From the Source — Marker’s Take on Kingpin, & New Volkl VTA Skis

Post by blogger | February 24, 2015      
Volkl Tour Alpine ski models have been overshadowed by Kingpin.

Volkl Tour Alpine VTA ski models have been overshadowed by Kingpin binding problems, but these lightweight versions of the BMT line are worth panting over (after all, am I not occasionally a mouth breathing gear blogger?). For 2015-2016 you’ll see two versions of the VTA, both at 88 mm waist (the sweet spot for core ski touring, in my opinion). Tip is rockered, no tail rocker, 19 meter sidecut with 160,170,180 cm lengths available. The VTA88 Lite is a carbon constructed ski that’ll weigh in at about 1 kilo for a 170 cm length. The non-carbon version of the ski is simply called the VTA88 and weighs 200 grams more. MSRP in Europe will be 800 and 550 euros, respectively. As with the BMT, the mount area will be restricted and in this case marked on the ski so you won’t have any doubt. I’m told most tech bindings will fit the mount area, but ‘three screw’ race bindings will not — though you can still give it a shot only without warranty. A shaped skin will be available that saves noticeable weight over wall-to-wall carpet. (As for the excellent Volkl BMT skis, they remain the same for 2015-2016).

Had a fun meeting with Marker-Volkl at the ISPO in Germany. A couple of their top equipment development guys filled me in. What apparently happened with Kingpin is the well tested pre-production bindings were carefully assembled, especially regarding the press fitting of the steel toe pins in the aluminum “wing” arms of the binding toe. When they industrialized the production, a jig-cradle was used to hold the arms that allowed them to be positioned slightly out of alignment with the pin insertion press, resulting in the steel of the pin damaging the aluminum hole as it was inserted. The damage was obviously not visible enough for visual quality control to spot, and obviously Marker was not testing the bindings for how strong the pin insertion was.

Marker's aggressively cut skins are said to save nearly 20% weight as well as helping with glide. Sadly they still use their keyhole tip fix, our least favorite system.

Volkl aggressively cut skins are said to save nearly 20% weight as well as helping with glide. Sadly they still use their keyhole tip fix, our least favorite system.

They’ve now changed the manufacturing process, as well as introducing more testing of the pin insertions, presumably as part of a six sigma quality control system.

So, that’s the engineering side. Regarding how the situation is communicated, they told me their opinion is that having it covered here on WildSnow dot com is simply enough, and that they got their announcement out in a timely fashion indicative of their corporate culture being that of action. I joked that perhaps that also meant the Marker slogan for business management should be “ski every day, use office when necessary.” They laughed and said perhaps in their case that might sometimes be true (don’t tell their boss, and I will use no names.)

As for their policy in terms of replacing the binding toes even when the defect doesn’t occur, I got the impression this is not a big deal, and that problems reported in our comment thread might be the result in a lag between Marker communicating with the retailers about what they’re allowed to return on warranty for credit, or something like that. Recent reports bear this out. Overall, I’m hearing that getting the binding toes replaced is in most cases not a big deal (provided the parts are actually available).

Main thing here at is that from what I’ve heard from insiders, Marker only sold or otherwise distributed about 2,500 binding pairs that could have this defect. That’s a miniscule number in terms of worldwide retail for ski touring bindings. And out of that number not all are defective. Hence, from their point of view this was not a panic situation. I’d agree with readers here that it is immaterial how many bindings they made; if you have one of the possibly defective units, and that they under-reacted and should have simply offered to replace all bindings from the beginning. But they did what they did, it’s done and done.

Display at the Marker Volkl ISPO booth had a bunch of scales with various skis; check out this sub kilo plank, 984 grams!

Display at the Marker Volkl ISPO booth had a bunch of scales with various skis; check out this sub kilo plank, 984 grams! The Marker-Volkl guys told me that the industry is really taking the WildSnow ‘one kilo ski’ concept seriously, and most makers of ski touring gear want their skis to look good in our surface vs weight chart. A bit disconcerting to garner so much attention — all we wanted to do was figure out how to haul less weight on our feet! We’ll be adding these skis to our weight/surface charts just as soon as we get final metrics for retail versions.

Volkl skin tip fix is not our favorite, but it is indeed bomber.

Volkl skin tip fix is not our favorite, but it is indeed bomber.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


40 Responses to “From the Source — Marker’s Take on Kingpin, & New Volkl VTA Skis”

  1. Fredrik February 24th, 2015 8:41 am

    I heard a guy with problems in cham, they fixed it at the shop but asked him to be quiet about it. I think they got really worried when they found out that they had a problem with the hyped king pin and tried to hide it.

