Marker Facility Visit — Duke Binding and More


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Marker Duke (and its little brother Baron) are revolutionary ski bindings. Sure, these might not be what most of us WildSnowers do big tours on, but you have to admit Marker changed the Freeride scene in a big way. Now, hardcore skiers can have an alpine binding that tours. Period. Marker makes and sells about a million pair of ski bindings a year, so they’ve got the resources for plenty of innovation. I toured their development and testing facility during a chilly day in Penzberg, Germany with engineers Markus and Robert, who were big in development of the Duke. These two guys are great, with a good sense of humor and amazing knowledge of skiing. Their resumes include working on high-end mountain bikes as well as automotive projects.

Backcountry Skiing

Markus and Robert, with their creation. They explained that locating the mode change switch under the foot was a big issue, as it could have been located in front so you didn't have to exit the binding to change modes. This being Europe, where ski tourers don't see a big need for on-the-fly mode changes, Marker opted for the cleaner look of locating it under the foot. Markus also told me they had quite a bit of internal discussion about the heel lift; higher, lower, easier to change, but again opted for the cleaner more minimalist approach (which I personally like on the Duke)

Backcountry Skiing

Some Duke prototypes, circa January 2006. Key for developing Duke was to create a toe unit that was smaller from front to back. Markus told me they were inspired by the old Eiser binding toe shape (see our binding museum via menu above).

Backcountry Skiing

After talking about Duke in particular, it was time for a tour of the testing and development gadgets -- some of my favorite stuff besides actually making pow turns. This binding release checker moves the ski, and another version moves the boot. They test with both machines.

From an engineering standpoint, Markus explained that binding testing takes three forms: strength, safety, and how the binding influences how the ski performs. It’s the latter that bindings sometimes fall short with, while Marker attempts to keep a leadership position. For example, their race binding plate has an actual shock absorber built into it, for vibration damping. Duke also addresses this issue by allowing the ski to curve under the binding, as well as not having binding plates so long they stiffen the ski too much under foot.

Backcountry Skiing

This is the machine with most potential for excitment, the ski bender. Basically a big hydraulic ram that bends the ski over and over until it or the binding breaks. More than breakage, what's important in this test is how the binding wears at points designed to slide while the ski bends. Markus said they usually do a few hundred thousand cycles with a fairly strong bending force. The thing looked dangerous, ski shards in the gut, anyone?

Backcountry Skiing

My all time favorite machine, the vibrator. Flip a switch and watch a ski flop around like some kind of nuclear physics experiment. Tests for damping, etc.

Backcountry Skiing

Back to the Duke and Baron, here is the walking machine that tests how the touring pivot wears.

Backcountry Skiing

Your intrepid blogger, now coming at you from Germany.

Backcountry Skiing

Now, since we're in Bavaria a traditional lunch was in order. In this case Schweinebraten that was grown on the very farm where this restaurant is located. A substantial meal in honor of the substantial Duke. Thanks Markus and Robert!

Comments

26 Responses to “Marker Facility Visit — Duke Binding and More”

  1. Tony January 17th, 2009 9:40 am

    Lou,

    Did Marker talk to you about any changes they have made in the Duke since the first generation production binding that came out last year?

    My pair of Dukes has developed fore/aft play in both bindings while in ski mode, with the boot in the binding. On one binding it is about 8mm on the other about 3, but it is enought to be noticably through you forward or back while skiing.

    On the TGR forum I have read of this happening to a number of other Duke users. The problem seems to stem from icing on the binding. If you don’t remove all the ice from under the rails and other places in the binding, you have to use excessive pressure on the ski/tour lever to bring it back into ski mode from tour mode. If there is enough ice, the lever won’t work at all, but if you remove most but not all the ice, you can push the lever into ski mode but you have to use too much force. I am not sure exactly what this does, but I think it warps the rivet hole of the ski/tour lever, causing for/aft play.

    I tried to be careful at removing the ice in my binding (it would take 5-10 minutes each time) but not careful enough.

    My local ski shop sent the bindings back to Marker warranty, and Marker replaced the heel piece and sent them back to me. This did not fix the problem. The ski shop has just sent them back to Marker again, and I will see if they fix it this time. Needless to say, I have been unable to use my powder skis for almost three weeks, and I am not too happy with Marker Warranty. I am not too angry because it has not snowed here for two weeks, and they aren’t predicting any big storms in Tahoe till the begging of Febuary.

