Written by: Jeff Hawkins, Mazamas Nordic Backcountry Ski Instructor
I learned about the Rottefella Xplore binding last winter and purchased a pair along with new skis and boots for this winter. I’ve been out on them about ten times and it’s time for a review. In short, they are fantastic, and I love them. I’ll never go back to NNN-BC.
Before sharing details it’s important to know that I ski Nordic backcountry - away from forest roads, away from trails, never in groomed tracks and I rarely encounter other skiers or even another set of tracks. A perfect ski day is 8-12 miles of breaking trail with plenty of climbing and tele turns. This is Nordic backcountry not AT backcountry; I do that too, but not on this gear.
I paired the Xplore bindings with Fischer OTX Excursion 88s and Madshus Panorama boots. This is a lot of change which makes separating the impact of the bindings from the other equipment a bit difficult. What I can say for sure is that I’m executing tele turns way better this year. Yes, my skills have improved, but I think it’s mostly the equipment.
Rottefella borrowed from AT bindings with a twist. Custom engineered spring plungers are installed in each side of the boot and the plungers snap into slots in the binding. This yields the wide and stiff connection between boot and binding of the AT binding, along with the ability to step-in and release while standing.
What I Like
ControlI noticed this instantly. On the first few strides and turns it was immediately apparent that the connection between my foot and ski was more solid. Some of this improvement might have been the Madshus Panorama boot which is a bit sturdier than the Madshus Glittertind that I previously skied on NNN-BC bindings.
The Xplore binding pushes back against the toe of the boot just as the NNN-BC binding does. With the regular insert the push-back feels less than the NNN-BC allowing for a longer stride before the ski lifts off and yet it is still stiff enough to keep the heel of the ski up when lifting the ski through corners. The zero push-back (free pivot plate) and stiff push-back (hard flex) inserts need to be ordered separately (Rottefella calls them the Free Pivot and Hard Flex). I haven’t tried them, but I can see the advantages - zero push-back insert for long flattish tours where getting the most out of the kick and glide is important, and the stiff push-back insert when working through challenging terrain with lots of direction changes.
Range of motion
One of my main complaints about the NNN-BC is the wad of snow/ice that builds up in the central slot of the binding that puts an annoying upward pressure on the bottom of the foot between toes and the ball. This doesn’t happen on the Xplore. Yes, some build-up does happen, especially on the heel plate, but it is easily cleared by stomping down once or twice. My other big complaint about the NNN-BC is when snow/ice clogs the pin clamping mechanism making it difficult to snap binding closed. Multiple attempts are sometimes required even after clearing both the mechanism and the boot. The Xplore solves this problem too.
While I rarely get in and out of the bindings other than at the start and end of the trip, bending over to close the binding isn’t a big deal, but Rottefella thought about this too and it’s a nice feature. Lining up the spring plunger pins to snap into the bindings requires precise foot placement and if you haven’t done it just right, one side might not have snapped-in. Be sure to give the boot a test twist before launching off. And in the ten or so times out so far I’ve had some ice clog one side of one binding once; it was easy to clear.
Entry and exit while standing
Another nice feature. I haven’t used them and might not for a couple of reasons, I am quite flexible, and they don’t seem convenient to use. I don’t use risers on AT bindings until it gets quite steep so it seems unlikely I’ll use them on Nordic gear where climbing is generally less steep. I also found it challenging to lift the heel risers without removing thick gloves. Ice builds up around the heel risers (see photo above) which might require getting out of the ski to clear the ice. Doing this on a steep slope while also removing a glove seems like a recipe for falling or dropping something down the hill. That said, this is likely a useful feature on long steady ascents.
And there is a leash accessory too. These people thought of everything.
After this glowing report I need to share one known issue. It’s a manufacturing problem that Rottefella knows about and has arranged to fix. On some boots, Alpina and Alfa per this report, the spring plunger can get stuck in. See photo below (Notice the second image is of the opposite side of the boot). I have not experienced this issue with the Madshus Panorama boot.
This would be a big deal, and probably a deal-breaker, if there wasn’t an in-field work around. If the pin is stuck in, press the pin on the opposite side of the boot inward with a tool small enough to depress the pin below the surface of the boot. This will dislodge the stuck pin on the other side. I think the internals are something like this (image below). Notice how pressing in one pin deeply will push out the other.
If a pin on your boot gets stuck contact firstname.lastname@example.org In the Western U.S. they will probably instruct you to ship the boots to a company in Henderson, Nevada. The repair and return shipping are free. Shipping to Nevada is on you. Turn-around time is currently around three weeks. Slightly faster if you pay for expedited shipping. That Rottefella thought about the possibility of a stuck pin and engineered an in-field fix further impresses me as to the overall quality and optimization of this impressive binding. I can see it replacing the NNN-BC standard.
The NNN-BC uses a metal clamp on a metal pin. The Xplore uses a metal pin in a plastic slot. I’m curious about the longevity. How long will the plastic last before it wears and the joint loosens up? Based on how thoughtfully Rottefella engineered all other aspects of the binding, it seems likely the did wear/life testing to find a plastic compound that will last for years. I’ll find out.
And before wrapping up I want to give a shout out for the Madshus Panorama boot and the Fischer Excursion 88 ski. I’m thrilled with both. I’ve worn Alpina and Fischer boots and found both of them too wide for my feet. Tightening them down causes too much pressure on top of the forefoot without reducing width leaving my feet pinched yet slopping around. A friend with wide feet can comfortably wear the Glittertind boot (the predecessor to the Panorama) which fits very similar to the new Panorama. Whatever Madshus has done seems to accommodate both wide and narrow. Kudos to them. Other manufacturers should pay attention.
The Panorama boot also has a built-in snow cuff with a draw-cord, so gaiters are not needed. I choose instead to wear my pants over the boots and under the Velcro strap that engages the external boot stiffener (see image below). Either way you will be unlikely to get snow in the boot.
As for the skis, I used the Fischer S-Bound 78, the precursor to the OTX Traverse 78 (perhaps the same ski with different graphics) for more than ten years. They worked well in backcountry with good glide and good turning. Stepping up in width to the OTX Excursion 88 improved handling in ungroomed conditions. There might be some reduction in glide, but I haven’t noticed it.