Yes, this is without a doubt the hottest topic of the year! At last, a 2-pin binding for XCD! So many hopes, questions, concerns and confusion. I'll try to make everything clear. But before I start, let me say in a few words that even this is far from being the binding I have been dreaming of, I absolutely LOVE the XPlore! As you know, I was dreaming about THE holy grail XCD binding. But this is not what we got for many reasons. That said, I am very, very excited about the XPlore, it's actually much better than what I was expecting!
So is it really good?
The big question still remains, is it really worth throwing everything away and switching to the XPLORE system? The main general consensus seems to be that "it will all depend on the boot offerings". So Johnny, does it really depends on the boot offerings? Because so far we have only seen a very few XPlore boots. And so far, the only thing we officially heard is that it seems like Pål-Trygve Gamme, a very reliable and respected skier, is not exactly in love with the XPlore system. Hummm... The boot offerings, perhaps?
Well, I can honestly say that no, from a certain point of view, it does NOT really depend on the boot offerings. Whether we like it or not, the made-in-Norway XPlore binding is simply better and superior to everything we have seen. To clear all doubts, let's take a look at physics. No opinions here, no biased views, no involved parties, just pure scientific facts. Let's take a look at the contact points of the actual XC systems available on the market. Not the width of the sole, but the actual points where force is applied to control and steer the ski. (I will try to keep it simple and avoid words like leverage, pivot and torque, as they were misused and abused too many times...)
Look at the old 3-pin Nordic Norm. A mere 33mm between the contact points. It would be hard to be more wiggly than this. On the other hand, NNN-BC at 42mm offers MUCH better control. A whooping 27% increase of power over pins. And this time, with a metal on metal connection. A lot better, no matter the old romantic sentiments you may have for your old pins. And this is especially true when the heel is raised.
Now look at the Rottefella XPLORE New OFFTRACK Backcountry System Norm™ (Yes, that is the official name! There is a complete official Rottefella XPlore "Name Structure Table" in the paperworks!) The XPlore offers a stunning 70mm between contact points, now that is a hell lot of power! A 112% increase to be exact! No matter if your entire foot is flat on the ski or if your heel is fully raised, the power is always there, never leaving your toes. So people might be biased, have preconceived ideas and opinions, and they might say it all depends on the boot offerings... They might also have sentimental attachments for certain bindings. But no matter what people say, the fact is that yes, even if it's only for that, the XPlore binding is technically better than everything else on the market right now. Just basic physical laws. (And yep, it also means that NNN-BC is "better" than pins).
That's awesome Johnny, but how do they ski?
Well, really, they ski like crazy! Really. I have to admit I was very skeptical, seeing mostly the obvious and clever marketing scheme behind the whole XPlore thing. Well, I wasn't wrong, but Rottefella did deliver the goods! I will tell you more about how they ski in a separate XPlore boot review, because I don't want to mix things up here. But the overall feeling is incredible. I remember the first time I tried 700g leathers... Well, I had the same feeling on the XPlore bindings, only TWICE AS INTENSE! Never before cross-country skiers were able to enjoy that much lightness, ability and control at the same time. Which ultimately translates into MORE PLEASURE and MORE FUN!
Putting any ski on edge has never been easier, no matter how wide it is. The edges react lightning-fast to the slightest muscle impulse, thanks to that wide 70mm lever and the super-tight connection of the pins, injecting the power directly into to the ski. Even the smallest amount of muscular power is transferred straight under the ski, like if you had an hydraulic power steering. Kicking and gliding has never been so precise. Actually, even if I was previously only excited about the downhill potential of the XPlore, I am blown away by the XC feeling. I was not expecting this at all: I instantly fell deeper in love with XC, in a way I never did before. Suddenly, XC skiing took on a new perspective. Ok, it might have something to do with the XPlore boots... But really, that much precision for simple XC skiing definitely increases the FUN factor, both on the snow and at the end of the day by the fire. (And nope, there are no NNN-BC style grooves to reinforce the boot/sole connection. The 70mm wide power-pin does everything.)
Stepping-in the binding couldn't be easier. Just align the pins and click, you're locked on the ski. And stepping-out is even easier, a small pressure with the tip of your pole and you're out. Super simple. Super brilliant. No complicated mechanisms with potential problems here, it couldn't be more simple. The "Rottefella Springpin™ Integrated Technology In The Front of the Toes" are simply pushed inside the boots when you press the lever. VERY COOL! (Nothing to do with the sluggish step-in NNN-BC autos, this is WAY better!)