    Lou, do you know if Marker is doing anything to address this problem? As I have said, the for/aft slop has apperently develped for a number of other users.

  2. Lou January 17th, 2009 9:44 am

    Tony, I didn’t hear anything about this problem. I’ll try to ask. As for other changes, Duke will be a new color.

  3. Jim in the Midwest January 17th, 2009 11:50 am

    Lou and Tony, my first post here but I’ve also noticed an issues with the “change switch”. The pin that connects the flat spring to the switch came loose, and on examination it appears to me that the area of construction can result in fore-aft motion in a similar manner as Tony has noted. The pin is thin walled on one side for the pressing that occus during production. I actually only had a few days on these when it happened, and these days were skiing the ice in Wisconsin or touring practice in my Northern Illinois backyard… not big backcountry at all.

    I’ve resolved this on my own, I haven’t gone the route of warranty because on first examination I can’t see how the switch mechanism components can be repaired without removing the binding from the ski (something I don’t want to do quite yet).

  4. Tony January 17th, 2009 2:48 pm

    Jim, can you give us the details on how you “resolved” the fore/aft play problem on your own?

  5. Sam Reese January 17th, 2009 3:06 pm

    Love seeing those MMR Race bindings in the third picture. They look funny, but those are my favorite alpine binding, period. Low, tight, stiff and surprisingly forgiving. My pair are almost 10 years old now, and I’m contemplating buying a new set, if they have wide brakes now.

  6. Jon January 17th, 2009 9:02 pm

    Lou-

    I agree with you 100% that the Duke has forever changed the backcountry. My goal was to get BCA Trekkers two years ago for my mild-day trips out to Bertoud or Vail Passes or the occasional easy CO peak. But when the supposedly “bomb-proof” Duke came out that same year, I knew I had to go with them (even though I had sworn never to buy Marker again after breaking 20+ 12 Free brakes over 2 seasons). Because I did, I also stepped up my interest and training in safety and awareness in the backcountry, so that was another advantage of taking on a more touring-focused binding (and it also turned me on to your webpage, which is another plus).

    With that being said, as of last week, I have completely snapped two Duke heel pieces practically in half. Both times I was coming down from a fairly large drop with a good amount of speed and ended up bending the metal track behind the heel piece so the heel shifted about 1 cm back. The first time was in Jackson, but last week it was up on Vail Pass, about a half-hour tour from the trail head. We had to strap my foot in the binding with a backpack strap in order for me to get out, but this is completely unacceptable for a din-16 binding to snap like that after landing on my feet off a 20 foot cliff.

    The fault was not entirely Marker’s. When I purchased the binding in 2007, the large size Duke was all that was available, and should technically fit the 315 mm length of my boot, but leaves a solid 5 cm of metal track behind the heel piece (it can fit 305-370mm boot length). With enough pressure, bending that amount of metal is actually pretty easy, as I’ve found out the hard way twice now. Needless to say, if you are buying the Duke, and you have a boot length of 320mm or less, go with the small. And if anyone has ever seen an indestructible AT binding, please let me know. Meanwhile, I’m hoping Marker sends me some small sized Dukes as I have requested on the warranty form (even though that means my skis will have to be drilled for a third time).

    Thanks for all that you do, Lou, remember that there are a lot of us young guns out here that read your blog and take what you say very seriously.

    Jon

  7. ethank January 18th, 2009 8:29 pm

    Lou,
    Go ask the Marker boys to make me a couple climbing bars that are about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch longer. The current ones suck on steeper switchbacks and will kill your calves if you do any longer tours. I went back to Fritschis’ after trying the duke cause of the short climbing bar. I will come by your place and pick them up when you get back from the your europe tour. Thanks

  8. Njord January 18th, 2009 8:38 pm

    Some German grammer: Since Schweine Bratten is a “proper noun”, it needs captitalization!

  9. Jim in the Midwest January 19th, 2009 7:03 am

    Tony, I repressed the pin the pin that connects the flat spring to the switch. As the thin walled side expands while being pressed it takes up some of the slack that between the outside diameter of the pin and the inside diameter of the cylinder it is in. One should probably be cautious while doing this.

    There are other areas that can move around as well. With your boot out of the binding and the binding in ski mode, with some force hold the toe area of the binding and move the binding fore and aft. I’m guessing you can watch the switch area and the area where the flat spring attaches to the base plate and be able to see where most of the movement is.

