G3 Onyx – A Free Heel Perspective


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | February 5, 2009      

Shop for G3 Onyx binding here.

New G3 Onyx binding.

G3 Onyx binding.

Coming back to the demo tent area at the recent Outdoor Retailer trade show someone asked, “how did those G3 binding’s ski?”

They were referring to G3’s entrance into the world of alpine touring (AT) bindings with the Onyx. The name was chosen for its metallurgical properties, a tough, beautiful gemstone.

New G3 Onyx is Dynafit compatible and could be one of the most exciting ski touring products in years.

G3 Onyx backcountry skiing binding.

Considering my preference for turns with a dropped knee, it seemed an odd question to ask me how an Onyx skied. How to answer? The common jab “fix the heel, fix the problem” sort of mandated that power and control were no longer an issue. In telemark it is a constant adaption, an intrinsic part of the turn. Not that it can’t be controlled, there’s plenty of examples of folks to prove that, but once you lock the heel, for this telemarker anyway, there is precious little left to discern one binding from another.

AT skiers love to rib pinheads about how they chatter endlessly about the nuances and variations among telemark bindings. That’s why fixing the heel fixes the problem. It isn’t so much a problem of controlling skis, but controlling the endless yammering. I can hear those with training heels muttering under their breath, “Will ya just shut up about it already! Who cares?”

So it seemed an odd question to me. The heel was locked, control was not an issue, and neither was there much to distinguish. When AT skiers talk about noticing the difference in control and stability, free heelers roll their eyes. Talk about making mountains out of molehills. Geez, the heel is locked and any difference, certainly compared to the variations possible with floppy tele gear, is truly splitting hairs.

So how did G3’s Onyx ski?

Put it this way—even Crispi Evo boots with last season’s overly burly NTN bindings tele better than this rig.

Oh, you mean how well did it transfer power for parallel turns?

I couldn’t tell. Everything underfoot was new; boots, skis and bindings. The snow was fast, firm, and chalky. Easy enough to hold an edge, but I was chattering the whole way down. Was this the skis, or simply proof that when you don’t use it, you lose it? Considering I’ve averaged one parallel day per year for the past 20 it was probably the latter. The skis might have contributed, but it definitely wasn’t the binding.

Brian Litz managed to blow out of his G3 demo pair. I know that wasn’t for lack of practice since P-turns have been his preference for the last 2-3 years. (He’s not so much a dark side convert as a switch hitter who bats right-handed these days.) What that fall revealed was how difficult getting in to the Onyx can be, especially without brakes. The jaws of the toe are by default in the closed position. When open, they have a much tighter tolerance than Dynafit Tech bindings, which means there is less room to wiggle out of alignment, and something that did make getting in easier with the following caveat. The problem is how much pressure needs to be applied to the opening lever at the front of the toe. In simple terms, it’s too much, because the act of pressing the toe lever down can also cause the ski to squirt off down the slope.

The rest of the binding looked great. Switching between locked and free heel modes was simple. Push the rearmost, black lever down and the heel piece retracts from your boot. Flip the inside levers up for two levels of climbing pegs that rest on the spring bars of the heel assembly. All without having to exit the binding for mode changes.

At three pounds (with screws, without brakes) Onyx is almost a pound heavier than Dynafit’s heaviest offering, but is still a pound lighter than Fritschi’s Freeride, and almost half the weight of Marker’s Duke. New converts (especially the younger “freeride” crowd) may think three pounds is light enough for backcountry skiing, and the extra bulk will probably instill confidence where Dynafit’s lack of it requires an extra measure of faith.

One less obvious feature is the mounting plates that the toe and heel unit slide on to. This allows you to easily swap one binding onto several skis. It also makes for at least 30mm of length adjustment where both heel and toe can slide. When asked, G3’s president, Oliver Steffen admitted plates might be used with a future G3 telemark binding.

The Onyx will be available next fall for $399 retail, a price that practically demands a look see.

(Guest blogger Craig Dostie is well known in the backcountry skiing world as founder and publisher of Couloir Magazine, the publication that led the way in making it legal for mainstream ski magazines to cover subjects other than resort ratings and how-to-snowplow tips. Along the way he coined and promoted the phrase “earn your turns.” He mostly telemarks, but has been known to ride a snowboard and latch his heels down.)

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Comments

31 Responses to “G3 Onyx – A Free Heel Perspective”

  1. RobinB February 5th, 2009 11:57 am

    Wow, what an unenlightening article… Maybe you should ask someone who actually would have something useful to say to write something about this binding.