The new way to change flexors is great, but it could be improved. We all know how it's almost-impossible to change white flexors on NNN-BC. Well, it's SO easy with the XPlore bindings! Just push a button and POP!, there goes the flexor! You can replace it on the spot with a harder one, or a blank one for no resistance at all and full range of motion for climbing. (AT LAST!) The thing is, that LITTLE slider is located under the boot, and it's not possible to activate it without removing your gloves. In fact, it's so small that you have to actually use your nails to push it fully inside in order to release the flexor. Not very practical, as you can see in the picture (Notice the Torx mounting screws...) A minor annoyance, but I believe this could be somehow improved pretty easily right? Because I'm not crazy about the idea of having to grow long nails... I don't play classical guitar much anymore...
Cables? Sure, why not? Some stubborn telemark skiers will never be able to accept the fact of skiing without cables. I can see a full invasion of FrankenXplore bindings coming soon, with all kinds of exotic tech cables combos and homemade Dremeled grooves. Hopefully @bobbytooslow will come up with 3D-printable cable-groove-blocks for every XPlore boots..? And XPlore second heels to Meidjoize them?
As for the possible icing issues, I don't think this is going to be problematic at all. I might be wrong, I only tested the bindings in hot weather. But the way the whole system is built, I don't see how it could become a problem. Yes, although the Springpins are well sealed, there could always be some ice buildup or water freezing here. But in that case, the binding should be able to force the pins inside when you step in the binding and break any buildup around the pins. Same thing when you step out, the force of the lever should push the pins inside even if it's frozen somewhere. I sure will put this to the test next season. But really, how can anything be worse than old 3-pin holes full of ice?
And the best of it all? The thing only weights an incredible 189 gram!!! Amazing isn't it? That is 378g per pair, including screws, flexors and climbing bars. That is the weight of a Super Telemark binding, only with A LOT more power! Remove the climbing bars and the semi-useless plastic covers, and you're down to 340g a pair! MUCH better than the 530g previously announced last year! (I can hear you, but the answer is no, the bulk of the system's weight has NOT been transferred into the sole... It IS really light...)
And bonus, you won't have to buy a new expensive jig or turn your beloved skis into swiss cheese to upgrade to XPLORE: The distance between the mounting holes are the same as NNN-BC. And it goes right into the same pin line for both bindings! Just add a few holes and you're done. SUPER cool!
I really think this COULD be the finest XCD binding ever. Not the holy grail one I'm still dreaming of, but it could become the best you can find in the Milky Way right now. Well ok, I will need a few more days on snow to confirm what I just said. And I will have to try a few more pairs of boots. But most importantly, I will have to wait until the hard flexors become available to make a true, fair comparison. (Yes, I have a bazillion pairs of NNN-BC skis. Among these, I have 5 pairs of dedicated downhill skis on which I use White flexors exclusively... So I REALLY can't wait to see how the new hard "Grey" XPlore flexors perform!)
Technically, the potential is unlimited. But to unleash the full potential of the XPLORE bindings, yes, it WILL all depend on the boot offerings. With all the potential horsepower available from the binding itself, it is the boots that will turn this 2-pin beast into whatever you want according to your needs.
Coming soon: My review of the GORGEOUS Alpina Alaska XP boots...
- VERY light
- True step-in / step out
- BEST lateral control ever for everything XCD
- Climbing bars included
- No tour mode (Carrying spare parts in your pockets is NOT a "touring mode")
- No release
- No adjustment plates
P.S: At 189g, it's getting quite close to the weight of the XCelerators, which are 94g each. That doesn't take into account the embed mounting plate in the ski which is around 50g, making the XCL system around 140g each in reality. That brings some serious food for thought about the relevance and the viability of the whole spectrum of classic and skating boots and bindings. The XPlore adds just a few more grams for a million times the power. If they can make 700g big "Backcountry" boots, what about WC classic and skating racing boots? With 2-pin toes, superlight racing versions of XPlore soles and moving plates? Why bother with metal bars at all? The market will have to seriously rethink itself sooner or later...