  2. Brian February 24th, 2015 8:53 am

    As I may have reported in the other thread on this a few weeks ago, Marker replaced my toe pieces without a hassle. It was apparent that one pin was working out, and one other may have started to move. I have since put approx. 25,000 vert on the new toes and a couple of resort days to boot and there are no signs of pins loosening or any other problems.

    I guess that I might concur that communication from Marker to the regional rep. to my shop was quick enough and that the new pieces were replaced in a timely fashion, but I would also say that I was ahead of the shop and the rep. on this issue because of this blog. I’m not sure I am good with that, but it is what it is in this world of social media. Just surprised the Marker would say to Lou that covering it on WS was good enough…

  3. Travis February 24th, 2015 11:25 am

    Did they change the Nanuq to full rocker? I know the 14-15 model of the Nanuq was modeled after the previous Volkl Mantra that still had camber.

  4. Lou Dawson 2 February 24th, 2015 11:59 am

    Brian, can you imagine the internal squabbles and negotiation of Marker trying to design a page for their website that covered the Kingpin issue? Could have taken months, and then it was probably Flash instead of easy html for content management. Much easier to just give me a written statement for WildSnow. Also, how many backcountry skiers read the Marker website once a day? See the reasoning? Lou

  5. afox February 24th, 2015 12:48 pm

    For many years the only distinguishing factor of most touring skis was the topsheet graphics. I have and will continue to only buy skis near the top of the weight vs area chart. Here is another good graph with this info from the cripple creek backcountry store:

  6. Paul February 24th, 2015 2:30 pm

    What do you dislike about the skin pins? Has it changed from the 14-15 models?

  7. Eric Steig February 24th, 2015 2:31 pm

    Lou, can you say more about what you dislike about the skin tip-fix system? It’s always struck me as bomber (as you say) — so what’s the downside? A pain to remove? I have not tried them, but have been interested.

  8. Lou Dawson 2 February 24th, 2015 2:51 pm

    Pain to remove, you can’t just strip in one motion. Minor detail for some folks, especially one-lappers. They’re indeed super strong and never come off unless intended, plus they’re cleaner looking and lighter than tip wires. Lou

  9. Greg Louie February 24th, 2015 4:22 pm

    IMO they should look to the new country and use the K2 Z-Clip system.

  10. Lou Dawson 2 February 24th, 2015 4:49 pm

    Z clip is on my Fischer skis as well, does work good, only problem is it’s difficult to retrofit to skis that don’t have it. Lou

  11. Greg Louie February 24th, 2015 5:42 pm

    The Fischer one with the machined slot may need to be molded in, but K2 could easily work out a retrofit kit for their round style hole.

  12. See February 24th, 2015 7:06 pm

    I’m still wondering, if a couple more toe springs makes a touring binding into a freeride binding (re. lateral release/retention) with no down side, why it took 20 + years of people locking their toes before it got done.

  13. Trent February 24th, 2015 7:32 pm

    Travis, I’m interested in the Nanuq as well. Let me know if you get an answer here or elsewhere. Cheers.

  14. Lou Dawson 2 February 25th, 2015 6:53 am

    See, the Kingpin has the same lateral elasticity/travel as any other classic tech binding, as the elasticity/travel is produced by the toe pins riding out of the boot sockets, basic geometry. Further, the lateral elasticity/travel is still coupled to the lateral release setting. The extra spring in the toe unit might help with accidental release caused by the toe wings opening due to side pressure, but so would building a binding with 4 stronger springs. My take is that the 6-pack simply allows for building a toe with stronger spring pressure more easily than building one with 4 springs.

    I’ve spoken with several engineers about this, and they all have told me that if the machine moves the same distance and has a spring pressure/tension of a given amount, it doesn’t matter if that pressure/tension is produced by 1 or 100 springs. Thus, again, perhaps the 6 springs are needed to easily create the pressure/tension when the toe wings are closed, but 4 springs can theoretically do the same thing.

    Another overall problem with this is we’re getting into the realm of technical engineering terminology, and without being trained in the lingua franca communication gets muddled. On top of that, when it comes to claims about “energy absorption” and such, we really need to measure it before we can talk about it. Basic engineering principle.

    Interestingly, the G3 ION added better toe retention by slightly changing the geometry of the toe wings. Not as visible, so not as good for marketing, but might be equally as effective. I’m trying to get better handle on that and when I do so I’ll try to expose here.

