Lou Goes Alpine — Knee Binding Review Part 2

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | January 25, 2017      
Knee Binding test rig utilizes a pair of Surface brand skis as a platform, they're beefy and have accepted multiple binding mounts.

Knee Binding test rig utilizes a pair of Surface brand skis as a platform, they’re beefy and have accepted multiple binding mounts over the past few years.See our first-look here.

Like many of you reading this website, I do most of my lift served skiing on touring gear. Usually fine. Yet I’m a few minutes drive from, yes, ASPEN, where I occasionally enjoy glissing on a full alpine setup. Situations come up. Such as being invited to ski a day with Oprah, or eat a catered slopeside lunch with a certain Slovenian fashion icon who requested a consult on her new ski touring apparel. To that end, I’ve usually got a set of downhill grabbers I’m messing around with.

(Terminology note: Official name of this brand is KneeBinding, one word. The actual bindings come in different flavors, those reviewed here are the Carbon. As terms of art, I use the words “Knee” and “Binding” as my keyboard seemed to dictate to my fingers.)

As an addition to my quiver, this winter I’m experimenting with a set of Kneebinding ostensibly designed to protect skiers from certain forms of soft tissue knee injury.

I’m no ski binding engineer, so I have to trust the folks at “Knee” to be providing something that perhaps does add protection. Hands on evidence is these bindings do have a third release adjustment they apparently call “Pure Lateral.” Idea being to provide for sideways release of the boot from the rear binding unit, to the inside, blocked to the outside.

My understanding is that bindings releasing sideways at the heel may indeed provide some protection against knee injury. But, if they release both directions, the normal forces of skiing (heel thrust to the side, especially the outside) may release the binding accidentally if it’s set at low enough tension to actually protect you from torque injury.

Naturally, no way to test this in real-life without keeping a surgeon on call. But I did set the KneeBindings to recommended settings and they remained on my feet despite having their “3rd” release mode. Caveat here is I ski at resorts in what could be termed and “advanced” yet “mellow” style. Meaning I simply do not stress my bindings.

Kneebinding heel unit and boot heel cup lock you in with a satisfying “thunk” when you click in. I found the forward pressure (boot length) adjustment to be slightly tricky, in that it seemed more exacting than some of the other alpine bindings I’ve worked with. Not a big deal, just a bit more care on the workbench.

Of more concern regarding the heel unit, the cup is indeed on the smaller side. For a skier of “average” aggression such as myself, not something to concern. But if you’re strong and aggressive, a known problem with alpine ski bindings is the possibility of pushing your boot heel out of the binding to the side. Knee binding heel cup would not appear to resist this in any significant fashion. In fact, the shape of the heel cup may be intended to work with the “Pure Lateral” third release function, and is thus part and parcel to the whole picture of how the Knee Binding is intended to protect against soft tissue injury.

Getting out of the binding is again typical of any alpine grabber. You can push down on a small ski pole target to drop the heel lever, or step on one with a ski tail and the other with your boot so you’ll look more like a pro.

Compared to most of my touring bindings, stack height of KneeBinding is somewhat elevated. Front AFD is 27mm above ski top, while the tech binding and boot combos I have kicking around here appear to average about 15 mm for an imaginary AFD. I’ve never felt that stack height is a huge issue, but changing ergonomics of your gear can require anything from minutes to days for getting used to. I could feel the difference here, but a few runs later I didn’t notice.

I’d be remiss to not mention the Knee Binding ski brakes. These things are massive. Super powerful springs, long thick arms — watch your fingers while testing on the workbench! While the brakes appear to be over-designed, a big pair of alpine boards can pack some weight and momentum, requiring ski brakes with guts. No problem here.

Circling back to the KneeBinding safety claims, I set my “Pure Lateral” special heel lateral release to value 6, and tested on the workbench by forcing the boot heel to the side. Test boot was a Scarpa Freedom with alpine sole kit installed. I found in manual testing (heavily pushing heel to the side) that lateral heel movement required surprisingly high force, with return-to-center behavior that seemed affected by friction of the boot heel on the AFD. When I tested this behavior _without_ a boot, by manually rotating the heel unit, it did demonstrate return-to-center elasticity. I squirted silicon on the AFD and brake retractor pad, things improved. Thoughts on this: Use a boot with sole in good shape, dirt free, and be sure a tech tests the “Pure Lateral” behavior on the workbench.

I should also make a preemptive strike here, as I’m sure someone will question if the Scarpa boots had a sole that conformed to ISO 5355 (adult alpine ski boot sole dimensions). KneeBinding technical manual includes the dimensions for this standard; Scarpa Mountain Piste conforms. Main question was height of the heel block, specified in 5355 at 30 mm plus or minus a millimeter. Scarpa’s is exactly 30 mm, further, the box containing the Mountain Piste soles says they’re indeed ISO Alpine Certified (though I’d like to know who certified them, TUV?).

It took me a while, but going through the process of acquiring, mounting, adjusting and finally skiing on the Knee Binding has been an interesting quest. While the installation process is daunting, they ski solid with the “Pure Lateral” extra release function seeming to not change downhill performance in any perceptible way.

As for additional knee protection? Definitive conclusions on that are of course beyond my purview, but I’m glad to see someone making an effort to reduce the scourge of knee injuries that’s plagued alpine skiing for years now. Indeed, using the term “criminal” would not be too strong to describe the emphasis on marginally effective ski helmets as an essential safety item, while the industry continues selling skiers on bindings that don’t protect against dreadful injuries that for some will never heal 100 percent. KneeBinding attempts to remedy this, A for effort, most certainly.


