French company Plum, previously known (or rather, not really known at all in North America) for its stripped-down fixed-release (or not?) rando race bindings (one of ten such European competitors), has released the specs on a new line of touring-oriented bindings. Plum had previously listed an entry for the “Touring 280″ which has now disappeared from their website, replaced by the “Guide” line of four models, all essentially identical except for release springs and heel unit top plate (and hence skinning elevator).
October 27 edit: if interested in the details of the summary preview that follows below, then also be sure to read the comments from Jayson of Escape Route (which is now confirmed as the first and so far the only Plum retailer in North America) and from Alexis of Plum (Business Unit Manager). I have now added bracketed follow-ups within my original review for corrections and clarifications, which although making for a somewhat cluttered presentation, preserves the integrity of any public comments on the original text.
The new Plum Guide binding weighs almost exactly the same (when an estimate of screw weight is included) as the venerable Dynafit TLT Speed (formerly Classic, formerly Tech, formerly IV, dating all the way back to the late 90s), which in turn is about six ounces per pair lighter than the Vertical ST/FT12 (excluding brakes from the comparison). The four different Plum Guide models vary a bit in weight, although the entire differential across all four models is only a couple ounces (per pair), and some of the detailed differentials seem to have internal contradictions [edit: the discrepancy I recall noticed at the time has been fixed], so I’ll omit those specs from any further detailed discussion. And like the Speed, brakes do not seem to be an option. [Edit: Brakes are in development.] The Guide also shares the same mounting pattern as all (non-race) Dynafit models.
Compared to the Dynafit Speed backcountry skiing binding, the Plum Guide has a lower stand height (stack) off the ski [edit: stand height measured at the heel actually almost exactly splits the 1cm difference between the Speed vs the Vertical], and probably also a lower “delta” (i.e., heel > toe angle), although hard to confirm that from the picture without an inserted boot. (Compared to the Speed, the Vertical ST/FT12 has both a higher stand height and a greater delta, i.e., the Vertical heel pedestal’s additional stand height more than offsets the toe plate’s additional thickness.) [Edit: Once again the Guide falls in between the Speed and Vertical, although closer to the Speed in this metric. Note that the difference between the Speed and the Vertical translates into about one degree for most bsl.] The Plum Guide heel pins seem to be the same length as the Speed (as opposed to the longer Vertical pins), although once again hard to tell from the picture [edit: stated at 12mm, which depending on how it's measured is either halfway in between the Speed and Vertical or slightly longer than the Vertical]. The “bump” below the Speed’s heel pins also appears to be absent on the Guide (as is the case for the Vertical), although ditto on the picture. [Edit: boot-binding gap is set at the Speed's 4mm, as opposed to the Vertical's current 5.5mm, previously 6mm.]
The Guide allows for a whopping 40mm fore/aft adjustment range (although puzzlingly enough the picture sure doesn’t seem to show a 40mm-long adjustment track [edit: the adjustment range is actually 30mm, and has been corrected on the website]), as compared to 6mm for the Speed and 26mm for the Vertical (as well as about 33mm for the G3 Onyx/Ruby, although G3′s total adjustment range combines both toe and heel repositioning, allowing for some boot recentering as well as just length accommodation).
As with all race models, the role of the ski seems to have been eliminated from the binding functionality. What, you mean you no longer needs skis to go skiing? No, what I mean is that a Dynafit binding does not work without the ski underneath it. Huh? Okay, imagine that a ski binding is supported perfectly rigidly in mid-air, not by drilling it into something, but instead by grasping the binding mounting plates from the side somehow. An alpine downhill binding would work as normal. However, a Dynafit binding depends upon the ski’s topskin in three different ways:
1. The flat base of the heel unit pedestal spindle does not mount up directly into the ski, but instead is pressed down against the ski topskin by the plastic baseplate, which is screwed into the ski.
2. The butt end of the touring lock lever presses up against a hump on the toe unit plastic baseplate, which in turn presses against the ski topskin. Note that the plastic baseplate is held in place by virtue of the binding > baseplate > topskin “sandwich” held together with the mounting screws.
3. The ski crampon slot is part of the plastic baseplate.
By contrast, the Plum Guide seems to eliminate any separate plastic mounting plates, so the “bump” to engage the toe unit tour lever is an extension of the binding frame (which seems to eliminate the fifth mounting screw), and ditto for the crampon slot.
The heel elevator seems to be all-metal like the Dynafit Speed, but with a configuration more similar to the Dynafit Vertical (although with openings perhaps too small for a carbon fiber ski pole’s thicker composite tip? [edit: claimed to work with all ski pole tips]). All four screw heads sit flush with the heel unit’s top plate (unlike the protruding screw heads for all four of the Speed’s screws and two of the Vertical’s screws).
The baseline Guide model lists release settings of 5-12 lateral and 5-13 forward (/vertical). Plum claims rather vaguely and broadly, “The Guide bindings conform with all current safety standards. They will soon be certified.” [Edit: TUV testing in progress for ISO 13992]
The Guide S is identical but for a smooth heel unit top plate with a small slot for a ski pole tip, so no higher heel elevator position and fewer options for manipulating modes with a ski pole, in exchange for rather trivial weight savings. The Guide XS is identical to the baseline Guide but with a 3-7 release range (along with some trivial weight savings). The Guide XXS is identical to the Guide XS but with the smooth top plate of the Guide S.
The retail price is 399 Euros, which is about $566 at today’s exchange rates, including a typical credit card foreign transaction fee but excluding shipping or any VAT reduction. (How that compares to Dynafit depends on whether you’re in the market for the $370 Speed, $400 Vertical ST, or the $580 Vertical FT12, which comes only with the removable brakes). Plum has a fairly sizable dealer network, but as expected for a small French company located near the Swiss border, all the dealers are in France and Switzerland. In North America, the Canadian rando racer Alex Wigley recently tweeted that he’ll compete on Plum this season, but I haven’t received any confirmation as to whether his employer Escape Route will carry the bindings (whether touring or race). [Edit: Confirmation received and now listed at the shop's website.]
Overall, if this works as described, the Plum Guide backcountry skiing binding’s differences will appeal to some brakeless Dynafit skiers [edit: with brakes in development], while still keeping the weight in the range of the Speed model. I wish I could say that I’m happy to answer any questions, but despite all of the above details, that pretty much exhausts anything I know about the binding. (Yes, that’s right, I wrote such an overly long review based on only two pictures and only several sentences of descriptive text — better set aside some quality reading time if I ever actually get to mount and ski these bindings!) [Edit: as previously noted, a company manager and the North American retailer have both provided additional details, as referenced throughout in these bracketed edits, and as available in the public comments below.]
And although someone is sure to ask about the new ATK RT touring binding, that has some more significant differences from the Speed which I can’t figure out from either the pictures or the rather cursory website text. Perhaps Lou can bring some ATK back from Europe this winter, or tear down a pair while he’s over there?
(WildSnow guest blogger Jonathan Shefftz lives with his wife and daughter in Western Massachusetts, where he is a member of the Northfield Mountain and Thunderbolt / Mt Greylock ski patrols. Formerly an NCAA alpine race coach, he has broken free from his prior dependence on mechanized ascension to become far more enamored of self-propelled forms of skiing. He is an AIARE-qualified instructor, NSP avalanche instructor, and contributor to the American Avalanche Association’s The Avalanche Review. When he is not searching out elusive freshies in Southern New England or promoting the NE Rando Race Series, he works as a financial economics consultant.)