  10. Lou January 19th, 2009 7:22 am

    Njord! Done! And to think I thought I’d gotten it right, and perhaps added another two words to my German vocabulary of five (grin)!

  11. Rob Staudinger January 19th, 2009 8:09 am

    Sorry Lou, but the actual german word is “Schweinebraten” or “Schweinsbraten” (the latter being Austrian/Bavarian/Swiss German diction) :-)

  12. Lou January 19th, 2009 8:57 am

    Shoot, I even looked it up on the web…typical…defective internet info will ruin the world (grin).

    By the way, what is the crisp cooked fat called? Lisa told me what that was during our last trip, but I forgot and didn’t know how to look it up.

  13. Colin January 19th, 2009 9:48 am

    I was interested to hear that Markus and Robert gave a lot of thought to the climbing bar, as the consensus here in NA is that the climbing bars are woefully short. The max height is equivalent to about the medium height on the Dynafit or Fritschi and, in my mind, is the main shortcoming of the binding.

  14. Lou January 19th, 2009 10:09 am

    Colin, unless you’re busting deep pow and have to reduce your number of steps, a lower angled track is more efficient (my opinion, but validated by thousands). Since Europe has so many people ski touring, the tracks tend to stay at this “efficient mean.” Binding’s tend to be designed for it. I predict that North American uptracks will gradually morph to this more efficient angle, mark my words. Don’t expect the Duke to get a higher heel lift just for North America, but I could see them providing just because it’s another feature that would help sell a few more bindings here and there. We shall see.

    I’ve toured about 15 days here so far this year, including quite a variety of terrain, and have rarely used more heel lift than the medium lift on my Dynafits. This has been quite pleasant and resulted in more vertical with less effort.

    All that said, perhaps someone can make and market an aftermarket heel lift extender for Duke? Bill Bollinger?

  15. Rob Staudinger January 19th, 2009 1:22 pm

    Lou, the crust would just be called “Kruste” in German and “Prinzn” in my local Austrian dialect. It’s not just fat but skin (usually with a layer of fat below).

    Is it becoming obvious that this is my favourite dish? :-)

  16. Colin January 19th, 2009 4:20 pm

    Lou, have you spent much time in the Wasatch? How about skinning up tree-covered slopes where one might not have the luxury of tons of low-angled switchbacks?

    I agree with you that staying in the middle dynafit register is likely best for most terrain, but there are always exceptions to the rule and so dynafit includes the volcano option. My Dukes are mounted to Pontoons and so whenever they come out, it’s for breaking trail up the steep and deep.

  17. Lou January 19th, 2009 11:03 pm

    Colin, first, I wasn’t trying to say that using the lower angle option was a rule, only that it’s frequently better than steeper if you want human power to provide as much vertical as possible. And yeah, I’ve been in the Wasatch quite a bit over the years, and in our own timbered Colorado terrain as well, and you’re absolutely correct that sometimes the lower angled track is not an option. Ditto for finding the safest line in avy terrain. Somewhat steeper is also frequently better when breaking deep trail, simply because fewer steps are required.

  18. Jon January 20th, 2009 2:02 pm

    Interesting article, thanks lou!

    I’ve been very happy with my dukes, except for the fore/aft play problem described above. I took mine apart and discovered that the pivots in the tour/ski level is very poorly designed. The pair of rivets that go from the baseplate to the lever will be prone to wearing into the plastic baseplate. The tolerances are poor, such that the rivets have a small amount of play out of the box . Anyone remember what used to happen once the cranks on your square-taper bottom bracket got loose once? all that wiggle causes exponential wear, and eventually excess play fore/aft.

    That pivot needs to be redesigned.

  19. Lou February 1st, 2009 10:38 am

    All, one of the folks at Marker got back to me about the play issue. Here is what they said:

    “Hello Lou,

    About the play at the lock-lever of the Duke:
    We gave the little rivets a tighter fitting after the first production run. That change was done in October 2007. So Bindings starting from 2008 will have a better fit here.

    Also today we are currently improving the tolerances of this rivet-binding connection a second time. The rivets will have a 5.0 diameter instead of today´s 4.9

    What you can feel on the duke is a slight movement front/back of about 1.5 mm. Altough this fore/aft play has no performance effect on skiing, we will improve this again.

