Silvretta Saas Fee Cable Binding for Ski Touring — 1960s

Post by blogger | August 12, 2009      

Be sure to check out our ski touring binding museum.

Early Silvretta, 1960s, attempted to combine mechanical toe pivot with cable.

Early Silvretta, 1960s, attempted to combine mechanical toe pivot with cable. This version was nearly unusable.

This first version of the Silvretta ski binding pictured above, circa 1960s, is an oddball in ski binding history. It worked poorly, and when I used it myself back in the early days I wondered how anyone could think up something so difficult to get properly functioning. For starters, it broke cables regularly due to the constant bending of the cables caused by the pivot, and extreme force place on the cables in a forward fall. More, it was difficult to screw the Saas Fee securely enough to wooden skis to prevent pulling out the screws when the binding was flexed forward. Adding to all that, the early version without a metal plate under your boot had such a problem with side slop of the boot heel as to be nearly dysfunctional.

Version of Saas Fe with stabilizer plate, this version was actually produced by Ramer Equipment for a military contract on in the 198s, but is nearly identical to earlier versions.

Version of Saas Fee with stabilizer plate, this version was actually produced by Ramer Equipment for a military contract on in the 198s, but is nearly identical to earlier versions.

Soon after this original version of the Silvretta Saas Fee, in the early 1970s Silvretta added a stiff metal plate (sometimes known as a “bear paw” of “bear pad” ) under the boot, to prevent sideways slop.

We used this early version of a “plate” or “frame” binding to ski most of Denali in 1973. This plate, combined with the mechanical pivot, could perhaps be considered the first alpine touring randonnee plate “frame” binding.

As with other alpine skiing cable bindings, the Saas Fee was designed so you could latch the cable through sidewall lugs on your skis, thus latching down your boot heels. Our crew at the time tended to avoid this, as it totally locked out any sideways (lateral) safety release. Instead, we skied the binding as free-heel parallel. When set up correctly it worked okay. For example, on Denali in 1973, when we did the first repeat of Erling Strom’s ski of the Muldrow Glacier route, we used 180cm Miller Softs with the early Silvretta with bear paw plates. Combined with properly fitted leather double boots (Galibier Hivernal), the system worked for backcountry skiing, but was nothing like today’s randonnee AT gear.

1960s Silvretta binding toe detail.

1960s Silvretta binding toe detail.

The Silvretta Saas Fee was not for everyone. It was a highly specialized piece of machinery with a narrow range of purpose. When combined with the naiveté of most North American ski mountaineers of the time (compared to those in Europe), the result was frustration, and resulting experimentation with nordic equipment. Simply put, this version of the Silvretta binding may have been the seed of the telemark renovation we’ve seen over the last three decades. But equally as important, it was the foundation for the amazingly functional, durable, and lightweight randonee bindings we now enjoy.

Versions of the Silvretta Saas Fee were available on into the 1980s as it was manufactured under military contracts for use with arctic boots. It was sometimes called the NATO binding in those days. We do not know how long it was manufactured specifically by Silvretta, but probably into the mid 1970s.

Be sure to check out our ski touring binding museum.

Silvretta Saas Fe thumbnail.

Silvretta Saas Fe thumbnail.


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13 Responses to “Silvretta Saas Fee Cable Binding for Ski Touring — 1960s”

  1. Kent Davis October 26th, 2014 6:34 pm

    Thanks for posting this bit of history. There doesn’t seem to be much else on the internet about this vintage binding.

    I was cleaning out a shed today and came across two pairs of these (with stabilizer plates) new in the box. My then girlfriend and I bought them in the 1970s while in college when they were the cat’s meow, but life moved on and we never got around to mounting them before they became obsolete.

