitted AT binding for fixed-heel skiing. Many aggressive telemark skiers find the NTN to be the most powerful telemark binding on the market, but its bulk and less-than-ideal touring performance still have many dedicated backcountry skiers hesitating to use it.
$280; 3 lbs.; voile-usa.com
After several years of testing the variety of telemark-touring bindings on the market, we’ve consistently found Voile’s Switchback to be the most hassle-free and reliable telemark binding for those who spend most of their skiing time earning their turns in the backcountry. Other pluses: the Switchbacks have virtually no icing issues with the tour-mode mechanism; they’re made in the USA; and they are ski crampon compatible (with Voile’s ski crampon).
Voile 3-Pin Cable Binding
$85; 1 lbs., 13 oz.; voile-usa.com
For gentle skiers, lighter-weight skiers, and for lighter-weight ski/boot combos, this is an incredibly versatile and affordable telemark binding. The 3-Pin Cables feature an adjustable cable that can be cut and fit to any boot size, removed during the ascent for reduced climbing resistance, and replaced for the descent for added control and boot-to-ski retention. They match up well to light to mid-weight (two or three buckle) and leather telemark boots with a standard 75mm three-pin telemark toe. They are the perfect compliment to your favorite pair of rock skis, waxless backcountry touring skis, or to your dedicated backcountry powder boards.
Brian Mohr and his wife, Emily Johnson, of Moretown, VT, have shaped their lives around their skiing adventures. They publish www.AdventureSkier.com, and their slideshow series, Wild People, Wild Places, will feature several shows in Vermont this December and January. You can learn more about their work at www.EmberPhoto.com.