  2. Lou February 5th, 2009 1:02 pm

    Just supposed to be an amusing little aside (with good info about difficulties entering the binding)… no intention of Dostie the telemarker starting to write our AT binding tech articles, so don’t worry my friend!

  3. Steve February 5th, 2009 2:11 pm

    Hi Lou,

    Have you approached Trab about doing a review of their prototype ‘Tech’ binding?

    I’m sure there’s plenty of folks who would like to read a review.

    Thanks

  4. SlaveToTurns February 5th, 2009 3:25 pm

    No matter how bad that binding may or may not ski, it simply skis better than any rat trap tele binding.

    WITH.OUT.A.DOUBT.

    Thanks for the mag, Dostie.

  5. Terry February 5th, 2009 4:14 pm

    Rob wrote: “Wow, what an unenlightening article… Maybe you should ask someone who actually would have something useful to say to write something about this binding.”

    Geez, Rob, you need to develop some manners, even for the internet!

    Personally i got a lot out of Dostie’s report – how hard it is/isn’t to get into the binding, do mode changes, weight, plus the differences for someone who is not so used to skiing AT. I also ski both tele and fixed heel. Good work, Craig!

  6. Lou February 5th, 2009 4:40 pm

    Sure, I’ve been in contact with Trab, they don’t seem interested in much coverage as they say it’s a prototype. We’ll do the best we can.

  7. Dostie February 5th, 2009 5:01 pm

    I should add that the tight tolerances on the toe jaw gap, plus having to hold the toe lever open could make getting out of the binding annoying as well, depending on whether you’re on a flat slope or not.

    As for Litz blowing out of his pair, I didn’t remember to ask him what the release tension was set at and whether he felt that was too little or not. Hopefully he’ll weigh in here.

    Terry & Slave,

    Thanks. ’twas hopin’ folks would see more there than the lack of endorsement for or against the Onyx with regards to downhill power. That’s a matter for pure AT skiers to evaluate and just like us pinheads, they rarely agree on anything either. 😉

  8. RobinB February 5th, 2009 6:43 pm

    OK, so I was a little hot headed, I admit it, but I guess I’m a little spoiled by Lou’s usual quality and good info.

    This article just struck me as a little fluff piece that really only told me one new thing that I already expected; this binding is awkward to get into on anything except flats.

    BTW Terry, who is this “Rob” person? This is about the only place I post with my real name, and I stand behind what I said. It’s ironic to see my quote attributed to somebody else.

  9. Al February 5th, 2009 7:22 pm

    I think the mounting plates system that will allow you to move one pair of bindings between any number of skis & also allow you to easily play around with where you want to put boot center will be BIG features for people with extensive ski quivers who want to play with how a ski handles .On the vid I watched it didnt look all that hard to swap bindings or move boot position on the ski

    on 6 pair of skis you would save thousands on bindings … which you would spend on more skis

    any word on how much the mounting plates will cost and if they will be readily available ?

  10. Lou February 5th, 2009 7:58 pm

    Robin, believe me, I listen to all the feedback and am constantly adjusting what we create here, your points are taken. The main thing to do in my opinion is look at a blog as a total of all the posts, rather than one individual post. Once G3 binding is on the store shelves, we’ll have multiple reviews/blogs about the thing that’ll create a body of work I hope will be as useful as our other binding coverage. Dostie’s take will be just one of many. All our G3 stuff will be available by using our search box or looking under the “Bindings” category.

  11. Mark February 5th, 2009 9:26 pm

    Craig works from a body of knowledge and experience few can match, and while he can take flak, it certainly ain’t all justified. Settle down, boys! Anyway, I think he’s got a pretty good point or two. Rating downhill power doesn’t really enter the radar too much for me. I’m an AT guy. The only example of a binding that totally stood out in this regard was the Marker Duke. Dynafits, which I favor hold their own quite well here too. I use ’em all the time.

  12. Dostie February 5th, 2009 10:11 pm

    Part of the beauty of the web is how easily free speech is practiced. There are plenty of examples of that freedom running rampant but on the whole, given enough time, saner voices seem to prevail or at least have the opportunity to be voiced and saner minds remember those thoughts as the salient points.

    Because that freedom is allowed and encouraged, RobinB was straight up and forthright. She wanted to know how the darn things skied. I deferred making that judgement since it isn’t an area I have enough (recent) practice to make a definitive judgement on. My reputation demands it, and I skirted the issue. RobinB made it clear that didn’t pass muster. Fair enough.

    I’m being honest when I say I can’t tell much difference between alpine bindings. Never have, even when it was my default mode of skiing. The only thing I really ever noticed with a locked heel was the flex of the boot, how easy they were to get in or out of, and if the binding released prematurely.

