Backcountry Ski Touring News Roundup — Airbags, Black Vipec, and Australia

Post by blogger | August 20, 2015      
Vipec changes for 2014-2015

Fritschi Diamir Vipec, white version.

Gear bloggers are mad dogs. Include me in that category. What is the canine equivalent of Valium? A large meal of steak and eggs? Or if in Switzerland, mass quantities of rosti? Bring it on. I need the protein calm because I got too excited yesterday about Fritschi releasing a new Vipec binding in Europe this fall, but not doing so in North America. The brouhaha began when I published my Ski Touring Binding Wars post a few days ago, and a helpful reader pointed to a Swiss blog post about the now infamous Black Vipec.

North American retailers are understandably a bit miffed (several contacted us), as they’re left holding a bag filled with what consumers may take to be second rate Vipec bindings — with an improved version available — only not from their own store. It’ll be interesting to watch what happens with this. At the least, European etailers will probably do a brisk business with North Americans wanting the latest Vipec. Or, perhaps we’ll see the ebony Swiss binding in North America after all. An insider I spoke with mentioned the word “discounted” when it came to the Vipec white version. I asked a retailer about that, who said something like “no way our store is going to be selling a discounted product our customer’s perceive to be second rate — that’s not our image, and that’s not how our business functions financially.” Oh, and our take? The new Black Vipec looks awesome and the latest “white” version does work — and little did we know how apropos the word “war” was in this case.

A news blog this time of year wouldn’t be complete without content from down under. I ran across this nice TR from a place called Kosciuszko, written by a newcomer to ski touring. Speaking of newcomers, I was speaking with an industry insider yesterday who said that outdoor recreation across the board is continuing a growth explosion. We’ve seen that in our metrics here at WildSnow; look for real-world effects such as parking issues. Solutions: As we constantly harp on here in North America, more trailheads with more parking, spread out the use. Could that ever happen? We are ever optimistic.

Southern Hemi winter has not been without avalanche incidents. Read up and get psyched to be careful when our own snow begins to build.

Doing our post yesterday re Backcountry Access ski poles got me paying attention to their Float airbag backpacks. They have done a bunch of “total redesign” to their rigs, all available this fall. Sweet spot for us is the Float 32, coming in at 7.1 pounds (3,218 grams). Thing is, last season’s Float 32 was super nice as well, and is on sale with a 25% discount, making it around $400 for a full-on airbag backpack. That’s super reasonable and is exactly what we expected to see as compressed gas airbag technology reaches a mature state of design — sold in a price competitive environment.

This one is a sleeper, but we think it is huge. The prosperous Aspen Skiing Company here in Colorado is proposing a system of three “huts” to be built on their fairly vast Snowmass ski area (not huge by European standards, but fairly good sized). We like uphilling resorts, but can’t imagine how walking up ski runs and staying at a “hut” would be that appealing (done it). Thus, we’re guessing the “backcountry” experience utilizing these huts would be created by establishing ski touring trails that wandered up through unused terrain on the mountain. More, perhaps the huts will be sited so skiers can access backcountry terrain outside of the resort boundaries. A huge amount of such terrain exists, much relatively inaccessible unless the ski lifts are open.

Do you like car camping, but are tired of the typical experience in the U.S. that involves crowded public campgrounds filled with generator fumes, or iffy improvised roadside locations where a 2:00 am roust by the local constabulary might keep you entertained? The internet communications revolution is enabling private land camping. Reminds me of how things like Uber and tiny houses are bypassing government inertia. More here. Speaking of tiny houses, our WildSnow Field HQ is still going strong. We’ll be up there this fall getting ready for the huge winter that’s sure to come. I’ll file some blog posts from there, assuming I can get the Hughes Net internet working again (it’s been iffy, probably because a tree grew taller and blocked the sat signal.)

We are still waiting for official news regarding the sale of Black Diamond Equipment (BDE). As a BD fan, every few days I google for financial analyst takes on the company. Here is a fresh one. In terms of gear, as far as we know (or guess), the company will continue their clothing push, and probably not be making any new models of ski boots. I did see a compact climbing skin in their trade show booth last winter; perhaps they’ll continue teasing us with that? Ski touring climbing skins are a fertile development field. Efforts thus far include Fischer Profoil and quite a few “glueless” skins, but we’ve not seen much in the way of simply making skins lighter (though the basic split skin does help). Change a comin’.

Getting back to the beginning of this blog post, BD is the importer of Fritschi Diamir bindings, so you can bet they’ll be involved in any change to how the new Black Vipec ski touring binding is distributed. Perhaps they’re cooking up some rosti over there to calm down the situation. A few dozen eggs, potatoes, Swiss cheese probably cures anything.

Addendum: I should have posted this up sooner for you Utah folks. The BD Utah Avalanche Center fundraiser party is Thursday, Sept 10. This is the biggest fundraising event of the year for the UAC. New this year is a student special – show up at the door with valid student ID and get in for $25. We’ve been to a few of these events over the years, and they’re nothing less than awesome. Mandatory for Utah backcountry skiers?


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


7 Responses to “Backcountry Ski Touring News Roundup — Airbags, Black Vipec, and Australia”

  1. Chris August 20th, 2015 1:26 pm

    I used two pairs of the ’14-’15 Vipex quite hard this last season on Volkl BMT 94 and 109 and had no failure problems of any kind. I felt they performed well and released correctly when they needed to. They are a bit more difficult to step into than other models, but not really that tricky once you get used to it. IMO the RV adjustments and for/aft heal adjustment is superior to Dynafit ST or Comfort, you can actually read the setting and do it with the same tool and it stays put once adjusted. They also provide a level of release-ability and safety in the climbing mode and really have great boot retention for descending. Overall, I am quite happy with them. Especially compared to the numerous (8 breaks when I stopped using them) heel housing and top plate failures on Comforts and ST’s. I’m not knocking any one product (I have dozens of friends who’ve had few problems with Dynafit, all of them have had some) but in reality, I’ve had far more breakage problems with a very mature product like the ST’s than any other binding and no breakage problems of any kind with the Vipex or Plum Guide.

    I suppose one can simultaneously complain about the lack of innovation and the long lead time that it takes to get quality products to the market, and at the same time complain about breakage problems and slight performance flaws that the consumer puts up with in many first generation products But, why would you? Consumers do have many choices, some better than others and most of those issues are disclosed here quite well. No one design is perfect, yet, that is for sure.

  2. Jason Gregg August 20th, 2015 2:37 pm

    The “Black” Vipec is looking slightly better and slightly heavier. Not convinced I would notice the difference in a blind test.

  3. TIm August 20th, 2015 3:16 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Chris! You make excellent points about first generation products. The Vipec is another in a long list of snow sports products that were consumer tested, and then updated on the basis of the feedback. If there weren’t issues, they would have left the design unchanged….

  4. DavidB August 20th, 2015 4:34 pm

    Hey Lou, thanks for giving us a nod down under.

    We have some amazing touring in Australia. Sure our peaks have been rounded by millions of years of mother nature but the size and scope of our back-country would surprise a lot.

    It’s a unique alpine environment with one of the most beautiful alpine trees I’ve ever seen the snow gum. get on down here some time.

  5. Chris August 20th, 2015 6:26 pm

    Thanks. I’ll be anxious to try the revised one after it’s been out for a season. I also waited a year on the first generation and glad I did.

  6. Dave Johnson August 25th, 2015 10:20 pm

    Hey, Lou,
    Do you any info on the new Dynastar Mythic? 133-97-113
    Dave J.

  7. Dave Johnson August 25th, 2015 10:23 pm

    Just saw the July review…

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