This is the second part of our coverage of SkiAlper's 2019 Buyer's Guide. For part one, click here.
When it comes to alpine touring bindings, it gets a LOT more complicated than for skis. It is very hard to declare clear winners in every category, and the reason for that is simple: it all depends on your skier profile and what your needs are. Even the super geeks at SkiAlper say it:
“ What can we do with all the test data? Everything and nothing. We give you the opportunity for a new perspective on what the current information is out there for tech bindings. What you should know however is that there are as many different configurations as there are boot models, BSL adjustments, boot rubber durometers and skier levels. Almost an impossible job. The message here is that when purchasing a tech binding, do not think that you are equipping yourself with a safety system with confirmed release values. Performance, weight and practicality of tech bindings still justify why they are so popular and relevant.”
Basically, tech binding’s release depends on too many factors to truly offer "safety". They are still releasable and often feature adjustable release value, only those are indicators and not DIN-certified torques. At the moment, there are a few bindings that have passed some sort of TUV/ISO certification guaranteeing that they are safe in a specific configuration (this is another debate, trust me). A lot of other bindings include features to facilitate release in case of a crash and a well adjusted tech binding will very likely release in that event, but there is no certainty when it comes to most "low tech" or "pin" bindings.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the friction between a boot sole and a ski brake will also affect release values when compared to a brakeless interface where the boot is only supported by the heel piece fork. As a result, a brakeless binding is more likely to offer a reliable release.
Lighter, Race-Inspired Bindings
After winning an innovation award last year, the Titan Vario from SkiTrab is one definitely the most creative product in the "wow those are weightless" category. The inverted toe piece paired to a solid heel piece is designed to reduce vibration and the need to lock the binding in precarious situations. Release values of 8, 10 or 12 are available, as well as various accessories including a spring-loaded heel track and a brake that produces very little friction with the boot sole rubber.
The SkiTrab Titan Vario Binding
In the same category, Plum is building on its last iteration of the Race system. With a set release value (RV) referred to as "8" by the French manufacturer. The Plum Race 150/170 is a great choice if you don’t need too much riser height and your weight/height/ski style matches its program.
SkiAlper mentions "a very reliable architecture [...] with a good RV of 8 aimed at skiers between 70 and 90kg. [...] The toe piece is easy and is among the best tech toe pieces for function. This also extends to the Pika and the Oazo (an adjustable version of the Race 150) which all share the same design."
The Oazo also gets a great review:
"It's 200 grams of simplicity, there is everything you need to go to the mountains, including a crampon slot and 20 mm of adjustment at the heel piece. A simple, durable and reliable binding."
In that same category, ATK (stamped and distributed by Black Diamond in North-America) also does well. Too bad that the CAD pricepoint is rather uncompetitive when compared to Plum or Dynafit ($630 for a Helio 145 vs $550 for a Plum Race 150), the Helio/Trofeo line being marketed in Europe as an entry-level option.
Lightweight, Adjustable Tech Bindings
For 2018-2019, the lightweight category is the one that sees the most new bindings hit the market. The SkiAlper Buyer’s Guide is not a durability test and for many brands a new binding has its fair share of failures and issues in its first iteration. Think about the first generations of Kingpins, Vipec, Ions, Guides or Superlite bindings which had durability issues.
This year, Plum is coming up with a very interesting (and competitive) option, the Pika. With a weight of 290 grams per foot, an adjustable lateral and vertical release value, the same toe piece as a Plum Race and a removable brake (without having to take the binding off the ski as in the Marker Alpinist or the G3 Zed), it's already a hit. SkiAlper’s review states that "the Pika achieves the versatility needed to cover the most widespread alpine touring preferences".
Another binding that has impressed the SkiAlper reviewers is the Marker Alpinist.
"Ergonomics are appreciated immediately [...] Among the features we like the enlarged base of the heel turret, the 15mm of adjustment with [boot contact] and the 38 mm drilling pattern. While the 12 is hardly necessary for touring skis, the 9 offers a comforting range [for a binding of this category]."
Note that the G3 Zed wasn’t reviewed (the G3 Ion was).
It’s impossible to talk about freeride touring bindings without mentioning the Salomon/Atomic Shift binding. Aimed at expert and professional freeriders and at those who want a single pair of skis for both resort skiing and some shorter days yo-yoing in the backcountry. At around a kilo per foot, it will still deter all of us who have weight in mind when we think about backcountry skiing.
"This is the binding for strong freeriders and professional skiers who want an alpine bindings to get 100% from their skis and for the resort skiers looking at a binding for shorter climbs."
The Salomon Shift
Watch for compatibility with your boots if you are going to ski a Shift. It accepts all ISO 9523 certified boots except those with inserts that do not sit flush in the lugs (Scarpa Maestrale and Freedom mainly).
Inserts like those are a no-no on Salomon Shift, Fritschi Vipec/Tecton and Alpine Bindings
Another binding worth mentioning is the Dynafit Rotation 2.0. The reviewers really liked how smoothly the horizontal and vertical release tested as well as the boot contact spring and the very well designed brakes that retract enough to completely free the edges on steep slopes. A big user-friendliness improvement this year is the addition of a little catch in the rotating toe piece to facilitate stepping in.
The Plum Yak is seeing its warranty increased to 5 years in the brakeless version (same as the Guide) for the 2018-2019 season. Its wider base offers "a rigidity that adds a significant amount of control, precision and durability on very wide skis". At 450 grams without a brake, it will provide lots of power in a very lightweight package.
Plum Yak 14, available both without and with a brake
The Bottom Line
"Step one is to be honest with yourself in your skiing abilities and what you plan to do. Lots of us think we’re all about rad huckage and sending the gnar but realistically do you plan on dropping huge cliffs in a thin Rockies snowpack when you’re kilometers from the road?"
A lot of skiers think that they need a lot more freeride-oriented equipment than they actually do. Plum even sends us marketing images where people jump off pillows and small cliffs on semi-race bindings (yes, you can even do that if you have the right ski).
A few things to think about when shopping for bindings:
1) What ski are you mounting it on? How stiff is that ski? How wide is it? This will help you choose how wide you want, how much you really need "boot contact" or "elasticity".
2) What do you use for boots? Do you spend all your time on the highest heel risers, or are you more of the flat mode style?
3) Realistically, what is your skiing style (couloirs, huck cliffs, leisure, glacier traverse)?
4- What is a typical day out for you? How often do you do bigger days with 1000 + meters of elevation gain?
Pop by the store for a latte and we can chat it up!