  13. Lee Lau February 6th, 2009 12:09 am

    I tested the Onyx today. In less then 5 entries and exits I had no issue getting in and out of the binding either touring or in ski mode. The learning curve was easy.

    I tried the exit and entry on Onyx on flats, on an uphill in a skin track and tried getting into Onyx in touring mode and ski mode on a slightly inclined slope. Again, no issue. Onyx was easier to get into then other “Onyx-compatible” bindings.

    For comparison I have used G3 tele bindings, Riva 3s, Fritschi Diarmir 1, 2, 3’s, Freeride, and Dynafit TLT Comfort, Speed and Vertical.

    Conditions were typical Coast Mountains North Shore frozen crust following a rain event.

    I’m not trying to pick a fight with Dostie. Just providing another data point

  14. SweetgrassFolks February 6th, 2009 3:50 am

    The Onyx makes no sense, and it’s basically a heavier Dynafit with no real gain for the weight.
    1) the DIN is less than the Dynafit FT 12
    2) Dynafit has had many years of R&D

    I’ve skied over 130 days on my current Dynafit TLT’s, and I ski them hard.
    No real reason why you need the extra metal “toughness.” Between fritschi’s, dukes, naxo’s, and Dynafit, the latter ski and tour the best. You’re right on the ski, not an inch above, and they weigh NOTHING.

    All and all, I’m disappointed that G3 didn’t do more with the opportunity:
    they should have solved the problem of weight vs. DIN. I hope someone’s listening: 16 DIN Dynafit!

  15. Andrew February 6th, 2009 8:54 am

    In all fairness, I think Lou now needs to ski on and review an NTN binding. 🙂

  16. Dostie February 6th, 2009 10:16 am

    Andrew,

    Touche! Unbeknownst to Lou, there is already a conspiracy afoot to make that happen. :LOL:

  17. Randonnee February 6th, 2009 10:21 am

    The last time a tele binding appeared here there was a lot of tele commentary that would be more suitable on another famous website, in my view. Wildsnow has become the authority website for randonnee skiing and Dynafit, and that is the appeal.

  18. Lou February 6th, 2009 10:22 am

    I already know I can make freeheel parallel turns, harrumph (grin). On the other hand, like a mysterious deeply embedded source told me in Italy regarding NTN: “First the binding broke, then the boot broke, next it will be the legs?” I think I’ll stick to what works and what I haven’t been hurt on for decades.

  19. Bryn C February 6th, 2009 10:25 am

    Has anyone ever noticed that Dostie’s avatar on this site looks an awful lot like Chuck Norris?

  20. SlaveToTurns February 6th, 2009 11:24 am

    Bryn, remember: Dostie doesn’t sleep. He waits.

  21. Cameron Millard February 6th, 2009 12:07 pm

    I can totally relate to this review. I just made the move to some dynafits after 10 years as a freeheeler. It is tricky to switch back to alpine turns after tele – your center of gravity is all different, and the system less forgiving over bumps. However, jump turning above no-fall-zones feels more secure with the heel locked down. It is nice to see some competition come in and spice up the dynafit-tech insert choice, however I chose dynafits on Lou’s advice (along with some zzero4’s) and I’m enjoying them more every day.

  22. Brian Litz February 6th, 2009 1:32 pm

    Ask and ye shall receive Dostie …. some thoughts regarding my first encounter skiing on and exiting (intentionally and unintentionally) from the G3 Onyx. First of all, it’s important to note that the “testing” that goes on at the OR tradeshow is pretty superficial as the entire scene is pretty frenetic and you rapidly switch from one ski to the next. Every run or two basically occurs on a different binding/ski combo which makes true comparative testing difficult. Additionally the skiing/testing – in recent years – has taken place mostly on hardpack groomers. And while riding lifts. This is good for experiencing certain aspects of a ski or boot, but obviously not all, and certainly most that are of most concern to the devoted backcountry skier. The conditions this year at Snow Basin favored “front side skis”, skis for scribing a precise line at eye-watering speeds.

    These conditions account more for my linked, sliding yard sale falls, and subsequent release on the run Dostie alluded to, rather than any pre-release issues. Brian simply fell down and went boom skiing a lighter, more backcountry specific touring ski at Super-G speeds chasing the boys (i.e. pilot error not binding error). Overall though, I’d say I felt quite solid on the binding right out of the gate skiing fast into the fall-line. And critically, they released when I needed them to.

