Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Does Cross-Country Skiing Have a Future?

From Salomon's introduction of the Profil binding system for lightweight Nordic skis in the early 1990s, cross-country skiing equipment fell into a fairly organized continuum from light skis with system bindings like Rottefella's NNN and Salomon's Profil, to exploring skis with the so-called back country versions of those systems, to real exploring skis and Telemark-specific skis with 75 millimeter bindings.

Clearly the Salomon product was a little better designed, simpler and more solidly built. NNN bindings were put together like a cheap model kit. In the back country versions, Salomon added a few touches to create a better product as well, although neither Salomon nor Rottefella's binding was anything one would really want to take deep into the bush for any length of time.

In the mid 1990s, Salomon introduced the Pilot skating binding. Skating had evolved to the point where a binding that played to its specific needs met a receptive audience. No one missed single-bar skate bindings with elastomer springs once they'd skied Pilot.

For a decade, all was well. NNN bindings got weirder and weirder, while Salomon bindings remained solid and reliable.

All that is over now. As if Nordic skiing in the United States didn't have enough challenges with the warming climate and the sedentary public, now old reliable Salomon has felt compelled to fix things that weren't broken by applying the Pilot concept to all their bindings.

Did Shimano buy them while we weren't looking?

Last year it was Equipe Classic Pilot, a racing classic binding that carried the same hefty price tag as the Pilot skate binding, but without the utterly undeniable advantages the skate binding had brought to the sport. It does provide some improvement over the flexor-type binding it replaces. As racer gear the market could accept it, since racers were already paying the same price for skate bindings and it brought some functional improvement.

This year, Salomon has introduced an automatic step-in version of Pilot, aimed at touring skiers. They have put a Pilot-only sole on their best-fitting boot, which has been our biggest seller for years, marrying it inextricably to this untried binding.

The touring Pilot binding is harder to get out of than the original Profil. Some people already had trouble escaping from that. Pilot has a definite learning curve. A skier can damage the binding if they lose their balance while trying to get out of it. They can also damage their ski more easily in a foot-tangling crash. The manual release is stiff and awkward. If it had been well designed and carefully built it would provide a better escape for a skier who has fallen. However, combined with Pilot's second bar engaged in the rear lever of the binding, it will not improve things.

It's time for an open-source Nordic binding. For all its limitations, 75 millimeter was available to any boot or binding maker. I don't want to see it come back. Nor do I want anything as cheesy as NNN. Someone, somehow has to tweak the basic concept of the old Profil binding and turn it loose on the market so touring skiers can get used to one true norm and find a variety of competitively-priced products so they can get into the sport without having to make so many decisions up front about which binding company they want to put in charge of their skiing enjoyment.

Nordic skiing has no primary, influential publication, so I have no idea how this concept can ever gain any publicity and traction, but here it is. At least this way someone might stumble on it.

1 comment:

Ken Smith said...

Thanks for the interesting discussion of X-C bindings. I'm new at this sport, not having tried it since high school, when I borrowed my brother's equipment. Last year I started ice skating on a local river here in North Dakota. and enjoyed skating for miles and miles through the countryside. This year it snowed early, so that put an end to the skating.

Actually I haven't quite got the equipment ready for skiing yet. I got a pair of inexpensive Karhu boots on eBay, and a pair of used Skilom 210 skis, with the old 3-pin binding system. Having been away from skiing so long, I had not realized how different the bindings are. I was in Denver over Christmas and went to several large sporting goods stores, but I was quite disappointed at their lack of cross-country equipment. None of them had SNS Profil bindings that I needed for my Karhu boots.

So I purchased a set of SNS Profil bindings on eBay. I got them yesterday, but I can't figure out how to get the front plate off so I can fasten down the front screw. The seller doesn't know how to do it either. Can you help? I'm eager to get out and do some river skiing.

Ken Smith
Ellendale, ND