The future of telemark ski gear?

This is only the second non-skiing weekend for me since mid-October. There is snow everywhere, but it is thin and has seen a bit too much sun and warmth from a week of high pressure. The excellent early snow from October melted, and we have yet to see a good solid snow to get things rolling. Bridger Bowl is not yet open, and Big Sky only has some modest terrain open. Due to a strong El Nino and other factors, our winter forecast is warmer and drier.

But even without skiing, there is interesting ski news regarding telemark skiing.

If you are a telemark skier, you are used to the current suite of binding/boot options all based on the original 75mm telemark norm. Crispi, Garmont, and Scarpa all make a nice range of plastic telemark books. We have many great bindings now, several with excellent skiing performance and a couple that have reliable release. But telemark still lacks the combination of step-in and release with bomber durabiltiy and great ski performance.

Regardless of gear "limitations," current telemark gear does not seem to be a limiting factor -- telemark skiing has never been more popular with so many great gear options.

The next step in telemark bindings, part 1.  Rottefella has come up with a new telemark binding and boot system, NTN, that gets rid of the duckbill (the front extension of the telemark boot that had the 3 pin holes) and promises improved skiing performance and options for release. This system will hit the market soon. The downside is that you will need new boots to work with this system. Below is a picture of the NTN system from telemarktips.com (they have it courtesy of BCA, who will distribute Rottefella bindings in the US).

NTN image from telemarktips.com (from BCA)

The next step in telemark bindings, part 2.  Black Diamond has just announced a new telemark binding system that offers all the goodies like step-in, release, and peformance but is backward compatible with current telemark boots (the duckbill lives on). The downside is that nobody outside of Black Diamond has seen or skied this system, and it won't be available until 2008. You can read more about this system via a news item/commentary from telemarktips.com.

There is plenty of debate about these two telemark binding/boot systems, but the bottom line is that telemark skiing is poised to take a needed step forward in gear. Competition can be very good. As it is, AT (alpine touring) gear has stepped up in recent years with the excellent Dynafit bindings for backcountry use and the wide ranging resort/backcountry bindings from Fritschi and Naxo. For adventure skiing where the emphasis is on flexibility to go and ski what you want, telemark has strong competiton from AT. In fact, I think AT gear is currently the most efficient and practical option for backcountry skiing, esp. with the excellent Dynafit system.  But telemark still has that soulful turn and attractive image.  Regardless of AT, most backcountry skiers I know prefer telemark.  How this all turns out for telemark skiing will depend on the next several years, but this is certainly an interesting time for telemark skiing.  I for one hope the future is very bright for telemark skiing.