Out In Front
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.