G3 ION Ski Binding Field Test


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

(For ION technical details please see our extensive ION backcountry skiing binding first look review.)

Wildsnow’s gone fully mobile lately.The older generation is in Europe, and I’ve been in the Canadian Kootenays and Selkirks (although my trip might more accurately be described as “transient”).

While on our trip in Nelson, I was able to get a day testing out G3′s new ION touring binding (they like it spelled with all caps). Cam Shute, one of the G3 engineers, lives in the powder paradise of Nelson. Cam trusted me enough to let me throw a pair of new skis and ION bindings in the car for a day of touring in the Whitewater backcountry. Although only a one-day tryout, I attempted to abuse the new binding. Fresh powder reduced the abuse level, but I did get in a good test session.

Testing G3's new ION tech binding in the Whitewater backcountry near Nelson, BC.

Testing G3's new ION tech binding in the Whitewater backcountry near Nelson, BC.

It’s important to note that the ION bindings I tested were pre-production prototypes with small issues still being worked out. With that caveat, I did feel I was able to get a good feel for the ION. Comments on durability will have to wait until full production bindings are available.

My first impression of the bindings is that they look sexy! On a less superficial level, they feel and appear well-made, with unique new features that push the development of touring bindings.

The brake system is one of the quality parts of the ION. Brakes on tech bindings have long been a compromise resulting in a brake that is lightweight and removable, but doesn’t perform as well as a brake on a standard alpine binding. ION brakes are held down by a small catch that engages when the binding is flipped to touring mode (same as G3′s current ONYX binding). This allows two things; the brakes have a much stronger spring pressure so they work better as ski stoppers, and they are deployed until you step into the binding, in tour or alpine mode. In other words, you’re less likely to lose a ski at the top of a peak because you’ve got your brakes locked up in touring mode.

I was impressed with the brakes during my little tour. I could see it being convenient on exposed transitions to have the brakes deployed all the time. (They might also work as make-shift ski crampons on icy skin tracks, since they can be deployed in tour mode. Indeed, perhaps the future of ski brakes on touring bindings is for them to have a “crampon” mode?)

ION bindings incorporate “forward pressure” heel elasticity into the design. This is somewhat similar to most alpine bindings (although the pressure is not constant), and very similar to some of the other other newer tech offerings. With ION, one small but possibly super important difference is the forward pressure slider is “locked out” in tour mode, so that the binding heel unit can’t move fore/aft while you’re stepping on it in touring mode. This could prove to be important to make sure the mechanism doesn’t wear out, and the binding doesn’t shift while using the heel lifters.

The brake/touring heel lock out also moves the binding back slightly, so there is more room between the boot heel and the binding when you’re in heel-flat-on-ski mode. To test this I jammed through a creek that made a sharp dip in the skin track, a situation that would make many other tech bindings “bind up” from the boot heel getting caught by the heel piece. The extra space successfully mitigated this problem. (Admittedly, I only experience such situations for only one or two steps every few tours. But still, the way to improve what’s essentially a copy of an existing product is to make many small enhancements, and this is one.)

The heel lifters are similar to other fold-up-down inspired heel lifters, with advantages and disadvantages. The biggest difference is that the lifters are symmetrical — the binding can be turned both clockwise and counter clockwise to set for touring. In my view this is an advantage, making the binding both easy to use and more durable. The lifters are also not as spring loaded as Dynafit’s version, making them not “snap” into place as easily. They are still fairly easy to operate with ski poles grips. However, when changing modes without removing skis, you can’t switch modes with a ski pole tip as easily.

Flipping the heel lifter is easy with the handle of a ski pole.

Flipping the heel lifter is easy with the handle of a ski pole.

And yes, ION has no specific feature for switching from downhill to touring mode without exiting binding, though you can learn a technique similar to other tech bindings that allows you to pop your heel up out of the binding while at the same time rotating the heel unit. Within a few minutes I was able to figure out how to use a method similar to the one I usually use with the handle of my ski pole and leaning forward in my boots. G3′s brake system actually makes the mode change slightly easier, since the turning binding doesn’t press the brake down, like it does in other tech bindings. In our experience, on-the-fly mode changes are one of the more over rated features of some ski touring bindings. Sure, the extra 30 seconds you save by doing so is nice, but it’s not going to change the outcome of your day. So moving on…

ION has “nearly neutral” ramp/delta angle, like most alpine bindings. (WildSnow.com measures ION ramp to essentially equal that of most early tech bindings, meaning it still has ramp/delta, but not nearly as much as some of today’s excessively ramped tech bindings.) Although ramp angle is somewhat based on personal preference, I favor neutral, and people switching from alpine bindings will find it easier to get used to as well.

A few other small features are nice design details. My favorite: all adjustment and mounting screws are #3 Pozi. My repair kit suddenly got simpler. Also, the binding has a clever mechanism that raises two plastic posts in front of your boot toe to help locate your boot when you enter the binding. These “boot stops” are probably unnecessary for the experienced tech binding user, but might be quite nice for newbies. What’s cool is they fold down once you snap into the binding. (Note that the boot stops only work for DIN sole ski boots; those with trimmed toes don’t index close enough for the system to function.)

