What else can be said? The man has done more for the sport than
anyone since Sondre Norheim. Listen up. It's always a privilege
to hear from Paul Parker, and with so much going on, this is
true now more than ever.
Tt: Hi Paul, welcome once again
to Telemarktips. How was your summer?
PP: Summers are always great.
This one has seen a lot of interesting work and plenty of outdoor
time. I was in Argentina in August for boot testing.
Tt: What kind of boots were
you testing? Tele, AT or alpine?
PP: Freeride boots: AT walkability
with alpine race-boot performance, interchangeable soles that
are compatible with 3 norms, multi-injection, very responsive
overlap design. It's been a fun project. Our R&D guys are
on a roll.
Tt: Over the last few years
your focus in telemark has been on developing boots for the NTN
binding, and we'll catch up there in a moment, but first, what's
up with Garmont's traditional 75mm toe boots these days? Any
changes and refinements we should know about?
PP: Last year when we launched
the Prophet NTN we also launched two 75mm boots, the Voodoo and
Kenai. These boots use the same overlap technology as the Prophet;
we call it Power Wrap. They are the best 75mm boots that I've
skied. They have a sweet flex and are very rigid torsionally
with a super-responsive overlap design.They are in their second
season and doing well.
More recent big
news in 75mm is for this fall: two new women's-specific telemark
boots, the Minerva and the Athena. Both boots are sized down
to 22.0. They are the same overlap technology as the Voodoo and
Kenai, which holds a lower-volume woman's foot very securely
and comfortably. The beefier of the two boots, the Minerva, is
flexed slightly softer than the Men's Voodoo for lighter-weight
skiers and smaller feet. It has the same lateral power as the
Voodoo, which is significant. The boots got a lot of testing
last season with a very positive response.
Tt: On the NTN side, Garmont
now has a ladies boot, the Priestess, which we'd like to hear
more about, but first, how has the men's Prophet NTN been doing?
How were sales last year?
PP: The Prophet NTN did very
well last season both in sales and customer satisfaction. We
sold out quite early, even earlier than we would have liked,
so we're not complaining. It's a great boot and it's been fun
to build a smaller woman's boot with that technology.
Tt: I'm asking because we have
heard troubling talk coming from outside the NTN partners, going
into last year and again here at the start of this season, that
the new system has failed in the market place. Further, that
dealers are losing interest in supporting telemark because they
don't want to have to carry two competing systems, and even that
we here at Telemarktips are hurting the sport by reporting on
and reviewing the system favorably. How would you respond to
PP: NTN had some significant
issues the first two seasons, both with bindings and boots. It's
not a big surprise to see that sort of thing with a completely
new system, but that fact doesn't make it any easier for the
manufacturers or for the consumers. The NTN partners did a great
job in taking care of the problems and consumers' needs, which
are paramount, but it was a big hurdle that NTN had to overcome.
Last season was
a key year for NTN after these problems There was cause for skepticism
last fall, but once boots were shipped and the NTN system was
on the snow it was very apparent that those issues had been resolved.
Skiers were digging it. Our Prophets, in their first season,
Speaking to "failure"
of NTN, at this point that's just negative PR spin. As I said,
last season we sold out early, beyond our expectations. Kim Miller
of Scarpa said the same thing for their NTN boots. I haven't
talked to Federico of Crispi recently but I would guess that
they had similar results. As NTN partners we have been very pleased
with our sales results and, most importantly, the enthusiasm
of those customers after they had skied their new system. That's
not a failure.
loss of interest, no doubt it was a challenge to convince retailers
last season, the third season after two years of problems. Our
sales people, as did Scarpa's and Crispi's, worked hard, with
many demos to get retailers on snow with the NTN system to demonstrate
how it had evolved. Those dealers who did choose to give NTN
one more chance were glad that they did.
I haven't hear this. I don't think that dealers are complaining
about more than one system when, in fact, it's an additional
opportunity. As long as there is demand and it works well it
opens the door to more customers. In AT we have competing systems,
step-in and TECH. They cohabitate well, giving the skier a choice
according to their primary use and personal preference.
