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Some backcountry ski trips go so smooth you hardly know they passed — others have at least one defining moment. Our recent Trooper Traverse had several such. The make-or-break point occurred when Mike was walking around a new campsite on his skis, and was startled by his Silvretta Pure heel unit sailing over his head and landing on the snow in front of him. Catastrophic binding failure — one of the worst equipment issues that can occur during a backcountry ski trip.
Indeed bad, but at least we were in camp, and within an easy day’s travel of civilization. The question: continue the trip or bag it? In winter the answer would have been easy, as having a field-repaired binding introduces a fragile failure-point in your already stressed system of body and equipment. But in spring, when most of the snow can be climbed or descended on foot, limping the route with a repaired binding was an option. We agreed Mike would try one day with the repair, and if it worked we’d continue the trip. While Mike couldn’t do more with the repair than tour uphill and make tentative turns on the descents, he still enjoyed the trip and we got it done.
|Mike’s broken Silvretta Pure Freeride. A scary moment when you’re in the middle of the white wilderness. (Click image to enlarge)|
|Our field repair of trashed Silvretta Pure Freeride. Ironic that we used a spare telemark binding heel lever, as tele bindings used to be the ones with the breakage problems. We did the fix such that Mike was lashed to the binding plate, and could tour or even latch his heel down (though he had zero safety release so we decided he’d avoid that). The “Voile” straps were incredibly useful for this repair, as they cinched down with huge elastic force and never broke. We all agreed a few more such straps would be part of our repair kits from now on. (Click image to enlarge)|
As for Silvretta Pure, I’ll say it this way: Perhaps Mike’s binding had defective plastic, perhaps not. I checked the release settings and forward pressure (on the intact binding) and all looked reasonable. Air temperature was average cold, not cryogenic. The bindings were practically new, and as far as I know had not been traumatized in any way. One item of interest was Mike’s Scarpa Tornados, which have a somewhat thin alpine-like sole. The toe sole was worn from hiking, and at its lowest setting the Pure toe height adjustment still allowed a bit of boot movement. It’s possible this movement fatigued the binding plastic. If so, then the Pure is WAY too sensitive. (After all, the Pure Freeride is marketed as a durable binding for “freeride” skiing, and one would assume that includes using “freeride” boots such as the Scarpa Tornado or Garmont Adrenaline).
My only conclusion is that one should be cautious about using Pure bindings. They’re an elegant design, but possibly lacking in material strength as well as being overly sensitive to boot sole dimensions. I’d give the Pure a pass if you’re of average weight (Mike is a big guy), do not ski aggressively, use boots with unworn standard shaped AT soles, and are not traveling far from civilization, otherwise look elsewhere for backcountry skiing bindings.
In case anyone wants to accuse me of bias for covering this breakage in such detail, believe me, if a Dynafit, Fritschi or any other binding had broken at such a critical juncture of a major ski traverse, I’d be giving them the same treatment. (The rest of our crew had Dynafits and one tele setup, all with zero durability problems). Pure had durability problems when they first came out several years ago — Silvretta has had plenty of time to address these issues. To put it in different words than I used up in the wilderness while kneeling in the snow lashing Mike’s boot to his ski, “we are not impressed.”) As for Mike, I’m under the impression he’ll be switching to Fritschi Freeride or Naxo NX21.
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WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.