Gear of the Pioneers — Briggs 1971 Grand Teton Descent Bindings

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After we re-worked our Bill Briggs article a few days ago, questions are coming up about the gear he used for his first ski descent of the Grand Teton in 1971. In my archives, I happen to have an original copy of Teton magazine, winter/spring 1972, with an extensive article about the descent, much of it a first person account by Briggs. On page 7, this ad for Spademan bindings used the descent as credibility.

As for the skis he used, Briggs had this to say when I contacted him today: “It was a K2 Elite. Very soft, light, 210cm, fiberglass ski. I added damping strips to both skis to reduce vibration, which worked very well, making it was a very versatile (an all conditions cheater) ski for its day.”

Spademans were an odd binding — and an odd choice for ski mountaineering. To use them you had to bolt a big metal fitting to the sole of your boots, thus reducing their usefulness for climbing. They looked weird as they had no toe unit — your boot toe just floated out there in the air above your ski. In any case, that’s what Briggs used and they got the job done.

Spademan ad, Teton magazine 1972.

Spademan ad, Teton magazine 1972. Click to enlarge.


12 Responses to “Gear of the Pioneers — Briggs 1971 Grand Teton Descent Bindings”

  1. Mark Worley July 9th, 2014 8:52 am

    I started skiing in 1982, and the Spademans were around some then. Definitely eye catching with no toe piece.

  2. Eric Raymond July 9th, 2014 9:26 am

    And the metal cleat was notorious for building a nice iceball which reduced the ability of the binding to hold.

  3. XXX_er July 9th, 2014 10:40 am

    Grouse mnt in Vancover was using Spademans for their rental fleet in 1981, pretty easy for the rental shop to setup by just twisting the knob by hand, I was learning to ski and they worked fine as I remember

  4. Kevin S July 9th, 2014 10:44 am

    When the first Dynafit bindings came out, we had a beer infused conversation about how to modify a Spademan into a tech binding with the Dynafit toe. No, we never executed on the idea but the beer sure tasted good that evening!

  5. Terry July 9th, 2014 2:10 pm

    A friend for awhile used Spademans mounted backwards as tele bindings. He bolted the Spademan plate to the toes of his tele boots, and said they worked quite well. He even passed the ACMG assistant guide’s exam using this setup, though apparently the examiner was not very impressed with his strange gear.

  6. Scott July 9th, 2014 3:02 pm

    So the technique with Spademans was a parallel free heel turn?

  7. neonorchid July 9th, 2014 6:17 pm

    Thanks for the memories. When i began doing lift served served skiing in the early to mid nineteen seventies, my local ski hill’s rental fleet was equipped with Spadmans. The freestyle crowd and hotdog’ers used to buy them.

  8. Mike Taets July 9th, 2014 9:15 pm

    The first binding I ever skied on was a Spademan in 1976 at Welch Village Minnesota. I have always thought Bill Briggs first descent of the Grand was huge milestone. It is even more impressive knowing he did it with that metal plate on the bottom of his boot. I could not even walk across the parking lot with it. Unbelievable!

  9. Bard July 9th, 2014 11:24 pm

    There is a set of these on display in the Grand Teton NP visitor center as I recall. IDK if they are Briggs originals, but interesting all the same. He is an American ski mountaineering legend, as are you Mr. Dawson.

  10. Betty Rose July 10th, 2014 5:29 am

    Love reading about what has happened over the years with skiing and how things have changed!

  11. Hacksaw July 10th, 2014 11:56 am

    I once looked at Bill’s skis in the GTNP visitor center. I wouldn’t ski down Homerun at Loveland on them….

  12. Lou Dawson July 14th, 2014 8:11 am

    Scott, regarding the type of turn used by Bill, the Spademan is an alpine binding. I looks odd but it does hold your boot down on the ski like an alpine binding. Lou

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