Telemark Binding Advice - The Most Important Piece of Kit?
If you’re thinking of upgrading your gear, then the binding is in my opinion, the most undervalued piece of kit we use. People focus more on skis and boots and underestimate how much the binding significantly affects the skis’ performance. In other words, a good binding gets more out of the ski it’s mounted onto, in some cases exponentially more. The binding can also significantly affect the flex pattern of the boot, offering varying degrees of resistance and pivot points.
The same cannot be said for alpine setups with alpine bindings feeling more or less the same regardless of brand, they don’t significantly alter the performance of the ski, their design pretty generic.
If you’re looking to upgrade your Binding Setup, here’s 10 key points to consider, before taking the plunge..
10 Considerations When Buying New Bindings
1. Variety of Designs
Telemark bindings vary hugely, from cables wrapping around the foot, to heavy elastic running under the foot, to metal toe boxes attached to the fore-foot, to differing flex patterns and pivot points. I’m amazed at how different each binding feels in terms of it’s performance. Less experienced free-heelers often wrongly attribute these sensations to the ski or boot. I would go as far as to say that, if you don’t have a consistent binding at a ski test event, then it’s impossible to accurately compare ski models.
Also bear in mind that some telemark bindings are fixed to the ski at a slight angle meaning you have a specific left and right ski. This significantly reduces the ski’s lifespan. As any experienced racer will tell you, we all press more on the big toe edge than the little toe edge, meaning one edge will wear significantly quicker than the other. Alpine skiers and free-healers with NTN systems don’t have a specific left and right ski, meaning they have four edges to wear down rather than just two.
2. Variety of Features
In terms of features, alpine bindings are pretty generic, they all have a toe piece, a heel piece and a break. In stark contrast, tele bindings offer vastly different features; some release, others don’t, some have breaks some leashes, some step-in while others require a balancing act to put them on. Some bindings are big and bulky while others slim and lightweight. This makes our choice so much more complicated. Reviews are really useful to help you decide which features are really worth having and which features you really need.
3. Tele Bindings are Stressed
Another fundamental difference between alpine and telemark bindings is that tele bindings are stressed far more - on every turn! There are moving parts required to accommodate the heel lift and flex patterns to help control this movement. Hence tele bindings seem to break more easily than alpine bindings. This may also explain the multitude of designs to better accommodate this stress. To Consider:
Spring Tensions Adjustment - some bindings on the market offer spring tension adjustment and some are far more effective than others. If you can, test the full range of tension adjustment and see for yourself how easy or hard it is to adjust. I love the 22designs Outlaw X for it’s spring tension adjustment range and ease of use. Review coming soon…
Easy adjustment, great range of adjustment, The Outlaw X
- Boot Length - traditionally telemark bindings weren’t very adjustable for varying boot sole lengths. The Rottefella Chilli and Cobra for example only had two cable lengths and although both were adjustable - their range of adjustment wasn’t very big, meaning that boots at the extremes of their adjustable range either released too easily or were stiff to flex. Most bindings that attach at the heel are susceptible to this, so if you have big or small feet then the the flex pattern of the binding may be affected.
Big feet? Beware the extra stress on the flex pattern of bindings with heel attachments
4. Designed to go Up and Down
Telemark bindings aren’t only designed for skiing downhill of course, they’re also built to allow us to walk uphill. This whole functionality has generated a multitude of designs and systems with varying pivot points, pivot angles and weight demands that can significantly affect stride length and efficiency when skinning. In todays market the range includes bindings geared more towards touring, while others toward lift accessed skiing, and plenty in between. A key question is; what percentage of your ski time will be walking uphill? How much touring do you really do? I’m often surprised at how many of my beginner-intermediate clients choose a binding for it’s touring functionality. Be honest with yourself here. Should the touring functionality of the binding you choose be a nice add-on feature? Or is it fundamental to how you use the gear?