    Main things about Kingpin are 1.) It has better vertical elasticity/travel, which is a real problem with classic tech bindings. 2.)I has the most solid heel hold in rolling deflection of any tech type binding other than the Trab, which it more or less matches in stability. Is this a big deal? You can indeed feel the difference when you ski a Kingpin just after you ski a classic tech binding. But do you ski any better or have more fun? Unknown. Like any other properly functioning tech binding it has minimal but nonetheless real lateral elasticity, this is easily observed on the bench.


  15. Sam F February 25th, 2015 8:20 am

    Wow, that might be the perfect ski for me! To bad It is so damn hard to sell a touring ski under 105 or so, at least in the Rockies. I get it for unconsolidated early season snow, but I hate exposing myself in those conditions. I am very much a fair weather(spring/summer) mountaineer.

  16. Sam F February 25th, 2015 8:23 am

    It even had your white top sheet Lou,

  17. Lou Dawson 2 February 25th, 2015 8:30 am

    I’m still liking the skis at around 100 mm waist for powder touring, especially in Colorado when we have bad layers down below… but I keep going back to the 88 or so waist, they’re just so fun, stick some mohair skins on there, rock the “one kilo” ski, get on a nicely created perfect angle skin track, and it’s amazing how much vert you can easily do. Lou

  18. See February 25th, 2015 8:56 am

    Thanks Lou. The reason I asked is that some of the marketing materials seem a bit exaggerated. My concern is that hard charging early adopters who are the logical target market for this product may not be getting completely accurate information. According to Marker: “(t)he KINGPIN offers release functionality and values comparable with those found on alpine bindings. Unlike most alpine bindings, side releases occur at the heel here, yet the energy, consistency and efficiency of the release on a PinTech binding are completely comparable with the standards for alpine bindings! The heel design with contact pressure and classical sole seat delivers perfect length compensation, preventing unintended releases or compromised ski flex. One major advantage of the KINGPIN in terms of safety comes through its ability to ski at any time in the unlocked position (lever on the heel (sic) in “ski,” not “walk” position!) without risking accidental releases on hard surfaces or when making aggressive turns.”

    Leaving aside that I assume they mean the lever on the toe not the heel, my concern is that aggressive skiers may adopt Kingpins for serious high consequence skiing and be disappointed or worse. If the performance claims are true, then the Kingpin is indeed a remarkable achievement and Marker deserves to be congratulated. But it still looks like a tech binding to me, in terms of release to the side.

  19. Lou Dawson 2 February 25th, 2015 9:03 am

    That’s just typical marketing spreech, not unlike what we read with any other company. I don’t fault them for it, it’s just part of the game. Here is the reality as I currently understand it with Kingpin.
    1. Kingpin has excellent vertical elasticity, pretty much the same as alpine bindings as far as I know.
    2. It has strong toe springs to prevent “opening to the side” pre release. Whether it really needs 6 springs is a question, but whatever.
    3. The side/lateral release occurs exactly like any other classic tech binding, and when smooth can be excellent, though it does not have as much travel as the best alpine bindings.
    4. The lateral release and elasticity are “coupled” meaning the DIN value setting is critical to retention.
    5. You can indeed tour without locking the toe, if you’re careful. That’s excellent, a huge safety factor in avalanche terrain.
    6. Stability in rolling deflection (push boot cuff to side, left/right) is best in class.
    7. Lateral release and lateral/side elasticity is ultra dependent on correctly shaped and manufactured boot fittings. This is key.
    8. Durability is unknown, needs a season of consumer testing.


  20. SteveR February 25th, 2015 11:15 am

    It seems to me that patent law is the gorilla in the room here. Am I right in thinking that Dynafit have a patent on the idea of putting a turntable under the toe of a tech binding? I would be interested to read an article on how patent law is affecting the development of the new crop of tech bindings.

  21. Lou Dawson 2 February 25th, 2015 11:36 am

    Steve, working around the patents is most certainly a driver of design. Problem is it’s super complex, open to interpretation, and sometimes companies agree to not enforce a patent, sometimes with a handshake. I suppose an article could be done, but while it would be amusing I’m not sure how much useful info it would really convey. It also quickly gets over into BtoB territory and one-sided moaning about who has what patents and how they are enforced, broken or poached…

    The electric fan airbags are a good example. Totally mysterious.

  22. Lou Dawson 2 February 25th, 2015 11:52 am

    BTW, you can waste days looking at patents, don’t ask me how I know (grin).

