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.
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)
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).
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.
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?
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.
Back to the Duke and Baron, here is the walking machine that tests how the touring pivot wears.
Your intrepid blogger, now coming at you from Germany.
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!