Today, dear readers, we journey deep into the temple of gear. First stop after the free chapstick was to get my hands on the Marker Duke touring/alpine binding (TA?). I remember conversations years ago when we’d wonder out loud why a binding maker couldn’t just mount an alpine binding on a touring plate and be done with it. Sure, such a setup is heavy, but a niche for it definitely exists. Skiers have tried to fill that niche with beefy AT bindings such as Fritschi Freeride. But making a binding light enough to tour longer distances yet still behave exactly like an alpine binding is a tough call. Hence a niche for the Duke, which ignores weight issues, ostensibly in favor of alpine binding durability and performance. We’ll get a test pair of these as soon as possible — even then, consumer testing is what will really tell the tale. So it’ll be a season or so before we know if the Duke can make the grade. Meanwhile, fun to fiddle with. SHOP FOR MARKER DUKE BINDING
|Duke in alpine mode. The heel is basic Marker stuff, toe is said to be same unit as used on a new model Marker regular alpine binding.|
|Mode change lever moves a long beefy catch that slides through slots in a plate mounted on the ski. Movement of the catch has the feel of finely machined equipment. No snapping and popping, just smooth sliding action with no play.If this is a pre-production prototype (as said to be) it’s very advanced. Most parts appear to be aluminum.|
|This is the plate the mode change sliders engage for lockdown. It’s long and quite strong looking. When the binding is latched down there is no discernible play. In alpine mode with a boot in it, you’d have a hard time telling the difference between this and a regular alpine binding. The latch and pivot add weight, but not much — when you pick it up it feels like a heavy alpine binding.|
|Underside of plate that mates with plate on ski. There will no doubt be issues with this binding, but a solid binding/ski connection won’t be on the list.|
To go along with bindings such as Duke a new class of boots has come on the scene. They’re simply well made alpine boots with a cleated sole that’s interchangeable with a more alpine-like sole — and no cuff release for walking. This is of course the boot many North American lift access backcountry skiers have wanted for a long time, but why not include a walk mode and adjustable angle cuff latch? Sure, in a boot this stiff any sort of walk mode is going to be minimal — but a bit is better than nothing.
Garmont’s boot in this category is the Shamen pictured above. It’s not only as beefy and stiff as some alpine race boots, but features a “pre punched” shell that’s more anatomically molded than any other boot I know of. This yields amazing off-the-shelf comfort for those with average feet. Scarpa’s entry in this category is called the Hurricane and it’s equally impressive, if not scary for tour oriented backcountry skier such as myself. Let’s just say if you’re a cliff hucking 20 something that’s gaining much of your vertical by tram or sled, make a beeline to these boots. Otherwise you might want to consider the fact that modern skis allow enjoyable turning with less boot, not more.
|Speaking of Scarpa, I spent an hour getting dialed on their lineup for 07/08 and was impressed by an overall trend to small improvements on their already terrific boots, as well as several new models. For starters, the venerable F1 gets a closure mechanism that still works with one throw of a lever (in photo above), but when in the open position the lever now stays tucked close to the boot instead of sticking out like some kind of mutant appendage. More, said lever has a cool micro adjustment for the catch that snaps you into alpine mode. Before, to make this action easier you had to grind out the slot in the boot. Doing so was non-reversible. Now, just turn a small setscrew (shown with arrow) to adjust how hard or easy it is to snap or unsnap the lever. On top of all that, the lever has a cable loop that’s super easy to yank for a quick change to touring mode from alpine.
In other models, Scarpa is now making a boot called the F3, which is basically a lightweight tour oriented boot with a bellows like the F1. And in heavier boots, they’re now making the Spirit in a 4-buckle model called Spirit 4. This appeared to me as more a nod to style than being much different than the Spirit 3 in terms of performance, as the buckle mounting system of the Spirit 3 easily takes the place of a fourth buckle. For many of you dear blog readers the big news at Scarpa is of course the Terminator X boot, which works as a telemark shoe as well as AT footwear. This Darwinian event is made possible by the NTN binding not requiring the archaic duckbill toe for tele, so the boot can have a DIN standard toe (as well as the “second heel” the NTN needs to work.) The boot will also be sold with Dynafit fittings. As for evolution, some may contend that making a boot for both AT and tele is actually devolution. Scientists are still arguing about that, as are televangelist fundamentalists who you find here in the temple. In my case, I just want to fiddle with the things and see what they can do.
Whew, what else from Scarpa? Women’s versions of Spirit 4 and Spirit 3 look quite nice and have lower cuff height to work with the common woman’s lower leg shape. And lastly, the company is now working with thermo-liner maker Intuition, and now includes an improved thermo liner in all their top boots. Advantages of this liner include enhanced durability, ability for several dozen moldings with little to no loss of volume, slightly lighter weight, traction sole, dual density foam and more. I can’t wait to get my hands on these liners and to retrofit some of my boots. Yes, the Intuition liner will be available separate so you can upgrade any boot. Stick some in your old Lasers for the ultimate retrofit! In all, Scarpa is a good example of what I’m seeing across the board in the backcountry ski industry at Outdoor Retailer: Incredibly functional products that receive frequent and excellent improvements. This is a terrific time for our sport. Enjoy.