Posted on October 13 2016
A Brief Recent History of Touring Bindings
A decade ago choosing an alpine touring binding was easy. There were two main styles, frame bindings and Dynafit. Frame bindings were dominated by Diamir, commonly known as Fritschi, Marker, and Silvretta. Dynafit bindings were obviously all made by Dynafit and featured a pin tech system that held you to the ski by the toe and and the heel independently. This allows the toe to pivot freely, without lifting the binding, and with less materials (weight) Touring boots manufacturers began to include Dynafit "low tech" toe and heel pieces to be compatible with both styles of bindings. One fateful day in 2008, Dynafit's patent on "low tech" bindings ran out and it was off to the races for binding developers world wide.
As the sport of ski touring exploded, so did the race for creating the best best binding, and the vast majority of R&D dollars have gone into the tech variety. Let's look at how to choose the correct one for you.
Tech or Frame?
This one is easy! Tech! There are a select few customers out there that will use the frame. Professional freeriders who have the camera on them while they backflip the 50+ footer will many times prefer a frame binding. However, guys like Eric Hjorleifson (Hoji) have proved that massive landings are possible in a beefy tech binding (see the Beast 14, second from the right above, Hoji's go to). Other specific niches such as a heli ski setup (because that's a quiver spot for some folks!) or the resort skier that wants to have the touring option fora day or two a season while bridging in to a tech setup.
For the rest of us 99%ers, go tech! The pivot point is further back and feels more natural. The materials needed for the binding are far less, meaning much less weight. The heaviest tech binding is at least half as light as commonly used frame bindings. Finally, that weight savings is amplified because you don't actually lift the binding like you do a frame model. Proper skinning technique keeps the ski gliding on the ground throughout the majority of a climb. That means when you are using a tech binding, the binding and ski glide along the snow, and all you lift is that nice new lightweight touring boot.
Tech Binding Manufacturers
The major players in the North American market are now Dynafit, G3, Diamir and even alpine binding gurus, Marker, Atomic, and Salomon. We also carry some harder to find brands like, Hagan, Ski Trab, Plum and ATK. It would be our dream to carry every tech binding under the sun, but that becomes redundant and there is poor support for parts, warranties, and knowledge in North America sometimes with a small European brand. There is nothing worse than breaking a binding and losing your winter season waiting for a replacement from Europe. That said, all manufacturers are making great systems, and each have their own awesome contributions to the evolution of the tech binding. So choose based on use and features, while knowing that your binding comes from a reputable company.
Tech Binding Quiver Slots
To the applause of gear junkies everywhere and to the dismay of skiers on a tight budget, even the tech binding world has quiver slots within this already very small niche:
Race and Fitness Bindings: These bindings may look like mouse traps for your boots, but their fixation power is an incredible feat compared to their weight. Today's race bindings will typically weigh less than 150 grams per bindings. If they feature an adjustable track for multiple sized boots, the weight can creep to what is still an astonishingly light 180 grams. A race binding is for the minimalist, for they usually have no adjustable release values and usually just one level of touring height. Put a race binding on your ski if you like to hammer up and every gram matters to you. It is important to pair them with a super light boot that has a great range of motion to compensate the lack of variation in riser height.
Ski Mountaineering Bindings: For skiing big peaks and long backcountry tours weight is still important and many skiers will still choose a race binding. However, functionality becomes a bit more important when touring in the high alpine. For steep climbing it helps to have a higher riser height and for long approaches a flat touring mode. Brakes may also help reduce the stress of putting stepping into a ski on top of windy icy mountain tops and may be worth the weight penalty. Most ski mountaineering bindings will have some adjustable release value, but have less adjustability than all mountain and freeride options. This is often seen in only lateral release adjustability in the heel, fixed for vertical. Weights will range from 150-400 grams.
All Mountain Touring Bindings: If you are tired of quivers of ski equipment these bindings will take care of the research. They are still light compared to any frame binding, but will be fully featured and bomber for the ski down. All of these bindings will include brakes, adjustable release values, and multiple riser heights. Every year we see more and more of these used at the resort as skiers find their touring boots and skis to be their favorite gear- even when riding lifts! Weights will range from 300-600 grams.
Freeride Touring Bindings: These bindings are beefy and will match any full downhill alpine binding in performance and reliability. They can drive the biggest skis and weight savings are always the last concern. If you charge hard at the resorts and want to make sure you can do it on your new powder touring ski, these bindings are for you. One key characteristic here is forward and/or downward pressure from the heel of the binding similar to an alpine binding. Several manufacturers such as Marker and Diamir have alpine-esque heels. Weights will range from 500-800 grams
Blending the categories
These categories are a great way to begin the search process and help to put together a setup. There is always crossover between the pieces of a setup to accommodate more specific needs. One example typically found with bindings is the use of a ski mountaineering binding with all mountain or freeride boots and skis. This is usually an experienced backcountry skier that skies hard and fast, but understands that these little mouse traps are truly impressive in their retention capabilities! We will also see the reverse sometimes with casual ski tourers that aren't looking for speed up or down. A fully functioning all mountain touring binding is then chosen and paired with lighter boots and/or skis to remain weight conscious.
To choose your tech binding, begin with its intended use and/or quiver slot. Then consider the specific functions of each binding to narrow it down within that range. If you decide that you want to use a binding slightly different than it's intended purpose- go for it! Just remember that you are making small sacrifices one way or the other. Still can't nail it down? Give us a call, email email@example.com or ask a question below and we will get it dialed in.