ISPO 2017 (Extended) — Atomic Austria Visit — Part 1

Post by blogger | March 20, 2017      
The sales meeting room is a gear freak dream.

The sales meeting room is a gear freak dream.

After a nice stop in Italy during my EU wanders a few weeks ago, I grabbed a series of four trains back north to Austria. The journey took all day and challenged my adventure travel skills (if not taxing my emotional intelligence), but I got it done. Specifically, visit Atomic ski company HQ at Altenmarkt.

I'm intimidated when they have a presentation just for your's truly. Perhaps that's the idea?

I’m intimidated when they have a presentation just for WildSnow. Perhaps that’s the idea? These guys are too nice for that. But wait, they’re all x-maddog ski racers who take no prisoners. Figures, they were not messing around here, but we got a lot of laughs along the way.

Atomic is known for what I’m told is the largest ski factory in the world — with nearby ski slopes such as Flachau, where 2-plank legends such as Hermann Maier refined their game. With ski touring being the only expanding market in glisse snowsports, Atomic is doing what comes naturally to any business. They’re clearly trying for their share of the pie.

While I’m a fan of the more “niche” ski touring gear makers out there, big guys entering the fray has advantages for all of us. Prices might go down, and could quality actually go up? On the other hand, we risk an oversupply situation with reduced profits and thus reduced funds for innovation. We shall see.

Meanwhile, while Atomic is no doubt the big guy, they’ve segmented out their ski touring product development to a spirited group who practice what they preach. Result, nice gear that’s fun to write about and terrific to ski on.

When you walk in the door of Atomic HQ you are in the land of Redster, on the alpine side anyway.

When you walk in the door of Atomic HQ you are in the land of Redster, on the alpine side anyway. I like their integrated design philosophy. More, I like the performance I’m told by users is ubiquitous across the entire Atomic line. I’m not quite ready to test Marcel Hirscher’s skis, so I’ll take this at face value.

Atomic divides up their ski touring lineup.

Atomic divides their ski touring lineup into three categories: “Endurance” includes speedy lightweight backcountry action as well as resort uphilling. “Adventure” is what most of us do in the backcountry. “Freeride” is that ever elusive market that always seems just beyond the grasp of any one company’s 130 flex boots. As of next season, Atomic (along with sister company Salomon) will have products for nearly the full range, with the exception of a race binding (rumoured to be coming). Freeride binding is taken care of by Atomic Tracker, which works with both alpine and ISO 9523 ski touring boots that have WTR soles.

The plan for world domination, not sure why they shared this, perhaps because they're ski racers?

The plan for world domination, not sure why they shared this, perhaps because they’re ski racers?

I've covered the Backland-MTN binding quite a bit now, but let's throw in a few more views.

I’ve covered the Backland-MTN binding quite a bit now, but let’s throw in a few more views. One of the kudos is relativly light weight, but let’s not forgot that most of these bindings have fully adjustable release rather than only a couple of swap springs.

Brake infos.

Instructions published by Atomic for mounting Backland brake, using the jig alignment tool in next photo.

Brake  with the additional screw, stud, and alignment tool.

Brake with the additional screw, stud, and jig alignment tool (doubles as a 4 mm spacer gauge for setting boot heel “tech” gap).

The binding is indeed improved for 2017-2018.

The binding is indeed improved for 2017-2018. Mainly, improved closing trigger and wing arms that are forged instead of machined, said to be stronger, slightly lighter, and help keep costs down. By the way, I’m told that 40 mm is an industry informal “norm” for binding reinforcement in the ski, and subsequent width of binding toe screw pattern. Backland-MTN toe screws are 40 mm apart.

Getting the lin from Atomic binding developer.

Getting the line from Atomic binding Product Manager Ralf Schoerghofer. He’s of course working in conjunction with Salomon on the entire Backland-MTN binding project which they call “shared development.” Takeaway here is these guys seem to get it. They acknowledge weight is an issue, seem to be looking for max durability, and wow that brake system that’s divorced from the heel unit is just plain intelligent. Forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but it’s worth repeating that the most amazing thing about the binding is here we have the powers of ski gear development doing ski touring tech, and they opt for the 30+ year old swap-spring configuration invented by Fritz Barthel. I’m now thinking that Barthel’s invention is nothing less than the automobile wheel of ski touring. It simply will not go away, at least until we have skis with levitation.

It’s here I should reiterate the main disadvantage of “U-spring” touring bindings such as Backland-MTN: You can’t fine-tune the release adjustment, nor can you adjust vertical release independently from lateral. Instead you’re at the mercy of how the manufacturer wants to build and supply the springs. But, is that so bad? Reality of tech bindings is that even those that conform to the DIN/ISO touring binding standard allow quite a bit of variation in the actual release tension as compared to what’s printed on the binding. What is more, very few people fine-tune their touring binding release, opting instead to dial their settings higher than “chart” to help prevent accidental release that can be life threatening rather than simply limb injuring.

Atomic Backland Binding and U-spring.

As we have lots of newcomers to backcountry skiing dropping by here, I thought I’d throw in this photo of exactly what an Atomic Backland “U-spring” looks like. The “tuning fork” ends insert into the heel of the boot. See this FAQ for an ongoing dissertation founded by the venerable U-spring binding.

Me, I’d prefer that the Backland-MTN binding had one more spring that was between the “Men” and “Women” in release value, as the “Men” spring is too strong for me and the “Women” too weak. Further, perhaps yet another spring could be supplied for “Child.”

Both Atomic and Salomon are leery of spouting “DIN” numbers regarding their swap springs. I can say that the “Expert” spring is probably around 11, while the “Men” is around 8, the “Women” around 6. As with all tech bindings, actual release value is also dependent of wear of boot toe fittings and the exact heel gap that exists at the time of release.