NTN is an important
opportunity to bring new skiers to telemark. It is much more
appealing to the alpine customer than 75mm. The alpine customer
has expectations not only for high performance, but for the function
and technical features that they enjoy with their alpine and
AT gear: step-in, brakes, easier booting up and hiking, crampon
compatibility, touring mode in the binding. The alpine and AT
customer uses these features every day and expects them. I expect
them. I think that all of us who have used NTN have realized
how important those everyday functions are, as well as NTN's
exceptional skiing performance.
is a world of great skiers out there on 75mm, who may always
ski 75mm, but NTN opens the door for more skiers with other expectations.
Tt: Well said Paul.
That pretty much sums up the good case for NTN as I first heard
it, more than a decade ago, ironically from a now-former NTN
partner. Today, I'm struck by the fact that nothing has changed
here. The need to put out the welcome mat with a modern telemark
system has remained a constant at every stage in the NTN's development
and introduction. No matter who was telling the story, it has
remained the same. In the current competitive atmosphere between
advocates of the old and the new, this should not be forgotten.
It's how we got here.
Back to the boots:
Have you and Garmont made any changes to the Prophet? And tell
us about the Priestess NTN. What did you do to make it work better
PP: This season
we made a slight tweak in the Prophet's forward flex with a little
more stiffness in the bellows. It's not a big change. The Priestess
NTN has a slightly softer flex, and is slightly softer overall
for lighter weight bodies and smaller feet.
Tt: Do you feel that the NTN
system itself offers specific advantages for women?
PP: One of the important advantages
of NTN is that, because of the very solid way the binding holds
the boot, you can get more performance out of a softer shell.
In fact you have to have a softer shell for the boot to flex
properly. Softer, if it performs, is advantageous for everyone,
but particularly for women who generally have smaller feet and
are lighter weight and can benefit from a slightly softer structure
that is better proportioned to their size.
Tt: If Garmont could do it
all over again, and under the same circumstances, would you again
decide to wait out the first year of the NTN before throwing
your hat into the ring with the Prophet?
PP: Absolutely. We didn't feel
the binding was ready the first season. Boot development is very
expensive, a huge up-front investment before you sell a single
pair of boots. It has to be as right as you can get it. We were
not prepared to develop a boot for what we felt was a binding
that was still evolving.
Tt: Some of us on the media
side have been talking and begun to wonder aloud when and if
we might see additional binding makers building to the new norm's
second-heel. How important do you feel this might be to the long-term
success of the NTN?
PP: I've always felt that it
would be advantageous to the system's development to have more
binding partners involved. In 1998, when we began the project,
there were two other binding manufacturers in the group. Once
the system gains traction I think that more binding partners
will be very important.
Tt: As our gear has evolved,
so has modern telemark technique. Plastic boots and fat, shaped
skis have played a big role in changing the way we ski. It has
been noted on our TelemarkTalk Forum that the NTN system "rewards
good technique." I thought that was a great observation,
and very true. Many of us have also noted that NTN responds well
to the more upright, collected stance style of telemark that
you've been an advocate of going back to the earliest editions
of your classic book, Free-Heel
Any thoughts here? Could this be one of the ways the new system
will drive changes in technique?
PP: I've always been an advocate
of a taller stance, something that we can learn from good alpine
technique. With a taller stance the skier has more range of motion.
In the days of leather boots it required particular emphasis
because we lacked the cuff support of today's big boots-we couldn't
just stand up and lean on our boot cuffs. It took conscious effort
to stand tall so that we could use our full range of motion and
flex those stiff, skinny skis.
We can't tell people
how to ski and gear must work for myriad techniques. Gear must
evolve but not so fast that skiers don't enjoy it from the get-go
and adapt to it easily, subconsciously.
I believe that the
telemark market is ready for NTN. In that evolutionary process
I'm talking about, everything has gotten tighter: boot toe/binding
interface, boot-to- ski interface, stiffer shells, ankle and
lower leg support and, as a result, stance. The NTN binding holds
the boot very securely and is particularly well-suited to a tall,
collected skier, but today's stiffer boots and more active 75mm
bindings do that as well. It's not just NTN that is helping a
skier stand taller and more collected and get the most out of
their boards, I think it's a general trend in telemark. NTN does
facilitate that trend.
