Out In Front

SkiTrax - - Contents - By Katy De­mong and Drew Gold­sack

Salomon re­cently hosted two prod­uct-launch events in North Amer­ica to of­fi­cially an­nounce its new and much-an­tic­i­pated Prolink bind­ing sys­tem. On Jan. 6, the U.S. de­but was held at Jeremy Ranch near Salt Lake City, Utah in con­junc­tion with the Out­door Re­tailer's win­ter show, while the Cana­dian de­but was held at the Can­more Nordic Cen­tre on Jan. 11-12. Sk­i­trax was on hand for both launches.

In what may be one of the most im­por­tant Nordic-equip­ment releases in decades, the new Prolink sys­tem makes Salomon com­pat­i­ble with NNN for the first time and visa versa, and looks to be the first step in end­ing the long-stand­ing Salomon ver­sus Rot­te­fella bind­ing bat­tle that has been waged for decades in the cross-coun­try-ski mar­ket.

“This is such an ex­cit­ing time and a new era for us,” said Isaac Wil­son, Salomon U.S.A.'S Nordic com­mer­cial man­ager. “We'd like to change the con­ver­sa­tion go­ing for­ward from `What sys­tem are you on?' to `What is the best fit for you and what tech­nol­ogy are you look­ing for.' In this way, we feel the con­sumer will now be able to win.” Ni­co­las Sta­mos, one of the head sales man­agers for Salomon In­ter­na­tional, was on hand at both events to field ques­tions from re­tail­ers and to help present the new Prolink sys­tem.

“We un­der­stand that we've only been speak­ing to a por­tion of the mar­ket when launch­ing a new prod­uct, and we'd like to cre­ate new op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Wil­son con­tin­ued, not­ing that Salomon, once the dom­i­nant mar­ket leader, cur­rently has ap­prox­i­mately 30% of the mar­ket share in ar­eas such as the East Coast or some West­ern states. Rot­te­fella's new NIS sys­tem for NNN was launched in 2005, fu­el­ing the bind­ing bat­tle, and the mar­ket split be­came more ap­par­ent when Fis­cher, the leader for Nordic skis, made the switch to NNN in 2007.

This de­vel­op­ment has led to patent con­cerns on the NNN sys­tem. Salomon main­tains it has not in­fringed on any in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights with the de­vel­op­ment of its Prolink sys­tem, which it claims is based on pub­licly avail­able tech­nol­ogy. Yet in a Jan. 5 press re­lease, Rot­te­fella AS sent writ­ten no­tice to Amer Sports Nor­way AS (Salomon's par­ent com­pany) that states it in­tends to take le­gal ac­tion re­gard­ing the “Prolink” sys­tem, claim­ing “il­le­gally copy­ing Rot­te­fella, and … in vi­o­la­tion of mar­ket­ing laws” – a sit­u­a­tion that Sk­i­trax will con­tinue to mon­i­tor.

Now to the test. The new Prolink bind­ing was su­per-easy to step into and very easy to open/close, feel­ing solid and pre­cise. The boot/ bind­ing/ski combo felt very con­nected, with ex­cel­lent sta­bil­ity and great feel on snow. It did take a few kilo­me­tres to get used to the mount­ing point that Salomon uses, which is slightly back of the bal­ance point of the ski, caus­ing the tips to drag when you're not used to it. How­ever, Salomon says that us­ing this mount point helps ac­cel­er­ate the ski when weight is shifted onto it, and we quickly got used to the slight dif­fer­ence in ski po­si­tion.

As ex­pected, the Prolink sys­tem works great, as this isn't Salomon's first rodeo, so it was time to re­ally put things to the test with the Prolink boots and jump on a pair of Fis­cher Speed­max skis with NIS Xcel­er­a­tor bindings. The Salomon Prolink boots en­gaged with the Xcel­er­a­tor bind­ing seam­lessly and with­out hes­i­ta­tion. The feel­ing was great and some­what nos­tal­gic, cruis­ing around on Fis­cher skis and Salomon boots. From the first stride, ev­ery­thing felt com­fort­able and sta­ble, in­clud­ing the renowned fit and feel of Salomon Skate boots.

Next it was time to test a pair of Alpina Skate boots with Salomon skis and the Prolink bindings. Again, the Alpina boots en­gaged with ease, and af­ter a few strides, there was a hint of hav­ing met for the first time. An­other nu­ance was that the Salomon skis some­how felt slower with this set-up, and this was still the case with a Salomon Prolink boot on one foot and an Alpina boot on the other to com­pare. It may have been the spe­cific flex of the skis and the pres­sures on it from the boot, along with the con­di­tions that day – tough to say in the short win­dow of test time. To be clear, these were sub­tleties that most skiers would likely not no­tice, or would sim­ply get used to af­ter some time.

