Tag Archives: telemark

Telemark NTN binding injury

17 Aug

I discovered on Wednesday that Rottefella’s careful qualification of the releasability of their NTN telemark bindings is well-justified. 14920051226_7e5c2e7ba2_o 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:

  1. Reduce my Rottefella NTN Freedom binding release setting to at least 2;
  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.

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Skinny skis & leather boots

17 Aug

UPDATE 2014: The video referred to in this article is no longer available due to the demise of telemarktips.com.

Ever found skiing hard?  Oh no you haven’t.

For those who have never telemarked, this video might seem a little anti-climactic.  We skiers have all seen videos of cool dudes shredding slopes ad infinitum.  The appeal here is in the restrictions that these particular “cool dudes” faced when this video was filmed.

The guys at Telemarktips.com have recently posted a video of telemark skiing from what I’m guessing is the early 1980s, the age of the renaissance of telemark skiing.  This was back when telemark skiing meant hurtling downhill in soft leather boots, attached to ludicrously skinny skis by a little metal clamp at the toe.

It was in those days that I was first introduced to telemark skiing.  I was working in Antarctica in 1984, washing dishes at McMurdo Base for a horde of Filipino US Navy cooks (this is another story that I will come back to someday).

We were all down there washing dishes and scrubbing floors because the idea of Antarctica, “The Ice”, was just too exciting for any of us to ignore.  We shifted heaven and earth for the privilege of serving the lowest echelons of the US military at the very bottom of the planet, the coldest place known to humankind.

So cool to be there, even cooler was the sight of a select few sneaking away from the base and out across the Ross Ice Shelf on cross country skis.  I determined that I was going to do that too.

The next season, I turned up there with my new skis, ready to endure endless hours of washing dishes and kowtowing to minor military meatheads, finding solace in the knowledge that for 36 continuous daylight hours at the end of every work week, I would be free!

So we did lots of cool travelling across ice shelves, climbed volcanoes, traversed crevasses, explored abandoned historic explorer huts, took heinously daft risks jumping across drifting sea ice gaps… and I will bore you with all that some other time.

When we returned to the temperate zone, I did my best to get down to some serious skiing on these cross-country travelling devices.  Exploring North America I worked at ski areas and caught up with some of the American Ice folk.

One of these was Bill Danford, a resident of Driggs, Idaho, living in the shadow of the Grand Teton.  Bill and one of his mates offered to take me out backcountry skiing from Jackson Pass.  We traversed along from the Pass and I watched while Bill and his mate skied, in their leather boots and skinny telemark skis, attached by just a flimsy metal clamp, down a powder filled valley; just like the guys in this video.

Try as I might, with my very best efforts, all I could manage was a series of tumbles down that valley.  I cannot begin to describe how hard it is to make a skinny ski do any sort of controlled turn on any slope, let alone powder snow, while wearing glorified tramping boots. 

These days we go out in plastic boots and fat skis, attached with solid metal plates and stiff wires.  Still a little disadvantaged compared with our fixed-heel brethren, we bend our knees and free our heels, but very much with technology on our side.

This video is, in my mind, a homage to legendary mountain man Bill Danford, deceased.  RIP Bill.

Click here to download the video from Telemarktips.com.