G3’s web-site and launch of Onyx AT binding to the world is a model of sophistication. Onyx is scheduled to be released into production in March of 2009. In development for more than three years, Onyx is G3’s entry to the category of bindings known as “tech.” These are binding systems (originated under the Dynafit brand but now public domain) where boots are held only at the toe, without the binding heel attached to the boot during touring mode; attributes which contribute to an ephemeral feeling of weightlessness in the touring stride.
(Onyx weight is specified by G3 at 1430g / 50oz, with screws, pair of bindings. While heavier than Dynafit, Onyx is still light compared to bindings such as Fritschi Freeride, and again, you’re not doing extra lifting of the binding during every stride.)
NOTE: I only had a day on the binding with one ski tour uphill and one run down, during which I tried to immerse myself in its technical features. To be fair, that’s not enough time for a considered discussion of any binding’s performance. Therefore a review of Onyx’s on-snow action will follow once we’ve used the binding extensively.
Disassembly and field servicing
Onyx can be easily adjusted, disassembled and overhauled. Parts will be stocked by G3 dealers with prices to be set when Onyx is shipped. Different levels of disassembly and binding adjustments require different tools (#3 Posidrive;Torx T10; #1 Phillips). Details for this will be provided in the manuals and on G3’s website.
Base plate mounting system
Perhaps the salvation of skiers on a budget, Onyx is mounted on a plate that allows swapping bindings between skis. (“Perhaps” because the price of the plate is yet undetermined.) The plate mounts with the same screw hole pattern as Dynafit. The binding is placed on rails on the mounting plate; position is adjusted with machine screw. Because the toe and heel position can be adjusted independently (the toe has three mounting positions so you can tune ski performance somewhat) you can maintain boot sole center on a ski even after adjusting for different boots. Onyx can be swapped between plated skis in about eight minutes.
G3’s full TUV test facility at its premises got a workout during Onyx design. G3’s engineers drew their inspiration from release and flex curves of alpine bindings; unofficially, Oliver Steffen of G3 cited the Look turntable heel’s “return to center” characteristics as a standard for which to strive. As described to me, this means if a sudden shock or impact administered over an exceedingly short time span (eg. hitting a hard bump in the snow while skiing fast) temporarily causes the boot to almost pull sideways off Onyx’s heelpiece, the heelpiece will tend to return to its center position, allowing the skier and the ski to remain united. Conversely, a longer duration shock (eg. an avalanche or a twisting fall at slow speed) will overcome return-to-center characteristics, causing the binding to release.
If you are in ski mode and pull up on the toe-piece lever you get an increase in the effective lateral DIN of Onyx, a feature G3 calls “DIN Boost.” The fact that G3 endorses the use of this feature in downhill ski mode puzzled me in this risk-averse, liability-fearing world of binding manufacturing and design. After all, you can do this with Dynafit as well, but it has never been endorsed by the company.
G3’s confidence in the safe use of this DIN boost feature became more clear when it was explained that DIN boost does not rely on static friction built into the toe lever that would effectively lockout the toe-piece, thus making a skier locked into a ski. Instead, a structural component of the toe-piece is designed to flex (see photo above). Accordingly, DIN when boosted is higher but still elastic (G3 unofficially pegs effective DIN as approximately 14 when using the Booster).
Onyx was designed for easy step-in. There is a hard boot stop on the toe piece so tech fittings at the toe do not need to aligned with toe pins. You simply slide your toe forward on the toe piece where its meets the boot stop, then depress the toe lever to open the pins and allow the pins to engage the boot. Features of note:
1. ALL boots with tech fittings are Onyx-compatible.
2. Onyx is not adversely affected by boots with worn or poorly machined rubber as the boot sole is not involved in engaging the toe clamping mechanism.
3. Since the toe jaws are always down Onyx is not susceptible to icing up under the toe piece. Ice simply has no space to build up.
4. The toe jaws have quite a bit of clamping force. You need to press down on the toe lever (I used a pole) with more force then you might think to open the jaws; something I got used to in about ten minutes. This strong clamping force may assist with clearing ice out of your toe fittings (a common problem with tech bindings).
5. According to G3 you don’t need to use the “DIN Booster” to lock out the toe when touring. This implies that you would have some degree of safety release in touring mode. While making straightforward touring strides I did stay in without locking, but I popped out when I made aggressive snap kick turns deliberately trying to test toe retention. Thus, my short experience with Onyx found me engaging the tour lever while in touring mode.
6. You will need a shim if you are using a flexible bellows boot.
I found it easy to get in and out of the toe piece — during limited test circumstances and ideal conditions. Verdict is out when it comes to more challenging, realistic conditions (eg., wet heavy snow, steep slopes, side hills etc.).
Boots in Onyx latched heel mode rest on heel pins, sharing a similar design trait to the Dynafit and other tech systems. Six millimeters of clearance is required between the boot’s heel fitting and the binding heel piece. The heel lifters rest on the top of the heel piece and on the heel pins.
1. Ergonomics are excellent. You don’t have to bend down to change from ski to tour mode and vice-versa. A heel piece lever latch is easily engaged to accomplish this.
2. Ditto with respect to the heel lifts. Little tension is required to move heel lifters up and down.
3. It is easy to take skins on and off without taking off skis.
Other key aspects of the Onyx are on our list for review (brakes and crampons are obvious). We also need to test Onyx over a meaningful period of time before touring, skiing and usability can be assessed in the thorough style WildSnow is known for. However, at first glance, Onyx is a binding which has received a considerable amount of thought and refinement and I look forward to acquainting myself with a pair.
(Guest blogger Lee Lau is an avid skier and outdoorsman embarking on many adventures with his loving, and sometimes concerned wife, Sharon. He has over 15 years of experience skiing, ski-touring and dabbles in mountaineering. In the “off-season” he is occasionally found working in his day job as an intellectual property lawyer when he is not mountain biking. As a resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, Lee’s playground extends mainly to Western Canada, including South West B.C. and the Selkirks.)