Weight: 1,500 g per pair
Height: 25 mm
Rotation: 22 mm behind tip of boot
Walking opening angle: 60 degrees
Heel lifter: 35 mm and 65 mm
Ski brake: standard 110 mm
Boots: Crispi Evo size 27.5, SCARPA TX-Comp size 27.5
Skis: DPS Lotus 120 Pure, 190cm
Test Locations: Chugach and Talkeetna area ski touring; Alyeska Resort; Arctic Valley Ski Area, Alaska; Hakuba area, Japan – lift served and touring
Skier size: 6’0”, 185 lbs.
Days tested: ~20
Getting into the backcountry has been my primary focus in skiing since I was in middle school in the mid ‘90s, and I was immediately drawn to telemark gear as an inexpensive way to start ski touring.
Since then, boots and skis have improved dramatically, but I’ve always felt like tele bindings were lagging behind. Starting with three pins, then Rivas, Superloops, Pitbulls, G3’s, Cobras, Bombers, Linkens, O1’s, multiple versions of NTN Freedom and a few more, I’ve skied them all, and have owned most of them.
Based on this experience, I think the NTN Freedom is among the best overall bindings to date.
Intro to NTN
New Telemark Norm (NTN) was developed and brought to market by the Norwegian company Rottefella around 2007. As Kate Hourihan mentioned in her review of the NTN Freedom, the idea was to address several perceived shortcomings in existing 75mm telemark bindings, mainly a lack of torsional rigidity and a release function. (You can also read about this in more detail in our Telemark Skiing 101.)
Prior to the arrival of my NTN Freedoms, I had toured off and on for three seasons on the NTN Freeride. The Freeride skis well, but its poor touring performance very often made it an easy decision to leave the teles at home and grab some Dynafit-equipped skis. Not only does the Freeride weigh 2,010 grams per pair, but the touring range of motion maxes out around 30 degrees of heel lift.
But even more frustrating was the substantial amount of spring tension when raising the heel, even in tour mode. On a hard skin track, the extra resistance was just an annoyance, but breaking trail in fresh snow or kick turning could be exhausting. The Freedom binding addresses all of these issues.
As Kate mentioned, weight is reduced by about 25% to 1,500 grams (3 lbs. 4 oz.), which is a noticeable difference both in your hand and on your feet.
And range of motion of the touring mode is almost doubled to around 50 degrees. (Rottefella claims 60 degrees, but my old plastic protractor from high school shows it about 10 degrees less with boot in binding.)
The increased range of motion (ROM) makes longer strides on flats easier, facilitates better kick turns, and allows the efficient use of the heel risers. Skiers who utilize really long strides and big steps while climbing might find the Freedom’s ROM limiting, but I prefer a shorter, more compact stride while skinning on any kind of equipment, and find that the current Freedom ROM is adequate.
Heel lifters on the NTN Freedom are adequate. They flip up with a ski pole handle, and I haven’t had any trouble with them collapsing. They are a little more fidgety than the TwentyTwo Designs-style, spring-loaded heel lifter, but with a little practice, they work great. Unlike Kate, I do like having two climbing heights, which, again, is something I’ve grown accustomed to from using tech bindings.
The resistance to heel lift in tour mode is still present in the Freedom, but is much reduced compared to the Freeride. And like the Freeride, it does seem to depend on the pre-load settings of the springs. I’ll discuss spring tension more below, but I run my Freedom’s with blue springs at about four or five (out of five) most of the time, which is about the maximum tension possible. The heel lift tension is notable compared to a completely free-pivot binding (like a tech binding), or the Black Diamond O1 or TwentyTwo Designs Axl, but is not particularly cumbersome in the skin track. During a long day of ski touring, it’s a little more tiring and less efficient than a true free-pivot, but even breaking trail in light, soft snow is only minimally more taxing.
For the sake of testing, I backed off the springs (which can be done in a minute or two by hand, without tools) to two out of five on the blue spring power box, and noticed considerably less resistance when climbing.
After hundreds of days of skiing on tech bindings, I have come to appreciate having the pivot point as close to my foot as possible when skinning. When demoing skis with Fritchi’s, or using 75mm free-pivot tele bindings like Axls or O1s, I immediately notice the tippy-toe feeling when climbing. This may just be personal taste, but the pivot location of a tech binding feels more secure on icy sidehills and more comfortable overall. The NTN Freedom is the only tele binding that approximates the pivot position of tech bindings, except for the Telemark Tech System, which utilizes an actual tech toe (and I have not yet skied).
The boots available for NTN and 75mm also have an affect on touring performance. When comparing the NTN Freedom (3 lbs., 4oz.) to 75mm tele bindings with tour modes, such as Axls (4 lbs) or O1s (3 lbs., 12 oz.), it would appear that the weight savings are modest. And yet, it is important to note that NTN boots are one to two pounds lighter per pair for comparable models in the SCARPA line.
For example, the SCARPA TX-Comp weighs 7 lbs., 8 oz. per pair, while the equivalent 75mm boot, the T-Race, is 8 lbs., 12 oz. in the same size. That comes out to 12 lbs., 12 oz. for the Axl/T-Race vs. 10 lbs., 12 oz., or one pound less per foot. To me, that’s a big difference during a long day of touring.
(Note: I personally don’t feel like the TX-Comp is quite as powerful as the T-Race, but the NTN binding closes the gap and makes it a fair comparison. I should also mention that there are very light 75mm bindings on the market, such as the Voile Switchback, but I have not found them to be in the same category as the Axl and NTN in terms of downhill performance.)
Next Page: Downhill Performance