    Start here:

    If you find anything interesting share links.

  23. Brian February 25th, 2015 12:23 pm

    No. 5 above: I have found that its really hard NOT to lock the toe in tour mode and NOT kick out of it even on flat terrain when touring.

  24. Brian February 25th, 2015 12:26 pm

    Lou, I see your point about getting information out to the masses in a hurry. A press release emailed to WS, BC mag., etc. probably still took all day to do at Marker HQ! At least thats how it works in my biz!

  25. Lou Dawson 2 February 25th, 2015 1:03 pm

    Brian, I’ll have to do more testing. I’ve actually done quite a few uphill sessions now with the Kingpin and have had no problem going unlocked most of the time. This could have a lot to do with boot fittings, personal style, size of skier, terrain, etc. Lou

  26. Joe February 25th, 2015 2:07 pm

    I have about 15,000′ vertical and who knows how many flat miles on my Marker Kingpins. By the time a buddy told me about the article here on the toe pins looseing and I looked at my pair, there had been noticable rotation and slight pin movement on some, but not all, of the pins (boots: Technica Cochise 130 Pro, with tech toes, obviously). I took them to my retailer, they were up to speed on the issue (and knew about the article on wildsnow) and said they would look into how Marker is handling it. A day later they said they needed the skis to send in the defective toe pieces and that Marker would send out replacements, and also that they did not have replacement toe pieces in stock. They have had the skis for a week, but that is a non issue to me because I have other skis (who doesn’t) and am also working at a remote location and can’t ski anyway. Overall a painless process. I’ll have to see how it works out once I pick them up.

    In regards to all the hoopla and fanfare on the 4 vs 6 springs, their effectiveness, they are just a marketing ploy, etc… my thoughts are as follows – feel free to challenge and disagree:

    The springs in a tech toe are assembled in parellel, this means that the total effective spring constant of the 4 or 6 springs, that provides resistance to lateral prerelease, is the summation of all the spring constants of the springs in parellel (read: you add them together to get the total spring constant of the system, as opposed to springs in series: see:

    The primary factor here is the spring constants of the springs in questions, second is the number of springs. Comparing a traditional 4 spring tech toe to the 6-pack of the Kingpin, if the springs in both the traditional 4 spring and the 6-pack all have the same spring constant then yes, the 6 pack provides a greater total effective spring constant. If the spring constants in the 4 spring tech toe are greater than that of the 6-pack, one would have to run the math, but there creates the scenario that the 6-pack total effective spring constant is less than or equal to that of the 4 pack.

    To get to the bottom of this, if you wanted to compare lateral prerelease resistance from your current setup to the Kingpin, you would have to contact both the dealer in question and Marker and ask for the spring constants of the springs they use in their design, then run the math. *disclaimer: the springs and the tech toe of your boot are also not in a perfectly horizontal plane, so there would have to be some correction done for the angle above horizontal they are at when a prerelease would occur, but making the assumption that they are in the same horizontal plane is good enough for a quick comparison.

    This also brings up the observation that the springs in the Kingpin 10 are different (at least visually, but i would venture the guess that they have different spring constants also) than the springs in the Kingpin 13, which could explain the din difference in the design.

    TLDR: Based upon the spring constants of the springs in the tech toe, it is possible for the Marker 6-Pack to provide lateral pre-release resistance that is greater than, equal to, or less than the traditional 4 spring tech toe.

    Sorry for the rant, got a little carried away. For what it’s worth, I have a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering.

  27. See February 25th, 2015 5:05 pm

    Better than trying to get manufacturers to supply specs on their springs (imo) would be for some one with a release tester to measure release torques of boot in different toe pieces alone— without heel pieces. Rig something to keep the boot sole in a single plane through the release arc and throw in a few tests with the lock lever at different positions and I, for one, would be really interested in the results.

  28. Lou Dawson 2 February 25th, 2015 5:36 pm

    See, it would have to be done without the boot, as the steel fitting wears and the forces change… but it would be easy to do without the boot, I’ve seen G3’s rig for doing it. It’s basically a dynamometer that pops the toe open, and records the required newtons to do the deed, on graph, pretty cool. When they did the Onyx the closure/holding force of tech binding toe jaws was an issue they wanted to improve on. I’ve tried to rig up something to test this but I don’t have the money for the parts. Still trying to figure out the budget method.

    BTW, in an earlier comment I spoke about ION possibly having more lateral elasticity, I’m not sure about that but if it’s anything like the Onyx toe it indeed has good resistance to accidental opening while skiing, due to the geometry of the toe wings.


