I couldn’t find the garter at first, but I did see a few other interesting things. This is a full-on 2008/2009 retail ready Dynafit Vertical FT12 backcountry skiing binding. Number “12” in name refers to max DIN release setting. Check out the show.
My first move, shown above, was a user-style maintenance breakdown of the heel unit. For comparo I grabbed a Vertical ST from last season and stripped it at the same time. It’s on the left above. Only difference in part count for mechanicals is a small washer (indicated by arrow) you’ll find in the heel unit spring barrel cap. We assume this works in concert with stiffer lateral release springs to raise the lateral (side release) DIN level, by compressing the springs more for a given heel cap position. Another purpose for the washer could be to prevent damage to the soft aluminum of the cap.
To open up the FT and ST series bindings you have to remove a roll pin from the housing. This little bugger is a PITA compared to opening a Dynafit Comfort or TLT, but serves to good purpose as it unites the heel post with lower housing, thus providing extra beef for hackers who get too agro with their ski poles while rotating the heel unit.
(FYI, to get the pin out select a drill bit that’s close to the exact size of the pin and drive it inward with the butt of the bit, tapping with a brass hammer. There is just enough room for the pin to move in and free the parts. For reassembly you yank the driven pin out of a cavity with a pair of needle nose pliers, then replace it. The process is obvious once you dig in.)
Heel unit guts of FT12 (right) are nearly identical to ST (left). Arrows indicate one of the only differences in appearance of the mechanicals: small grooves in the heel pins which are probably just machine marks of some sort. Which begs the question, what makes this DIN 12 instead of 10 insofar as vertical (upward) release?
Adding even more Sherlock Holmes style details, vertical release springs in the ’12 heel are about 1.5 mm shorter than those in the ’10. For more DIN, I’d have thought they would be the same or slightly longer. Only guess I came up with is that the ’12 springs are stiffer. I tested by pressing down into the benchtop with my hand, and they do feel slightly stiffer than those of the ’10, so that must be the answer.
Most obvious difference with FT12 is the fiberglass shell that’s molded over the regular plastic toe and heel bases. This stuff no doubt adds some strength (especially to the plastic tab just behind the crampon mount, which does tend to snap off other models), but it’s obviously cosmetic as well and does look good. As the fiberglass doesn’t appear to add much if any weight, then fine — it all works together in the pleasant way most Dynafit gear has become known for.
Heel shell pictured above.
As shown in the total binding photo near the top of this blogpost, FT12 is connected for and aft by a skinny fiberglass strip (detail in photo above). Some alpine binding makers tout this configuration as a way of stiffening the ski under your foot, ostensibly to make the ski perform better, or to prevent the flexing ski from causing unseemly binding behavior such as pre-release. I’ve heard a bit of verbiage about this from Dynafit, but they never came on too strong with it. Since the connector is not fixed in length but rather slides back and forth in a slot on the underside of the heel unit, it would have no effect on ski flex, and we thus deem it cosmetic. This is the ONLY part we deem removable and unnecessary, leave the fiberglass covers on the toe and heel baseplates if you’re into removing stuff as those covers are necessary for strength if you’re skiing at higher DIN settings, and also act as spacers for correct function and mounting of the binding.
I left the best for last. A known weakness of earlier Dynafit bindings is the base of the heel “post” AKA “spindle,” (this is pretty much hidden on an assembled binding, and the heel unit rotates on it.) My theory about this is that some heel posts are cast or machined in such a way as to unnecessarily remove material that would otherwise provide strength. In the photo above, arrows indicate the area in question. Binding base to far left is an older Comfort model, you can see a large recessed area with less aluminum. Middle is an ST10 from last winter, notice how the larger recessed area is now tiny. On the right, FT12, with almost no material removed. Nice.
On the same note about strength, previous Comfort and ST heel units have an unthreaded hole that the threaded for-aft adjustment shaft runs through. With FT12, this hole is threaded and the shaft fits tightly. In my view this adds strength as not only do we have more alu around the shaft, but less potentially metal fatiguing play.
Not much to say about the for the toe unit. It’s the same mechanically as that of an ST10, with difference again being the fiberglass shelled base plate. We’ve always felt the ’10 toe unit to be virtually perfect, so good on that.
As for the new FT being DIN 12, we have no doubt the binding does provide that level of release tension. That said, it is important to know that Dynafit bindings are limited by their design to less vertical heel elasticity than that of high performance alpine bindings. Most people never notice this, and having a higher DIN compensates to some degree — but know that in most cases the right binding for landing 75 foot cliffs is still an alpine grabber.
So why DIN 12 Dynafit? Simply because some folks need a DIN of around 10, and having a binding that goes above that allows some “cushion” without setting it to the limit.
Weight? At 560 grams (19.8 oz) per binding FT12 is virtually identical to ST10 in heft, so don’t swing your decision on that factor.
In all, while Dynafit FT12 is quite similar to ST10 in terms of mechanicals, it offers enough subtle changes to receive our initial nod. Moreover the new grabber looks terrific in terms of design.
Update, May 2010: Well, FT 12 has been out long enough now for plenty of consumer testing. Overall it’s done well, without any major issues we know of. Like any Dynafit binding or “tech” style binding, the FT 12 seems to be problem free for the vast majority of skiers and we highly recommend it. Nonetheless, a small number of skiers, especially those of larger stature who ski quite aggressively, may experience pre-release in certain situations. If you’re in that class of skier, we recommend you try the binding in some hard use for a couple of days. If it works for you, great. If it doesn’t, just move on. Not every piece of equipment out there is for everyone.
As for the garter, we did find it. But I’ll leave the location up to your imagination.