    On the flats in the testing area entry was straightforward with their new alignment system. However, I do concur with Dostie that in the case of this particular pre-production model it was quite hard to get into on slope as it kept wanting to squirt away at the toe due to resistance in the front mechanism. Not an alignment issue but rather I think related to spring tension. I also ran into problems getting out of the binding once I was finished. In fact I completely sheared off the tip of my new Life-Link poles pressing down on the front throw trying to get out while in downhill mode. I heard someone else mention this too. One of the G3 guys suggested switching back into touring mode to ease egress.

    Being a pre-production unit I wouldn’t be shocked if they ended up tweaking a few things before next fall or if some aspects of the binding are not working exactly how they are supposed to at this point in time. I think, like many people, I am susceptible to that initial “Ooooh. Ahhhh” response when I first see new ski gear. Then, I always try to stand back, take a deep breath, and soberly try to experience the product. Mostly I try to avoid making overly definitive, absolutist judgmental statements when you are on a binding for such a brief stint. There is nothing like actually living on a binding, skinning on it for hours, skiing it and getting in and out of it in a variety of conditions, temperatures, etc. to really get a know a piece of ski gear.

    With that in mind, my initial overall take is that this is a compelling and eye-catching new entry to the “Tech” world that offers a whole new menu of convenience features, like the mounting plates, easier back and forth mode changes, alignment system for entry, etc. However, all of this comes at a price – which in this case is the aforementioned additional mass. If you want the additional features plan on toting a heavier binding around – at this point in time. The Onyx is also the first challenger to Dynafit’s (deserved) monopoly in this area. Dynafit bindings are so elegant, so durable and so dialed that they will remain the benchmark against which others will be measured for awhile – I would guess.

    The Onyx addresses one of the obvious drawbacks of Dynafits relative to most other “plate” AT bindings – i.e. having to get out of downhill mode to get back into touring mode. Yeah, this is an annoyance for Dynafit users, but one that I think is not so glaring that you can’t and don’t adapt to pretty quickly and work around. My greatest concern at this point regarding the Onyx revolves around its potential overall durability as it is more complex and sports more parts and plastic. Only time and true torture testing will tell.

    So, there you go … some very initial impressions …. for what they’re worth. I didn’t take notes at the time so this is all from memory.

    Oh yeah, at the show G3 did not have ski brakes. Apparently these will come along later. Don’t recall exactly when. Hopefully soon. And I don’t recall what is going on with harscheissen. Did anyone else get the beta on the latter?

  23. Lou February 6th, 2009 2:08 pm

    Thanks Brian!

  24. Jan Wellford February 6th, 2009 6:35 pm

    Gotta get those weights straight: It should read, “At 3 pounds, the Onyx is only ONE pound lighter than the Fritschi Freeride Plus (4lbs 1oz without brakes). Big difference between one and two pounds!

  25. Marc February 7th, 2009 9:53 am

    Initially I too was a little put off that a telemarker was reviewing an AT binding. It just didn’t make a whole lot of sense. But after reading the article in it’s entirety, I found some some valid information. As far as differences between various bindings, I think you get use to what you have. For example, folks that use Dukes know they have to step out of the binding to switch modes. Yes, you are suppose to exit the Dynafit when switching from ski to tour mode, but if you lack brakes, this can be done while still in the binding. The Onyx is different and will require different techniques from the user, and with it’s added weight may or may not appeal to some. But the way I see it, the more manufacturers that make tech fitting bindings, the better those bindings are going to become!

  26. Dostie February 7th, 2009 9:32 pm

    Jan,

    Ooops. Everyone needs an editor. And fact checker. Everyone. Thanks.

    Uh, Lou, can you fix that when you recover from the 24 Hrs of Sunlight race?

  27. Lou February 7th, 2009 9:49 pm

    Fixed?

  28. Dostie February 9th, 2009 10:50 am

    Yup. Thanks Lou & Jan.

  29. Big Beans February 12th, 2009 3:23 pm

    In point of fact, Onyx (CaCO3) isn’t much tougher than gypsum, though a whole lot prettier…and heavier.

    …just thought you’d wanna know that.

  30. Rusty February 12th, 2009 3:58 pm

    FYI, Onyx is a crypto-crystaline form of Quartz whose chemical composition is SiO2. Its pretty hard (~6.5-7 hardness- talc=1 diamond=10). Read: too much geology. P.S. Thanks Lou for such a great website.
    Rusty

  31. ioffersearch001 March 6th, 2009 3:28 am

    Hiii

    This article just struck me as a little fluff piece that really only told me one new thing that I already expected; this binding is awkward to get into on anything except flats.

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