One of the fi­nal tests for the new Prolink Skate bindings was a com­par­i­son to the SNS Pi­lot Skate bindings. Many diehard Salomon fans are adamant that the Pi­lot sys­tem of­fers more ski con­trol for skat­ing. In a head-to-head test with an S-lab boot, the dif­fer­ence be­tween SNS Pi­lot and the Prolink bind­ing was im­per­cep­ti­ble. The only real give­away is that the Pi­lot sys­tem sits higher off the ski. When you con­sider the weight sav­ings of 260g for a pair of top-of-the-line Salomon Pi­lot Car­bon RS bindings ver­sus 215g for a pair of Prolink Car­bon Skate bindings (claimed by Salomon to in­clude screws), it was hard to come

up with a good rea­son to choose the Pi­lot sys­tem over the Prolink.

So is this the be­gin­ning of the end for SNS? Jack Cook of Fast Trax Run and Ski Shop in Ed­mon­ton, Alta. doesn't nec­es­sar­ily think so: “If you were to ski on both sys­tems, the new Prolink seems to be the bet­ter sys­tem when it comes down to ski feel, but when you fac­tor in sta­bil­ity, the SNS sys­tem still seems to pro­vide bet­ter sup­port in terms of step turns, step­ping in and out of the track and her­ring­bone,” said Cook.

Clas­sic gear was up next, and the Prolink Salomon Clas­sic boots and bindings worked flaw­lessly, and once again, we were im­pressed with how con­nected the boot felt to the ski. Com­pared to NNN, the feel of the Clas­sic Prolink was very sim­i­lar, save for the cushier, slightly softer feel­ing of the Salomon S-lab Clas­sic boots, which are great for com­fort and fit. For rac­ing, some like us will pre­fer a stiffer feel and more di­rect feed­back with the ski for a raw rac­ing ef­fect.

As with the Skate test­ing, we tried the Salomon Prolink Clas­sic boots on a pair of Fis­cher Car­bon­lite Clas­sic skis with NIS Xcel­er­a­tor bindings. The in­te­gra­tion was seam­less and the Salomon boots felt right at home on the Nnn/fis­cher set-up. Next up, Alpina Clas­sic boots were paired with Salomon's S-lab Clas­sic skis and Prolink bindings. As with the Skate combo, the boots en­gaged eas­ily and func­tioned well, but with a hint of that “first dance.” Again, it's noth­ing that would pre­vent a skier from us­ing this combo, but just not as seam­less a pair­ing as the other com­bi­na­tions tested.

Fi­nally we com­pared the Salomon SNS Clas­sic boots/bindings with the Salomon Prolink Clas­sic boots/bindings. It only took a few strides to be re­minded of the ben­e­fits of the NNN boot/bind­ing feel for Clas­sic ski­ing. The Salomon SNS Clas­sic boot/bind­ing combo per­forms, but the nod goes to the Prolink sys­tem for Clas­sic ski­ing – great news for those who love the fit and feel of Salomon boots, but are look­ing for a bet­ter feel on Clas­sic skis.

It's also worth not­ing that the fit of the Salomon Prolink boots is iden­ti­cal to Salomon's SNS line of boots. The only dif­fer­ence be­ing the ex­ter­nal sole – Prolink or SNS. The new Prolink bindings will use the same mount­ing-hole pat­tern as the SNS bindings. This is an im­por­tant de­tail be­cause along with all of the bind­ing-sys­tem hype, Salomon has also an­nounced that all of its new skis will now come from the fac­tory pre-drilled for bindings. The fac­tory will de­ter­mine the op­ti­mum mount po­si­tion of the bind­ing based on the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the ski and then drill the holes ac­cord­ingly.

This will make it much more con­ve­nient for re­tail­ers as well as cus­tomers to mount bindings, as no more drilling is re­quired. Sim­ply choose your bind­ing, screw it down and you're ready to rock. Those wish­ing to switch over to the Prolink sys­tem can sim­ply re­move their old bindings and mount up a new set of Prolink bindings with­out any ad­di­tional drilling re­quired – good news for re­tail­ers and con­sumers alike.

Also ru­moured, but not 100% con­firmed (we were told by Salomon that it's 95% likely), is that next year's new top-of-the-line Car­bon Skate Lab boots will come with two dif­fer­ent sets of lugs for the sole, one for SNS and one for Prolink, al­low­ing the con­sumer both op­tions for bind­ing sys­tems in one boot and to po­ten­tially swap back and forth be­tween the two.

Salomon has made a bold move with the re­lease of its new Prolink sys­tem, which it's hop­ing will mean a resur­gence in the num­ber of Salomon boots and prod­ucts out on the ski trails while per­haps putting to rest the bind­ing-plat­form bat­tle once and for all. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.salomon.com.

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