Zermatt Nepal 1975 – Latest Ski Binding for the Collection

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Zermatt Nepal backcountry skiing touring binding, mid 1970s.

Zermatt Nepal backcountry skiing touring binding, mid 1970s. Click image to enlarge.

1085 grams, 38.7 ounces (1096 grams) per binding, without screws. Circa 1975, takeoff on Iser. Or is Iser a takeoff on the Nepal?

What amazes me about this rig (besides the massive weight), is the detailed effort that obviously went into designing and making a bunch of fairly unique parts and pieces. The binding is nearly all steel (tiny bit of plastic underneath), and has the look of a sort of “craftsman manufacturing,” meaning a lot of hand work. Donator Raymond Contrath said he thought this was at one time the binding of the Alpini (mountain troops) of the Italian army. Poor guys. But quite an interesting addition to the collection.

When you handle the Zermatt Nepal, you realize just how far we’ve come in plastics engineering: being able to make ski bindings out of composites. More, the lack of aluminum is striking. Perhaps the alu supply in Italy was limited in the 1970s, or they found it too hard to work with in this application. Metal still has its place in backcountry skiing bindings, of course, but check out the weight of this nearly all-metal ski binding and you know why plastic is our friend.

See the complete Zermatt Nepal museum display here.

It turns out the Zermatt ski binding has a tragic history. Pioneer extreme skier Heini Holzer had a stunning career in the Alps that spanned a period in the 1960s and 70s, until he was killed in a fall on a trade route in 1977. Over the years, legend held he tripped on a ski pole (which is how we record this event in the WildSnow Chronology). That may not be correct. Donator Raymond Contrath was recently at the Messner museum in Sulden, where they have a pair of skis with Zermatt bindings said to be the planks Holzer was on when he died. Following is info Raymond sent along:

Hello Lou, I have some more information about the Zermatt binding. While in South Tyrol this spring my wife and I visited the Messner Mountain Museum in Sulden. Hardly inside the building I caught sight of this ski touring binding that looked like a Zermatt. I asked the custodian, about the binding and he told me the following:

The bindings and skis belonged to Heini Holzer. He was using them on his fatal descent of the northeast face of Piz Roseg on 4 Jul 77. Eberhöfer said the binding opened on one of the turns causing the fatal fall. Either the lock-down mechanism (from walk to ski) or the heal release malfunctioned. After the accident the company withdrew the binding from the market and overhauled it, the result being the model I sent for the WildSnow collection. Some time in the 80′s Silvretta bought up the binding and it was discontinued. The skis and bindings are being loaned to the museum by Heini’s oldest son, Markus, who is a friend of Eberhöfer. Reinhold Messner, a one time climbing partner of Heini Holzer, is Markus’ godfather.

A comparison of the two bindings (WildSnow collection and those at the museum) shows obvious changes in the heal release mechanism whereas the lock-down system seems to not have been changed. But slight changes in the geometry of this very simple system could effect the reliability of its functioning.

The Holzer skis as the Messner museum.

The Holzer skis at the Messner museum, Raymond Contrath photo.

Holzer skis with earlier generation Zermatt binding that is said to have pre released and caused his death.

Holzer skis with earlier generation Zermatt binding that is said to have pre released and caused his death.

WildSnow Museum index is here.

Comments

10 Responses to “Zermatt Nepal 1975 – Latest Ski Binding for the Collection”

  1. Lou March 28th, 2012 9:14 am

    Hey all, after our recent discussion of tech bindings, I thought it would be amusing to get this up. Kind of the TOTAL opposite of a tech binding. Actually the heaviest binding in our collection. Amazing guys could tour on these things, combined with the skis and boots of the time…

    If you find this interesting, be sure to check out the complete virtual museum display of the binding:

    http://www.wildsnow.com/backcountry-ski-museum/nepal/nepal-binding-display.html

  2. Tom Gos March 28th, 2012 9:31 am

    I agree it’s heavy, but isn’t it about the same weight as a Fritschi Freeride?

  3. See March 28th, 2012 9:44 am

    Reminds me alot of the Marker MR rotomat bindings, which were very light alpine bindings that had spring loaded arms and some sort of cam mechanism that moved laterally to release the toe, and a heel release mechanism mounted on struts that extended behind the boot heel. Zermatt, however, lacks the turntable under the heel.

    (And re. my Ruminations-part 2 posts yesterday: I was right the first time.)

  4. Greg Louie March 28th, 2012 9:46 am

    No pin breakage/pre-release/auto-rotation problems with those heels.

  5. Lou March 28th, 2012 9:55 am

    Tom, a few ounces heavier than Fritschi, which to me is quite heavy, that’s weight _per binding_. I guess it’s a matter of opinion, but the nearly all steel Nepal even seems amazingly heavy when hefting one of them. Could be I’m used to Dynafit Speed model and La Sportivas (grin).

    Interestingly, the Naxo weighs about the same as the Nepal, which is ridiculous in light of today’s gear.

    See our weight chart

    http://www.wildsnow.com/more/backcountry-skiing-gear-weights/

  6. Mike March 28th, 2012 11:30 am

    What else is in the collection? Do you have a pair of Super Loops? If not I think I have a pair I could probably donate.

  7. Lou March 28th, 2012 11:41 am

    Mike, no tele bindings in the collection. I’m leaving that up to someone else. It would be a rather complex endeavor, considering the number of tele binding models and companies over the years. Nightmarish, actually. See the online musuem display for a goodly amount of what’s in there, total is around 50 bindings. This summer we’ll probably add the rest to the online display.

    Museum index:

    http://www.wildsnow.com/backcountry-skiing-history/binding-museum/

  8. Jesse March 29th, 2012 3:59 am

    That’s incredible that it manages to be so much heavier than the Iser despite what looks like a much smaller (if complex) heel unit.

    Lou, on the museum index page, the Iser article has the wrong thumbnail – it’s showing a Duke.

  9. Lou March 29th, 2012 4:17 am

    Jesse, thanks for pointing that out! Sometimes difficult to manage the thousand details (grin). Fixed it, noticed a few other small problems on that page. It’s an ongoing project, sometimes while adding a new binding it gets messed up and I don’t notice… Lou

  10. palic April 3rd, 2012 4:43 pm

    Lou, I have another model with the similar rear part of the binding. It is skialpinism binding Zermatt (made in Switzerland), see my description and photos at: http://mountainski.cz/289/skialpinisticke-vazani-zermatt-historie-skialpinismu. In case, it would be interested for you, I will send English version and more detailes.

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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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