Telemark skiers are a funny breed. How else to explain the passion of people who are pursuing a turn invented in Norway in the 1860s that amounts to genuflecting your way down the hill?
With the advent of efficient, releasable, fixed heel bindings and the stem christie turn, telemark seemed destined for death by the 1960s, only to see it revived, like Michael Myers, in the early 1970s by oddball hippie types in towns like Crested Butte and Stowe, Vermont.
Telemark skiers endure all sorts of (stupid) questions and comments -- "Your binding is broken!" is a good one -- but in recent years, the sport has moved into the mainstream, and those questions are fewer.
Now, a store in Breckenridge, AMR Ski Rental, located across the street from the gondola base, is betting that a new type of telemark binding will win converts to the sport, and has invested heavily in the NTN (New Telemark Norm) system, the biggest innovation to hit telemark skiing since plastic telemark boots.
NTN was developed by Rottefella, a Norwegian binding company, in part to eliminate the traditional duckbill on telemark boots that made any backcountry activity besides skiing a nightmare. Currently, NTN boots are made by Scarpa, Garmont, and Crispi. The binding itself adds step in entry, ski brakes, and, for those pushing the elements, releasability. The NTN also supposedly adds much more control and power.
"The boot and binding integration is much more powerful," said AMR owner/manager Dave Stillman, an evangelical convert to NTN. "You're not skiing out of the toe as in the conventional 75mm system; you're skiing out of the whole forefoot."
NTN was launched in 2007, and its use has been slow to catch on. Part of that is from the nature of telemark skiers, who, in their pursuit a charmingly anachronistic turn, may be suspicious of something that is such a departure from the familiar.
Part of the slow start has also been because of problems with the first few generations of Scarpa boots, which were too stiff the first year and, in the second generation, had a distressing tendency to break near the toe box.
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Scarpa has supposedly fixed the problems, and several of AMR employees were on the slopes at Breckenridge on opening day in NTN setups, swearing they'd never go back to the old cable bindings.
AMR is offering a full line of NTN rental equipment, including both models of Scarpa boots. All this week, AMR will be offering free NTN demos with the presentation of a ski pass.
"We are really happy to be a demo center for the system and hope everybody will come in and check it out and ski it," says Stillman. "We know everyone will like it."