NTN: Rottefella Freeride versus 22 Designs Outlaw Review
Rottefella introduced NTN, the New Telemark Norm in 2007 with the first green version of what would become the Freeride binding. Not unlike Microsoft, Rottefella pretty much set the telemark standard around the world with NTN. But in the last 5 years, other manufacturers started experimenting with NTN toe cups too. The NTN binding will be 10 years old this season, and Rotte already released 7 different versions of their NTN binding. So why bother skiing something else?
Well, first of all, no binding is perfect. Whether it's NTN, NN or NNN, if there was one perfect binding, it would be the only one on the market. The freeride binding is far from being perfect, they still break very easily, they don't really release etc... But other NTN bindings, such as the Outlaw, the Meidjo, the TTS, the Moonlight and the Spike NT all had their share of problems too.
Let's start with the first difference between the 10 year-old Freeride and last year's Outlaw. While the Freeride is advertised as a releasable binding, the Outlaw is described like this: "The Outlaw can release laterally, although it's not guaranteed." It seems to me like a much more honest approach. Well, the Outlaw does have a catastrophic release system too, but unlike Rottefella, they don't claim to have "The security of an alpine binding". The main idea here is that while the Outlaw can release laterally, maybe 22 Designs skiers do not care much about releasability since they are good skiers and never crash?
Next, the Outlaw is a true step-in binding. Just place your boot on the binding, push down and click, you're locked and ready to go. On the Freeride, you still had to bend down and manually lock the front lever. But to get out of the Outlaw, you have to use your pole. Hey, as I said, nothing is perfect...!
Stiffness or 'activeness' of the Freeride can be adjusted by switching different 'powertubes'. They used to come in a variety of flavors, white, green, blue, red and black. And each of them had their own adjustment from 1 to 5. You had to consult their colorful and very scientific chart and match the tubes according to your weight and boot size. On the Outlaw, you only need two options: regular springs or stiffy springs, on which the preload is adjustable too.
The Freeride is 1850g while the Outlaw is 1680g. And while they both have a touring mode, I never toured with them. To me they are way too heavy for long or even short tours, but I understand that not everybody is comfortable with pins and NNN for really light touring. The Freeride offers a 30°free-pivot angle while the Outlaw goes up to 50°. (Rottefella's Freedom binding goes up to 60°...)
Now on snow... While they both attach to the boot the same way, the binding design is a bit different. The pivot point placement and the way it moves is not exactly the same. Plus, the moving plate on the Outlaw is about half the length of the Freeride. For about the same settings, the Outlaw seems to be more 'active'. The resistance seems to be kicking in earlier on the Outlaw, while the progression seems much smoother at the same time. I cannot say that one is better than the other, it's a matter of taste. Two different mechanisms doing the same thing, but somehow don't feel exactly the same.
After 7-8 years on the Freeride, and after breaking 10+ pairs, I'm very excited about the Outlaw. I only have a few days on snow with them, but from what I see and feel so far, they seem more heavy-duty and pretty much unbreakable. Hey, don't forget the Outlaws come from the folks that brought us the Hammerhead, the Vice and the Axl... There was a few reports of people breaking plates on the Outlaw, but according to 22 Designs, it's less than 0.1% of the bindings that are problematic. (Remember when the Freerides came out, the rate was around 10-15%...)
And oh, one very, very nice bonus: The toe cup is quite different from the Freeride too. Which means, the wear on the boots is not at the same place... Which means that if you, like me, have very worn boots due to many years on the Freeride, your boots will now feel like brand new boots again and will fit very tightly into the Outlaws...! How cool is that?