    I don’t really know what to do with them. I’d hate to recycle them as scrap metal. Does anyone collect vintage ski equipment? Any suggestions? Thanks

  2. Lou Dawson 2 October 26th, 2014 6:42 pm

    Kent, they’re pretty common and not very collectable. But you might be able to unload them on Ebay for the cost of shipping plus the cost of a latte. Lou

  3. Kent Davis October 26th, 2014 7:05 pm

    OK then, thanks

  4. JohnJ October 26th, 2014 9:25 pm

    Kent, I may be interested. These were the first ski bindings I owned. I liked them because I didn’t have to buy boots- I used hiking boots. Since getting rid of them I have occasionally regretted it, out of nostalgia for old obsolete stuff.

    The cable-breaking was maddening. I always carried a spare, until the day I broke two…

  5. Kent Davis October 26th, 2014 10:47 pm

    John, I think we could come to terms if you’re interested. I’m not really looking to make money on these, so a nominal offer that covers shipping and the trip to the post office would be fine.

    I should tell you that despite being new, they aren’t in perfect condition. The handles of the levers that tighten the cables seem to be made of something that oxidizes, and having been stored in their boxes in a sometimes damp shed…well, those handles aren’t “shiny new” looking but fine operationally. Everything else is stainless steel and in fine visual and working condition.

    So, if you’re still interested, let me know. I can send a pic if you can share an email or cell number. I’ll be on the road away from home for a couple of days starting tomorrow, however.

  6. JohnJ October 27th, 2014 8:15 am

    Thanks, Kent. I suppose a photo would be nice. Take your time; I am in no rush.

    Rather than publish contact info, I believe Lou has both of our email addresses. Maybe he can be convinced to distribute them to us.

  7. Lou Dawson 2 October 27th, 2014 8:30 am

    Guys, sure, that’s the way we usually do it. Or just share your Facebooks here if you don’t mind.

  8. JohnJ October 27th, 2014 8:35 am

    Thanks, Lou. No FB here anyway.

  9. Lou Dawson 2 October 27th, 2014 8:39 am

    I sent you guys an email with your addresses.

  10. Tim D May 4th, 2015 4:03 pm

    I had these nasty things in the late 70s mounted on some Europa 99s. As noted in the article, the screws pulled out of the top sheet. I actually drilled new holes through the bottom of the p-tex. Then counter sunk the heads, mounted the bindings on the screws protruding through the top sheet with lock washers and nuts, and then p-texed over the screw heads. They lasted until the skis de-laminated and got tossed in the trash. And yeah, the cables broke – a lot!!

    Kids today don’t know how good they have it. (old guy rant)

  11. Juan José Herrera Atton February 4th, 2016 1:50 pm

    Hi, incredible article. In our mountaineering club in Chile (Club Andino Rancagua) we have like 5 pairs of that binding without use…No one wants to use it!!!


  12. VT skier November 12th, 2017 11:46 am

    I skied on this binding, (with the plate) in the early 80’s, Skiing into Ice Climbs with friends in the Rockies. I had , well still have my Galibier Super Guide boots for ice climbing, with a set of Carmen Super Gators I had picked up in the Tetons in the mid 70’s. So the plan was to ski into the climb with the same boots I would climb with.
    The Silvrettas were mounted on the green Europa 99s, and I sold them later to a friend.

  13. David goulding January 17th, 2018 8:44 pm

    Living in Nelson BC, , during the winter of 1980, found work at whitewater ski hill, I was in need of skis to work at the hill. I found a pair of second hand 215cm Bonna wooden skis, with screw on metal edges… the skis were equipped with these silveretta bindings. On the first run down the hill, in the deep powder I broke the tail of one ski after landing a jump. This was the end of the Bonnas… being a dirt poor lifty with no money to buy new skiis, I found a mis-matched pair of 180cm elan junior downhill skis ( with no bindings) in the reject pile at the pro shop at the hill. I removed the silverettas from the bonnas and mounted them on elans
    The silveretta worked perfectly, combined with circa 1960s leather ski boots..( picked up at the local Salvation Army ) .It was on this set up I attempted to learn how to do a telemark turn at a downhill ski hill. Needless to say, this binding, boot set up did not allow for a proper telemark turn. The silveretta bindings are still with me, in a bag with other ancient sporting gear I have saved over the years. The memories of skiig them at whitewater will live on I’m mind forever. Thanks for listening.

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