Tt: We agree with you that
the sport is ready for NTN, and it seems as though it's been
building to this point for some time. In addition to gaining
a more complete understanding of the desirability of an advanced,
fully featured system--- in some part we can thank the AT side
for this--- modern telemark technique has indeed evolved. You
mentioned earlier the NTN project's beginnings in 1998. At that
time, the debate over "active" versus "neutral"
was just beginning behind the scenes, and the concept of a binding
doing a little more than simply holding the boot to the ski would
not gain serious traction among consumers for some time to come.
It's almost as if the long years in which NTN was under development
worked to the system's advantage, allowing the sport time to
catch up to what an active binding can do for the telemark skier.
That being said,
there are those who still appreciate the "transparency"
of a more neutral feel, and I know that you, as a longtime instructor,
and now more particularly as a boot developer, have and continue
to feel that a telemark binding shouldn't really dictate a boot's
flex. This makes for a tough line to walk in the traditional
system, balancing the advantages of a more active binding against
the desirability to retain a more natural boot flex.
The NTN system's
second-heel changes things up, and to me this is perhaps the
most important of the system's breakthroughs, and it is one that
it seems to me is most often overlooked. The NTN system is "active"
in a very different way than we have seen in what has come before.
The way in which
NTN bindings attach underfoot adds forefoot stability to boots
that, as you indicated previously, must be made with a softer
flex in the lower shell. This combination allows the binding
to work with the boot using a much "lighter touch."
Large, very powerful springs are not necessary to create the
sensation of skiing through the "ball of the foot"
that fans of active bindings have come to appreciate so much.
With the NTN system, the binding manages an active feel, without
dictating the boot's flex. The result is unprecedented smoothness,
power and control.
PP: This whole active vs. neutral
discussion began for a couple of reasons. One was a retrofit
that gave flexier boots more support. This made sense with the
boots of the day. The first cable bindings didn't really help,
and many of us chose to ski with Voile Plates that added torsional
control and flex resistance to the soles. They also gave us a
bit of rise, necessary on skinny skis.
The discussion really
took hold when it became apparent that plastic boots had outgrown
the bindings. Bindings didn't secure that day's new generation
of plastic boots so that they would bend in the right place.
Stiff boots just rolled up on the toe, unstable and uncomfortable.
boots needed more active binding designs, but the down side was
that a binding developer began to dictate how our boots should
bend, when he might be skiing in a very different boot.
At Garmont we took
a unique approach at the start
and developed our multiple-injection technology. By working with
different plastic durometers-- stiffnesses-- we could properly
position a more progressive and consistent boot flex. It has
been very successful, with the only limitations being the 75mm
In this context
it's easy to visualize why NTN's second heel is such a good idea.
The NTN binding grips the boot under the mid-foot and facilitates
the boot's bending farther back. It's the fundamental "ball
of the foot" thing that we always talk about. You call it
a sensation, which is correct. The ball of your foot is never
really on the ski, but if your boot and binding work in harmony
you feel progressive pressure under the ball of your foot that
translates to contact, ski feel, and edge control.
All of NTN's specifications
are strict, right down to rubber sole durometers. This standardization
means consistency and compatiblity, unlike the 75mm norm which
has very loose specs.
I like a more active
feel, appropriate as I prefer stiffer boots. I just don't want
it exaggerated so that the binding forces the boot's flex and
its location. We are 'way beyond that in boot technology and
finally with NTN, the binding technology has caught up to work
in harmony with the boot. This compatibility of binding and boot
is a major strength. Within its pre-determined range, the skier
can adjust the binding to their chosen NTN boot and attain the
feel that they want by using different Power Tubes and by setting
those tubes' resistance. It's simple and it's up to the skier,
as I think it should be. It's truly a boot/binding system.
Tt: We appreciate your taking
the time to share your thoughts with us Paul. There are so many
in the world of telemark skiing who appreciate the work you have
done and continue to do to advance the sport. On behalf of all
of us, thanks!
PP: 'Always a pleasure, Mitch.
Have a great winter, everyone, and I hope that you give NTN a