Weight: 1,500 grams 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
Skis / Boots: Surface Live Life, 181cm / Scarpa TXPro
Test Locations: Alta Ski Area, Washington and British Columbia backcountry
Days Tested/Test Duration: 20+ days
Background: NTN vs. Traditional Tele Bindings
Over the past several years, the Norwegian manufacturer Rotefella has created a completely new type of telemark binding. This system, called NTN (or New Telemark Norm), has notably changed Telemark equipment.
You can read more about the details of the system in our Telemark Skiing 101 article, but it’s worth explain a few major differences between an NTN binding and other popular tele bindings before getting into the specifics of the NTN Freedom.
First, you can step directly into an NTN binding when getting into your skis, rather than bending down to fasten the heel of your boot to your binding, like most traditional telemark systems.
A second perk is that an NTN binding has a lateral release function—if you take a hard enough fall, the bindings unlock from your foot, which can help save your knees from injury and is also a good way to help stay alive if caught in an avalanche. (Though NTN bindings are not DIN- certified release bindings.)
Finally, the NTN binding provides more lateral rigidity than a typical telemark binding by replacing the cable around your heel with a sturdy plastic plate that grips to the sole of your boot. And maximized lateral rigidity is a very sought after trait for aggressive tele skiers who want to have as much control as possible over the micro-movements of their skis.
The one significant drawback to NTN, however, has been the weight.
NTN Freeride vs. Freedom
Rotefella’s first NTN binding, the Freeride, was a hefty 4.1 pounds of binding that also lacked a full free-pivot in tour mode. The result was a cumbersome setup for the uphill, especially when compared to Dynafit Alpine Touring Bindings, which can be half as heavy. So last year, Rotefella released the NTN Freedom as a backcountry oriented alternative for those seeking a lighter binding.
At first glance, the Freedom is just a slimmer, 3.6-pound version of the Freeride binding. But to cut down on weight, some fairly significant changes were made to the bindings construction.
The re-design of the bulky metal piece in front of the toe, which is the lever used to lock the binding onto your foot, is probably the most immediately noticeable difference. This piece has been swapped out for a much slimmer, less solid piece of light aluminum.
The heel riser, which on the Freeride is a thick, white, plastic plate, has been replaced with a smaller box with wire heal-risers for lifts, exactly like what you’d find on TwentyTwo Designs (see our review of the TwentyTwo Designs Axl) or Black Diamond Telemark Bindings.
However, the bulk of the weight has been trimmed on the Freedom by removing the heavy black plate that runs along the bottom of the binding. The downside is that this plate is what enabled you to move one set of Freeride bindings between multiple pairs of skis, making it possible to have just one binding that could be switched to a different pair of skis using this plate. The Freedom does not use this plate, which saves quite a lot of weight, but it means that you are drilling new holes in your skis if you make the switch, and if you have multiple skis, you’ll need more than one binding.
Save this one downside, however, the construction and the feel of the Freedom is a lot more streamlined and less clunky feeling than the Freeride. Despite lighter-weight materials, the binding still feels solid and well made, and generally offers improvements to the construction and feel of the Freeride.
When skinning, the Freedom quickly proved its superiority to the Freeride. I could immediately feel how much lighter it was and how much more range of motion I had in tour mode. (The range of motion in tour mode on the Freedom has been increased from just over 30 degrees on the Freeride to 60 degrees.) All this made for longer strides on steep terrain and a noticeably speedier ascent.
To me, this is the uncomplicated part of this review. The weight saving and additional range of motion of the Freedom make a HUGE difference. The rest is just small details, and in some cases, a matter of personal preference.
For instance, the two sets of heel risers (one tall for steep sections, one shorter for mellower uphill) is a handy idea, but one I admittedly hardly ever took advantage of. Getting the lower lift up requires lifting both and then knocking the higher one back down. The extra step takes only an extra second or two, but I usually ending up going with the either the higher one or none at all. But if you find yourself more often on a mellow, sustained ascent, the lower lift might be a really nice feature.
The only noticeable downside came when skinning through deep, wet snow, which occasionally jammed under the plate that attaches to your foot. This minor annoyance usually meant a couple of extra seconds during transitions to jab the snow with my ski pole, else on the ride down my foot wouldn’t quite make it all the way back to the ski, which just felt awkward. Additionally, I needed to be really careful transitioning from tour-mode to ski-mode, making sure the mechanism was really locked into place. Several times, a few turns into a run, I popped back into tour-mode. Now, I take a few extra seconds to hammer the top of my pole down on that mechanism to ensure it is locked, which seems to have solved the issue.
NTN: the New Telemark Norm. Time for all the freeheelers to geek out, argue, fight, hug, celebrate, etc., etc.
Charge hard up, charge hard down. The Axl binding from TwentyTwo Designs is a free-pivot tele binding that doesn't skimp on downhill performance.
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