Tele seeks its niche: While NTN binding sales increase, bootmakers hold off on new models
We were hard pressed to find any brand new telemark boots at this year's Winter Market, nor did we find any new free-heel bindings. It's a sign of the times as the tele market looks to find its niche in the face of soaring AT sales.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 23-26. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.
We were hard pressed to find any brand new telemark boots at this year’s Winter Market, nor did we find any new free-heel bindings. It’s a sign of the times as the tele market looks to find its niche in the face of soaring AT sales.
Despite the lack of product launches in the tele category, we did find manufacturers who remain optimistic about the sport’s future.
“We still feel like we’re riding NTN [the New Telemark Norm binding],” said Kim Miller, CEO of Scarpa North America. “The trajectory is a lot easier to predict now that we have a few years under us, and we can see a pattern that is very good.”
While sales of traditional, 75mm bindings remain flat, according to Miller, NTN sales are growing. As the North American distributor for Rottefella bindings, which include the NTN’s two models, Scarpa uses its own sales figures to track the market. Likewise, Scarpa’s NTN-compatible TX Pro boot now outsells the T1, previously the best-selling four-buckle tele boot, Miller said.
“The perception is that telemarking is flat from a sales standpoint,” Miller said. “But we see what’s going on in the market, and there are huge numbers in NTN. For the last three years, we’ve seen 30 to 40 percent growth per year of Scarpa’s NTN-compatible boot sales.”
Rottefellaintroduced its second NTN binding for 2012-13, the backcountry-focused Freedom, to positive reception, officials said. “2012 has so far been a real breakthrough for NTN,” said Torstein Myklebostad, Rottefella’s Norway-based sales director. “We have managed to balance the sales between the NTN Freeride and NTN Freedom really well, and the growth year-over-year will be above 40 percent compared to last season.”
To put that in perspective, Myklebostad said that sales of the original NTN Freeride were relatively flat for a few years after the binding’s 2007 launch. After an increased marketing effort, which included on-mountain demos and a consumer rebate for purchasing bindings and boots together, sales increased about 20 percent from 2009-10 to 2010-11, then grew another 15 percent last season.
Currently, Scarpa, Scott (via its Garmont N.A. acquisition) and Crispi are the only companies with rights to manufacture NTN-compatible boots. But despite the seeming success of NTN, nobody is quite ready to invest heavily in developing more boots.
“We try to plan big initiatives about three years out,” Miller said. “Things point to fall ’14 as the year, but I don’t try to put a timeframe on it. From a business standpoint, the numbers look good to me. There’s a fundamental shift from one system to another. Any time there’s a transition, there’s a chance to drop the ball. I’m glad NTN has given people a new thing to think about in telemark. Right now, we want to listen, watch and pay close attention before we start throwing huge amounts of money at new tools.”
Ketchum, Idaho-based Scott Sports, which acquired bootmaker Garmont in fall 2012, also is holding back for now. “We’re looking at the market to see where the growth and opportunities are, and we’re waiting to see where we want to go with the tele line in general,” said U.S. Marketing Manager Adam Greene, while acknowledging that any new developments would be NTN-focused.
Scott’s acquisition included all of Garmont’s ski boot assets and intellectual property as well as North American distribution for Garmont’s hiking and running shoes. (In Europe, the Garmont brand continues with outdoor footwear only). All product development is now in-house at Scott.
“We already have cycling shoes, running shoes and motosports boots, and the person who manages the footwear division also manages the alpine division, so there’s a lot of knowledge that we plan on implementing,” Greene said. The ski boots will continue to be made in Montebelluna, Italy, though the production facilities could change, Greene said.
For 2013-14, Scott returns four of Garmont’s tele boots (now with Scott branding): the men’s Voodoo (MSRP $700) and the women’s Minerva (MSRP $700), both available in NTN- and 75-mm-compatible versions, as well as the lighter-weight, two-buckle Excursion (MSRP $375) and the children’s G-Rex (MSRP $300).
Scott is undecided as to whether it will continue forward with the distribution of the 7tm tele binding, most recently distributed by Garmont.