5. Touring Features
If you do a lot of touring make sure you look into pivot points and pivot range as mentioned above, they both have a significant impact on stride length, which can make the difference between cruising up and struggling up! Also look out for:
- Heel Lifters - are obviously very important if you tour, with many of us focussing on how many height options the lifter has, often overlooking the ease of use. How easy / hard is the heel lifter to flip up with a ski pole between the legs, while skinning up a steep icy slope. The heel lifter on the Freeride is particularly tricky to flip up for example, especially if you have powder baskets on your poles. How many freeride poles don’t have big baskets?
- Crampons - if you are going to do any sort of serious touring on your telemark gear, then the binding really needs to be crampon compatible. Skinning up an icy slope without crampons is not much fun. At the time of writing, tele binding compatible crampons are pretty hard to find.
6. How do Boots Affect the Feel?
If you’re skiing a new boot, the inherent stiffness of the ankle and bellow joints will massively affect the flex pattern of the binding, the binding will feel different to how it would perform in a turn with a regular boot on. Take this into consideration. If you’re testing gear, try to limit the variables by using a boot that you’re used to, or that has been worn-in.
7. Release Capability.
Not all telemark bindings release, which isn’t the best news for your knees or if you get caught in an avalanche. There are various release systems available. 7tm and Voilé for example have a system whereby the bulk of the binding stays attached to the boot, but release from a plate on the ski in the event of a fall. In my experience both bindings are prone to pre-release and are difficult to reattach in deep snow. The NTN systems generally release laterally, although it’s not guaranteed, and as yet they are not DIN-certified. Things to consider when looking at release mechanisms:
- Settings - does the binding have a good range of settings to adjust release tension, and are these settings easy to adjust? Do you need to carry a specific tool to adjust them?
- Snow Packing - does snow packing under the binding or ski boot affect the release mechanism? Can snow easily collect in the release mechanism?
Easily adjustable - Rottefella Freeride’s don’t even need a tool
8. Beware of Plastic
There is great demand for lightness in our free heel setups. In order to achieve this lightness, manufacturers often substitute metal for plastic. I have seen a brand new ‘touring’ oriented binding shatter, by a client kicking / scraping snow off his boot sole while putting the ski on. It was a very cold day. He was a big guy. He was kicking pretty hard, like you would when putting on an alpine ski. Be careful with the lighter bindings, they’re not as hardy as their piste oriented brethren.
Go easy with the lighter bindings
9. Spare Parts
As mentioned, we stress our bindings. Imagine the force that goes through a flexed binding carrying a 90kg bloke carving down a slope at 50mph. That’s a lot of force. Bindings wear and they break. Does the brand you’re looking at offer spare parts? Check out the 22Designs website for their binding spares and accessories.
Telemark skiing stresses our gear!
10. True Step-in Step-Out?
The NTN system has revolutionised putting your skis on and taking them off, but some step-in systems have a caveat or two. If the binding requires a leash, then you’ll still need to bend over to attach it - this almost completely negates the point of a step-in. If you want a true step-in, make sure the binding has brakes rather than a leash. Can you put the ski into touring mode without having to take the ski off? Although winter 2019/20 Meidjo 2.1 has improved it’s step in feature, you still need to bend over to attach a leash and you need to completely remove the ski to change to touring mode. The Rottefella Freeride’s step-in is pretty solid although it has taken me a season or two to perfect the step-in, I can now put them on as easily as my alpine kit, but it took some practice. The Outlaw X has an awesome ‘pole activated release’, the Freeride can be also be easily released with a ski pole handle, but many others still require you to bend over and faff with the binding.
Choice Leads to Confusion
The bottom line is that unlike alpine we still haven’t settled on a generic binding style that works best. For the consumer, this means variety and choice, which often goes hand in hand with complexity and confusion.
Long live our culture of tinkering and developing, I imagine that one day we’ll find that generic design. In the meantime we’ve put together some telemark binding reviews to help guide your binding choice. Nothing is better than testing gear however, if you get the chance to test different bindings - go for it. Just bear in mind, you’re testing the binding as well as the boot and ski.
Check the Tele Tracks kit reviews for some independent advice on a range of brands, if you’ve got any feedback or have any kit you’d like to review, give us a shout! We’d love to hear from you…