ION binding weight is not final, but similar to other tech bindings with brakes. (Our other, technical blog post about ION has specific weights.) I’d like the binding to be lighter, and it’s possible ION could be stripped down by removing the boot location feature from the toe unit, and removing the brake. On the other hand, the fully featured ION is an exciting new offering in the beefier, tech binding “freeride” segment.

Although mine was just a quick test, I was impressed. This is a welcome iteration of tech bindings, with innovative improvements that go beyond a mere copy of existing products.

ION will got to full retail in fall of 2014.

Comments

15 Responses to “G3 ION Ski Binding Field Test”

  1. Lee Lau January 6th, 2014 1:02 pm

    Thanks Louie! Now how about some more pictures of blower Koots and Rogers Pass pow and less about gear?

  2. JPee January 6th, 2014 5:51 pm

    Any idea what the price point will be?

  3. Alin January 6th, 2014 6:39 pm

    Lou was saying something around $500 (or over) in the other post. I was hoping for something more like the Onyx, not like the Radical…

  4. Sam January 7th, 2014 3:05 am

    Louie, appreciate your first hand account. Like the photos of the beautiful winter land too. Way to get after it!

  5. Lou Dawson January 7th, 2014 1:24 am

    Yeah, around $500.00.

    Seems reasonable to me, especially if ION has good durability. The development costs for these things are high, and they’re amazingly difficult to make due to the constraints of miniaturization and weight.

    Have to say I’m sitting on pins and needles waiting for consumer testing to commence, based on what’s happened with nearly every pintech binding brand over the past few years in terms of breaking this and breaking that. Getting tired of it, frankly.

    I’m going from the point of view that G3 learned lessons from Onyx, and from watching other brands release products that broke. But on the other hand, it is incredibly difficult to quality control what comes after manufacturing begins. Totally unanticipated problems sneak in, such as defective metal and plastic, and on and on. As always, I’m not sure early adoption is the best approach for any of this stuff since your personal safety and even life depends on it. On the other hand, again, G3 no doubt learned some lessons and they’ve told me their pre-production “beta testing” process is very thorough, they said they “took their time and didn’t rush.”

    Lou

  6. Greg Louie January 7th, 2014 9:15 am

    Pintech? Sounds like a new telemark system. What was wrong with “tech?”

  7. Skian January 7th, 2014 9:20 am

    Great first impression write up. Louie’s capability to put POW to paper might have his father quivering. Thanks for the first field impression, next hard snow test please. All bindings ski well in pow, it’s the 30 mph chatter bang that really tests a bindings real prowess. IMO

  8. Pietro January 7th, 2014 1:28 pm

    How about those scarpa boots? How would you compare them to the maestrale RS?

  9. Lou Dawson January 7th, 2014 1:39 pm

    Greg, as you probably know we had a lot to do with the common use of “tech” to describe the system made popular by Dynafit. It turns out that in many parts of Europe people are calling it the “pin” system or something like that. We just spent two days with the Fritschi guys and they are suggesting we all call it “pintech.” So I thought I’d float it. We’ll see how it goes I like “tech” but WildSnow has much to our surprise gone international, so I’m trying to be more sensitive to words folks are using in the European alpine countries.

    Some of you might be amused to know that we’ve had a few days with a lot of North American traffic, but with more traffic from Switzerland than North America (and large amounts from the other EU alpine countries). I have to admit I was a bit surprised (grin), Quite fun, though as a writer it’s quite intimidating. Our theory is the Europeans like suffering through our powder skiing trip reports after they get back from a day of ice and breakable crust (grin).

    The question is, how can I get all those Swiss girls to shop at backcountry.com?

    Lou

  10. Lew January 24th, 2014 2:44 pm

    These look very promising. Is there a chance that the screw holes for mounting match Dynafits if one were to swap over to the Ions?

  11. gnarwhal January 30th, 2014 12:46 pm

    Perhaps this is a dumb question, but its a nagging one on my mind. Are you still able to ski with the toes locked out should you say lose confidence in the RV setting of the binding?

    Personally I’m quite excited for these bindings. They seem to have improved on at least a few minor annoyances and are going to be coming in at $550.

  12. Jacob February 8th, 2014 7:41 pm

    Lou,
    Do you have any idea on the mounting pattern for the ion? ( same as dynafit or not)

  13. Doug CCBC February 9th, 2014 8:58 am

    Jacob, It is not the same mounting pattern as Dynafit. Definitely a bit wider in the toe as I remember.

    I was really impressed by this binding at the show. It may not get the hype of some other bindings out there, but there were some worthy improvements made by G3 with the Ion.

  14. Lou Dawson February 9th, 2014 9:04 am

    Jacob, you missed our original and detailed first-look of Ion, with mount pattern details.

    http://www.wildsnow.com/11763/ion-g3-ski-binding-backcountry-tech/

    The mount pattern is intentionally designed to prevent overlap with existing holes.

    Lou

  15. Ben February 28th, 2014 2:20 pm

    Not to take this post off subject but I was wondering if you had any impressions on the Synapse 109? Initial beta on the ski seems to be pretty sweet.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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