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14 Responses to “Lou Goes Alpine — Knee Binding Review Part 2”

  1. Bar Barrique January 25th, 2017 9:36 pm

    Hmmm; “pure lateral release” , seems like I have had that for almost 20 years, though, I was not an “early adopter”.
    More seriously; I do use alpine bindings for a part of my skiing, and, a “pure” lateral heel release is a real question mark for these bindings.

  2. See January 25th, 2017 10:02 pm

    If bindings that release sideways at the heel in both directions have a problem with releasing accidentally under the normal forces of skiing at settings low enough to protect against injury, then aren’t almost all tech bindings (including the freeride type) problematic? Does the tech toe pin and socket design somehow ameliorate this problem, or what?

  3. Bruno Schull January 26th, 2017 4:01 am

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but these bindings require a dedicated left and right ski, at least for the added release function to operate correctly. Is that the case? It’s a small price to pay if they do indeed help mitigate knee injuries, but it’s also an annoying thing to have to remember every time you step into your skis.

  4. Lou Dawson 2 January 26th, 2017 7:11 am

    See, yes, most tech bindings release to the side at the heel (exceptions are Vipec and TR2). I tend to call tech bindings that release at heel “classic tech bindings.” The operative word in my article is “may.” In my experience, I know that when I ski aggressively I do need to set my vertical and lateral release settings higher with classic tech bindings. Many other skiers experience the same thing. On the other hand, in my normal style of skiing I’m constantly delighted with how low I can set my classic tech bindings, it’s quite an ingenious design and yes I suspect that the fact that the boot movement at the toe is controlled by the toe unit pin/socket somehow ameliorates bad behavior.

    Most binding engineers I speak with about this refer back to certain bindings of the 1970s that attempted to release to the side at the heel, or by pivoting on a central pivot-post, with nothing at the toe. Essentially letting your toe just float there. All those bindings when set to normal release tensions, in mine and engineer’s opinion were prone to dangerous accidental release. They were short lived experiments.


  5. Lou Dawson 2 January 26th, 2017 7:14 am

    Bruno, yes indeed, right and left, very important. If you mix them up you’ll possibly be skiing a setup that is very prone to accidental release. Lou

  6. Travis January 26th, 2017 10:43 am

    In regards to alpine setups, isn’t this “technology” something that Look Pivots have been offering for awhile now? What exactly is different with this KneeBinding? During my in-scientific crashes I have appreciated how Look Pivots seem to have a very fluid release.

  7. Me January 26th, 2017 12:43 pm

    Travis, there is no lateral release in the heel of a Look Pivot. The rotating heel of the Look Pivot is there to make for a smoother lateral release at the toe. It also aids in return-to-center of the toe to a degree. Take a look at the arms on the Pivot heel with a boot in the binding. You can see how the arms keep the heel in place. Any lateral motion of the boot happens because of the toe allows it to happen. The heel is just along for the ride.

    The Kneebinding has lateral release at the toe AND heel. Think DIN toe with a Tech (rotating) heel. In a fall, the Kneebinding allows either the toe or the heel to rotate depending on the forces incurred by the leg.

    The Look Pivot is my binding of choice but it does not have lateral release at the heel.

  8. Scott January 26th, 2017 2:09 pm

    Lou –
    One interesting note is that for years I skied on “classic” tech bindings on the lift served slopes, and I too had to adjust up my lateral release by 2 and vertical by 1 level higher than I used to set on my alpine bindings. Otherwise I would pre-release or have to much lateral movement. After switching to the Marker Kingpin, those higher settings were too high and I have been able to go back to my standard alpine settings. The Kingpin rocks for lift service skiing!

  9. Lou Dawson 2 January 26th, 2017 4:56 pm

    Me, thanks for chiming in and clarifying. The other thing about Look Pivot is it blocks sideways exit of the boot heel, which can be important for super aggressive skiing. I allude to this in the review above. Lou

  10. RDE January 26th, 2017 7:26 pm

    Back in the day I skied for two seasons on a pair of 215 Atomic SG’s mounted with those “certain bindings” with no toepiece and never a experienced a “dangerous accidental release” or for that matter any pre-release ever. Granted those skis and my technique at the time didn’t allow the kind of edge pressure I can generate today on GS race skis, but I was in my 20’s then and certainly didn’t hang around waiting for the ski patrol speed police.

    I’d be the last to claim that Spademan bindings were the holy grail, but one should realize that there are many more determinant reasons why a product triumphs in the marketplace than technical superiority or performance. In the Spademan case the problem of mounting to ski boots not engineered for it, resistance from boot manufacturers, or simply the awkward motion when walking in a ski boot so equipped alone would be enough to doom it in the marketplace. Even if it were twice as safe!

    I suspect the TRAB binding is a similar example in the AT category.

  11. Nelson January 27th, 2017 8:04 am

    Lou – question. You mention “when I ski aggressively I do need to set my vertical and lateral release settings higher with classic tech bindings”. With the new Vipec toes that release at the toe (and more particularly the Tecton) – is there an adjustment to control lateral release values? I didn’t see any mention of that. If there isn’t, wouldn’t that be a fundamental flaw? Ie. you can only vary vertical release but not lateral?

  12. Charlie Hagedorn January 27th, 2017 8:58 am
  13. Lou Dawson 2 January 27th, 2017 9:08 am

    Thanks Charlie. Lou

  14. theNorwegian November 4th, 2018 10:22 am

    i have a pair of the carbons from 2015.
    they are mounted on my A-pair (heavy carbon short skies run with heavy Krypton Core boots)

    if you like to run heavy piste skiing, or are looking to try, these are exellent!
    (each binding weigh 2050grams)

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