The list.

The list.

It was a long meeting. Boots are next. Availability of Backland binding appears to be spotty, check the usual suspects, and know that both the Atomic and Salomon versions should be widely available come fall of 2017.


10 Responses to “ISPO 2017 (Extended) — Atomic Austria Visit — Part 1”

  1. Matus March 21st, 2017 8:32 am

    It is a mystery to me why such a big company does not have a proper webpage with detailed information about this binding. No detailed info, no templates, no info about 2017-18 improvements, compatibility etc etc. Wildsnow remains to be the only source of useful info!

    BTW it takes a lot of time to find the shop selling these bindings here in EU. Why? You can find ATK, Dynafit, Fritschi everywhere. But no Atomic/Salomon. Even the big EU web shop do not offer them.

    Anyways, glad to hear that they improved the first gen. It never is a good idea buying the binding in its first year (I did this mistake with ATK Raider 12 and orange Maestrale boots).

  2. trollanski March 21st, 2017 6:47 pm

    Matus. The information on the binding is fairly cryptic at this point because they are not far enough in production and rollout. Patience young Jedi……But yeah would be nice to have a bit more tunability in release values. For example. I am not skiing well if I am blowing sideways out of bindings at app. 8-8.5. How ever I prefer a Vertical din/release of around 10 so I don’t peel out on landings….Lou, I cant tell from the photo if the springs are grindable?

  3. Lou Dawson 2 March 22nd, 2017 6:26 am

    The Backland-MTN U springs have a cap on the end that’s easy to remove, and you could thus grind the spring. The cap is quite clever, kind of a “Lego” snap-on sort of thing. If the binding became popular, aftermarket springs could be made and sold. Best, I’d like to see one or two more spring options from Atomic-Salomon.

    As alluded to in post and comments, the problem with the U-spring bindings is you can’t adjust vertical and lateral retention independently. And yeah, in my opinion if you set a classic tech binding to what tests out to be reasonable lateral retention value, and use that same value for vertical (upward at the heel), you may tend to come out of the binding vertically when doing things such as bump skiing or landing after hops off cornices and stuff like that. Binding engineers could probably figure out a way to make the U-spring bindings so that vertical release was always a number or two higher than lateral, but the ratio has traditionally been 1/1 and I don’t see that changing as it makes sense based on how people perceive binding tension settings based on decades of using and adjusting alpine bindings, that for most people are simply set to the same setting both lateral and vertical.


  4. Matus March 22nd, 2017 6:44 am

    I am 82 Kg / 181 cm (naked:) and have all binding set to 7-8 (whatever this number represents) and never had any problem with prerelease (I ski 186 cm long, 100+ wide skis in all types of snow/terrain with no huge jumps). I even ski in resorts with ATK binding.

    I would be interested if prerelase is really such a big deal.

    BTW, Lou you can use the power of your web for some pretty interesting polls and statistics. What do you think?

  5. Lou Dawson 2 March 22nd, 2017 7:51 am

    Matus, indeed, I’ve stated many times that if tech bindings were as bad as some folks say they are, there would be a lot more instance of bad things happening. Instead, they’re used quite nicely by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. That said, there are indeed inherent issues with the design that do cause trouble for some folks, so my job is to stay on the case and communicate about those issues. Perhaps one reason you do _not_ have problems is you’ve paid attention to all the warnings here about issues such as icing, correct tech gap adjustment, etc? (smile)

    Web polling is a little odd, in that it can be manipulated and also tends to not be a fair sampling across the population but is filtered by the default of the group who visits a specific website. Many of the polls I’ve seen on other websites thus often appear rather gimmicky and trivial. But I can look at the issue again… what poll do you have in mind?

  6. Rudi March 22nd, 2017 8:31 am

    I have been skiing on a U spring binding all season. The only releases I’ve had were vertical. One probably a reasonable release the other Id say was pre-release. I’d be very interested in a U spring tuned to allow for a higher vertical load than lateral. I suspect the tibia bone which I believe is protected by vertical release could handle quite a bit more stress than the release point of my binding. All that being said this Atomic binding looks sweet. Love the flip lifters, would like to know how the toe springs compare to the dynafit radical?

  7. Matus March 22nd, 2017 8:39 am

    Re polls: Filtering is a good thing if you want it. And re manipulation – depends what is the poll about. E.g. who would need to manipulate poll about the prerelease or the poll about the priorities when buying tech bindings?

  8. Lou Dawson 2 March 22nd, 2017 9:04 am

    Rudi and Matus, it’s possible the lobes on binding heels such as MTN could be shaped so that lateral release was reduced in comparison to vertical. There is actually already a ratio set by that shape, but ever since the days of the first classic tech bindings the idea was to just make vertical and lateral conform to about the same values, which were intended to approximate DIN/ISO but were not certified orignially, and still not certified with most classic tech bindings. Lou

  9. Matus March 22nd, 2017 9:07 am

    I just set both values a bit higher than I think I need and leave it as it is πŸ™‚ However, considering that I fall about once per season I am not sure if this concept is scientifically proven πŸ™‚

  10. Lou Dawson 2 March 22nd, 2017 9:30 am

    Matus, yeah, that’s the issue with most good skiers in terms of whether a touring binding really “work,” it’s common for only a few falls to occur in a whole season, and perhaps no safety releases. That’s probably why in the old days some folks could ski for years on bindings with no release at all — though the prevalence of nasty leg breaks was a real issue, leading to the invention of “safety” bindings that made a huge difference in injury rates or so I understand. Lou

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