I discovered on Wednesday that Rottefella’s careful qualification of the releasability of their NTN telemark bindings is well-justified.
I was skiing the resort of Coronet Peak, New Zealand, when a tentative approach to a short but ugly-looking steep off-piste slope led to a twisting fall. My ski stopped, my body kept going. In one of those slow motion moments, as the tissue began to tear, I kept expecting the binding to release, but it never did. The result was a debilitating ankle sprain, but no broken bones. My first serious ski injury in 30 years of skiing. The photo was taken two days after the accident when swelling was maximum and black patches had appeared; presumably the accumulation of previous days’ internal bleeding.
UPDATE, Oct 2014: Turns out I fractured my fibula, quite seriously. Diagnosed after five weeks, which included a couple of attempts to ski and other ill-advised activity, the recovery has been prolonged. Have today concluded that I will not be able to head away on a ski tour planned for 10 weeks after injury.
UPDATE, July 2015: Fracture led to cancellation of New Year ski trip to Japan. Finally got right for a ski tour week in British Columbia in April 2015. Only last month, 10 months after the injury, was I able to get my trail running out to 2 hour sessions. Even now, niggles and pain persist. I’m only saying this to emphasise how disruptive an injury can be to those who haven’t been through it. Best avoided!
Binding: Rottefella NTN Freedom. Recommended release setting for my weight and boot size: 3 Actual setting: 2.5 Boot: Scarpa TX Comp. Rottefella’s binding manual makes it clear that the binding is not DIN certified, due to the variation in spring tension that occurs with raising and lowering the heel (unlike the static heel position in a standard alpine binding). It is relevant to note that my injured ankle was on the inside of the telemark turn when the accident occurred, i.e. the heel was raised and the springs were at maximum tension, therefore less likely to release. The manual also states that release setting should be reduced by 1 for skiers over 50. I am 51 and made the choice to reduce by just 0.5, due to my proximity to the 50 year mark, not to mention ego and perception of fitness compared with my peers. Less relevant, the manual states that settings should be reduced by 1 for powder snow. The accident occurred off-piste on a patch of heavy shallow powder snow. “Heavy” means high moisture-content typical low-altitude New Zealand powder that would barely qualify as powder in the US, Japan or Europe. The fact that my ski seems to have struck major resistance, possibly even vegetation or rock, means that I do not consider the powder snow setting to be relevant in this situation. This was just Day 4 of my 2014 ski season; only Day 2 on new skis, and I knew I wasn’t skiing with good form. It wasn’t coming together for me. I was at high risk of making an error. My conclusions are:
- Reduce my Rottefella NTN Freedom binding release setting to at least 2;
- Don’t expect any telemark binding to release when you need it to.
Although I mainly ski advanced off-piste terrain, my technical ability is limited and I frequently find myself surrendering to trepidation with hasty and clumsy turns. The limitations of my technique are probably a more important factor than the requirement to keep skis attached in steep and exposed situations. Therefore a reduction in release setting is wise. Ironically, my injury forced the cancellation of a scheduled telemark lesson. The main reason for my preference for a release mechanism in telemark bindings is the concern about the consequences of being caught in an avalanche. For that reason alone, I will continue to choose telemark bindings with some form of safety release. The Rottefella Freedom has a nice telemark flex action, effectively transfers power from boot to ski, is convenient to enter and exit, has ski brakes and has a limited release function. Overall, I am satisfied with this binding.