  29. Joe February 25th, 2015 6:12 pm

    See & Lou –

    That would be a great way to get quantifiable, relatable data on the force required for a release, better than my numerical and most likely intangable way of comparing toe piece design with numbers alone. I would be interested in that as well!

  30. ErikK February 26th, 2015 9:27 pm

    Man, Lou your website is seriously bumming me out. Instead of being a forum for Backcountry skiing it’s turned into a schmooze board for displaying the latest gear. Who gives a rat ass who makes the lightest skis. Advances in tech are interesting but more interesting are taking trips to go skiing. I would like to see a little less gear coverage and a lot more skiing coverage.

  31. See February 26th, 2015 10:22 pm

    Sadly, there is a lot of interesting stuff going on re. gear, but conditions are another story. Maybe some trip reports from Vermont? A discussion of global climate trends and where we can go to use our fancy gear in the years to come?

    Erik, I think your point is valid, but I also think that “writing about music (or skiing) is like dancing about architecture.”

  32. Frame February 27th, 2015 2:22 pm

    A couple of thoughts. 243 comments on a limited release new binding of which c. half were defective gives you an idea on what gives people the impetus to comment. Perhaps as a positive medium trip reports leave people smiling, happy and not tapping on their keyboards. Also, this is gear season, SIA, ISPO and all the other stuff, Louie’s killing it in Japan, a drought at Wildsnow central, spring and prime time in the near future, it’ll come… that or guest blog.

  33. Lou Dawson 2 February 27th, 2015 3:28 pm

    Erik and all, it’s definitely a balancing act. I’ll see what we can do. Thanks for the feedback. Lou

  34. XXX_er February 27th, 2015 10:26 pm

    I supose YMMV but I come here for the cutting edge gear info with nice pictures … you can always guest blog the trip stuff

  35. Billy Balz February 28th, 2015 5:59 am

    I’m with XXXer. Lou gets out the tech info faster than anyone else and his forum is the place to debate/relate all things important about AT skiing. Your balance is just fine Lou.

  36. Trent February 28th, 2015 7:05 am

    Agree with See’s line about dancing about architecture. I don’t need anyone to describe skiing for me, but the gear talk is very helpful as I’ve been out of the upgrading game for years. Trip reports are fun especially if they cover specific routes/lines.

  37. ErikK March 5th, 2015 6:34 pm

    Hey Lou,

    Just saw your sons report on Japan and wanted to say cheers. I know I came off a little harsh but I have been reading your blog and TetonAT before Steve’s unfortunate death for years. I find it awesome and inspirational that there’s someone still getting after it in the backcountry at your age. Appreciate taking my feedback seriously and I always enjoy reading wildsnow, especially when you give perspective on death and tragedy in our sport.

  38. Lou Dawson 2 March 5th, 2015 7:30 pm

    Hi Erik, thanks for the kind words. Just keep the level of discourse up and all is good. I’ll keep trying for introspective type writing, tough to do when as an alternative I can just be a typical mouth breathing gear blogger, which is so much easier (grin). Lou

  39. GaryM September 11th, 2015 4:03 am

    Hi! I’m a newbie to the site and real BC. Thanks so much for this site, providing great info and inspiration!

    Quick thought on 6 vs 4 springs: it’s a highly constrained system. The comments about this seem to assume any spring rate is possible under the toe. But we’re trying to minimize the stack height, and that directly limits the outside diameter of the spring. Making a helical spring with limited diameter leads to limited wire diameter. And we want long-lived springs that deflect a significant distance, requiring many turns of that helix, again limiting wire diameter.

    A stiffer spring in the same size requires either better metal or thicker wire. It’s very likely the competitve environment pushes material to be very good in all toe pieces, so there’s not room to make a major change there.

    In the end, I expect the 4-spring design is mature, maxing out the spring force and mechanical constraints to deliver its level of performance at min reasonable height. If one wants to make a meaningful enhancement to spring force without adding stack height or (or likely high-cost exotics), adding another spring pair sounds like a great solution.

  40. Lou Dawson 2 September 11th, 2015 6:26 am

    Gary, could be… I’m developing a more accurate spring strength test that’ll measure it so we can really talk about it. Also, it’s not just the springs. Geometry of how the toe wings interact with the springs also dictates the “grabbing strength” of the tech binding toe. The ION for example has the usual 4 springs but has noticeably strong grab, easily toured without locking.

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