This guest blog was originally supposed to be a review of the new Dynafit DyNA “DNA” ultralight yet still totally skiable rando race boot, which Lou was supposed to steal – err, ahh, borrow for me during his Euro Dynafit press visit earlier this season.
Unfortunately, Lou got completely distracted by all those fancy European pastries (apparently Colorado has no good bakery shops?) and while on the subsequent sugar and fat high completely spaced out on this most important assignment.
So instead his blogness lent me a pair of the new Dynafit wide ski crampons and as compensation provided me with airfare, ground transportation, and hotel for an Anchorage-based ski touring test of them.
Well, okay, so the trip to Anchorage was actually paid for by my toil, and Lou never quite acknowledged my requests to sneak off a pair of DyNA boots, but the part about the ski crampons is true.
Until now, the “wide” Dynafit ski crampon despite a “92” designation had a maximum effective clearance of somewhere between 86mm and 88mm depending on your definition of clearance: the 169cm Dynafit FT 10.0 / Mustagh Ata was fine, as its waist is just under 86mm, but the 178cm version with an 88mm waist entailed some light scraping of the crampon against the side edges. (Searching on “Dynafit” at Youtube still produces a highly ranked video shot by a friend trying to prove to me that his “92” crampons didn’t work on his 178cm M.A. skis.)
For the 2008-09 season, Dynafit came out with the Manaslu ski, which has significantly more girth than any ski Dynafit has previously made, yet is lighter than almost all skis that Dynafit has ever made, as well as lighter than most other far narrower skis from its competitors. At first I was surprised that Dynafit didn’t come out with a crampon compatible with its own ski, but then I figured that the ski would be a pure soft-snow specialist and hence I would never want to use it for conditions in which I might need ski crampons.
However, Manaslu proved to be far more versatile than I had anticipated, and hence it was my first choice for the AK trip. But as my guide Joe Stock specified, ski crampons were a must (along with Dynafit bindings of course, plus anything else that is similarly superlight, efficient, and effective, with everything else left at home).
Lou and Salewa North America came to the rescue with the Dynafit crampon loaners, and Lou also suggested I contact B&D to do a comparo with their crampons. Bill from B&D was happy to help out, and also sent me a couple other products from his line of after-market accessories. Among some of his more intriguing products:
• Lighter Dynafit release springs, for those skiers willing to admit that not only is 10 sufficient on the high end of the release scale but also that 5 is too much on the low end of the release scale.
• Customized and slightly lighter heel unit top plates for the TLT Speed/Classic and Comfort models.
• An intriguing approach that solves the conundrum of how to shim the F1/F3 bellows for skiing yet allow the use of a ski crampon for skinning.
• A custom leash. I’ve logged over thirty thousand vertical spread out over several outings with his leash on one ski and my own custom leash on another. The B&D leash is designed to dissipate energy in case of a release, is made of coiled cable that extends quite a distance, and also has built-in failure points. The convenience factor of the B&D leash was definitely appreciated in that I never needed to undo the leash while removing my skis, even for short portages. I still prefer my own lightweight short-leash design, but for anyone interested in a more robust design the B&D is appealing and affordable.
• Crampon locks. I think the fixed crampon designs like the Voile and old Sk’Alp are a big disadvantage, since they reduce skinning to more like stepping. By contrast, a pivoting crampon allows you to skin almost as usual, yet with additional lateral security. But I have gotten in a few tricky situations where I would have appreciated a fixed crampon. The best approach is of course to avoid getting into those tricky situations, but the B&D crampon lock offers the best of both worlds. (And note that it works only with B&D crampons, not Dynafit OEM.)
Okay, now finally the ski crampon details.
The B&D “100mm” crampon actually measures 103mm inside, which matches up with the website’s information (i.e., interior clearance is 3mm in excess of the stated width). Weight including the lower-height spacers (and small mounting screws) is 9.8 ounces. The thickness of the metal is about 2.6mm. For the 169cm Manaslu with a 92mm waist (as opposed to the 95mm waist in the longer lengths), I probably could have just barely gotten away with the “90mm” crampon, but Bill sent me the “100mm” based upon the Manaslu specs. (Lou says he uses the 90 mm model with his Manaslus and likes the way it fits snug to the ski, thus resisting torque.)
The Dynafit wide crampon measures about 108mm inside. Weight including spacers (i.e., TLT Speed/Classic heel post extensions) and fasteners (hardware store T-Nut with Brad hole 6-32 x 1 ¼ plus corresponding machine screws, no drilling required) is 8.0 ounces, so almost two ounces less than B&D despite being 5mm wider. The thickness of the metal is about 2.5mm.
In terms of durability, it’s obvious during bench testing as well as field use that the additional ribs stamped into the Dynafit crampons make them much more resistant to bending. The importance of this depends on your walking weight and style of use (stepping across patches of dry ground or not, etc.).
Note that Dynafit has never included spacers with their crampons, and explains this is because they advise against using the crampons with the bindings in the higher heel elevator position. I agree with this advice: ski crampons are intended for traversing skin tracks, not going straight up. And if you’re on a skin track with firmer snow — i.e., ski crampon territory — the higher heel elevator position will create a less stable platform. However, I have been in some situations that merited keeping the uphill ski binding in the lower heel elevator position but the downhill ski binding in the higher heel elevator position: this differential helps to even out the disparity in the downhill ski being lower than the uphill ski. Moreover, using the ski crampons with spacers in a Comfort or Vertical ST/FT binding is creating essentially the same snow penetration or “bite” as using the ski crampons without spacers in the original TLT IV/Speed/Classic binding, which has less stack height.
As shown in the various pictures, the Dynafit wide crampon is just a wider version of the current “92” (with ~87mm interior clearance) crampon but with the front “tooth” eliminated. The snow penetration or “bite” with the TLT spacers is essentially the same as the B&D crampons with the lower-height spacers, although the teeth configuration is quite different. When I was ski cramponing along on some flatter terrain with the Dynafit crampon on one ski and the B&D on the other, I tried concentrating on which crampon had less drag, but I wasn’t able to discern any difference on shorter stretches.
Since the B&D crampons are just aluminum flat stock bent into shape, they can be nested together for packing, entailing a little bit of splaying out in one crampon. (One approach is to tuck the nested crampons together underneath a pack strap, then secure the package in place by clipping a biner through the pack strap and the cutout in the crampons.) The Dynafit crampons have significant stiffening contours in the metal and do not splay easily, hence they can’t be nested for packing. The upside of this is that I’ve never heard of a Dynafit crampon bending or breaking. By contrast, B&D crampons are supposed to be reinforced for this year, but their crampons in prior years have been prone to bending for some users.
Okay Lou? Now when do my DyNA boots arrive for summer volcano ski testing?
(WildSnow guest blogger Jonathan Shefftz lives with his wife and daughter in Western Massachusetts, where he is a member of the Northfield Mountain and Thunderbolt / Mt Greylock ski patrols. Formerly an NCAA alpine race coach, he has broken free from his prior dependence on mechanized ascension to become far more enamored of self-propelled forms of skiing. He is an AIARE-qualified instructor, NSP avalanche instructor, and contributor to the American Avalanche Association’s The Avalanche Review. When he is not searching out elusive freshies in Southern New England or promoting the NE Rando Race Series, he works as a financial economics consultant.)