    Kind regards,
    Marker Deutschland GmbH”

  20. Alfred Hogenauer February 9th, 2009 6:15 pm

    I have a pair of small Duke’s that I have been skiing with Scarpa Lasers. In size 9 the Lasers are about 315 mm long. The specs for the Duke say that it will accommodate a boot 320 mm long. Recently I decided to buy new boots. My search for a mondo 28 boot at 320 mm has been frustrating. It seems that I am limited to the Scarpa Skookum which fits me in their mondo 27 or the garmont axon, a beautiful (heavy) boot.
    Well, today I went to an alpine ski shop and asked (paid) them to fit the largest boot they could into my Duke. It turns out they could easily fit in a 325 mm boot or even a 327 and finally a 329 (but there really wasn’t enough forward pressure). So, the search is on again with the new boot length restriction of 325 – 326 mm length (the radium and maybe even the method is back in the running)

  21. Chris E February 9th, 2009 6:56 pm

    Alfred,
    I just read your post regarding boot sole length in a small duke. The Radium will NOT fit in that binding. I know this from painful experience (no need for details here). The results you got from the alpine boots may have been skewed towards a longer boot sole length do to the lack of rocker and rubber on an alpine boot. I would be very hesitant to say that a longer A.T. styled sole will fit in the small duke. My 28 mondo megarides fit the small duke, my 28 mondo radiums do not.

    Good luck with your search, and for my two cents worth, the Radium is the best boot I’ve ever skied. The liner leaves a little to be desired, but the boot is amazing. I can go into details if you want.

    Chris

  22. Kent October 8th, 2009 8:41 pm

    Lou – 1st thanks for maintaining such a great site. A couple of years back I had to switch from tele to AT because of arthritis in my big toe joints. I’d still love to be able to drop a knee now and again in bounds, but I’d never go back for BC. I discovered Wild Snow last year. I really enjoy it and have learned a lot. I’m on Dynafits for backcountry, but looking at Barons or Dukes for an in-bounds/side country setup. I’m 6′-2″ and 220#. In my 30s and 40s I skied a lot and skied hard. Now I’m a 57 YO desk jockey, ski less and a lot of times I ski with my 6 & 9 year old girls. My bindings are usually set at DIN 7. Sorry to ramble, now to the question. Based on the DIN 7 it makes sense to me to go with Barons set in the middle of the 4 to 12 DIN range. But I still seem to be hard on gear and I hear that the Barons use plastic in places where the Dukes use metal. I know that some plastic is tougher than some metal for some applications, but I don’t know the details in this case. I’ve just heard a lot of non-specific talk. I know you’ve reviewed the Dukes. Do you guys have experience with the Barons; particularly with respect to durability and rigidity relative to the Dukes? I don’t care that much about the weight for this setup. Thanks again.

  23. Lou November 22nd, 2010 8:26 am

    Kent, if you don’t care about weight just go with Duke. But know that Baron is holding up well as far as we know.

  24. Lou November 22nd, 2010 8:28 am

    Latest on Marker models for/aft play:

    “We’re now using press fit rivets for the Lever which eliminates or reduces the play of the bindings.

    Of course there can be some for/aft play of the bindings (about 1 mm) when you push it for- and backwards without a boot in it. After using the binding some good winters this can happen because there is some use settling. But our experience shows that there’s no more for/aft play if you step in with a boot. A boot in the binding is bridging itself on the ski and there is not noticeable for/aft play any more.

    I just wanted to give you an update about this topic.”

  25. Nic January 25th, 2011 12:35 am

    Hi guys,
    I’m riding the first generation duke and after 3 seasons (cir. 15 days with about 15000 meters climb per season). I’ve got some play issues. None of them are currently problematic however as these things tend to evolve I wouldn’t mind another opinion.
    I’m seeing a fair amount of side to side play from the touring pivots. In the tour mode when I twist my foot or when I’m on a traverse there is significant (i.e. about 2-3 deg) rotational play at the touring pivot. Also in ski mode there is about 1mm of play under the heel piece. As yet neither of these issues are noticeable when I’m skiing but as play has a tendency to only get worse I’m wondering if anyone has seen this on their dukes?
    Thanks
    Nic

  26. Lou January 25th, 2011 10:08 am

    Nic, known issue with first gen, contact dealer or customer service. Lou

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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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