I love how much effort the SkiAlper guys put into their binding evaluations. With the permission of SkiAlper, please see their binding testing introduction below. With a nod to the effort our Italian friends devote to their mag, this intended as a teaser, and to encourage discussion regarding tech binding retention/release. If at all possible, obtain the magazine for the total picture — of bindings — and all other essential hardgoods.
Skialper presents all their binding reviews as compact capsules. For example, the first of several Fritschi reviews is pictured above. Text translation: “Fritschi has reworked the light full-pin[classic tech] binding with its own original solutions. The front arms are opened by the locking lever, but they slide horizontally instead of rotating on pins like all the others. This prevents unwanted openings when skiing with the lever open. The heel rotates on a large diameter shaft, stable against rolling deflection. All the mechanics work on special plastic shells, and the heel unit also includes 10 mm of cushioning as ski flex compensation.”
Buyer’s Guide 2021 ATTACCHI [bindings, translated and edited by Lou]
This year we used the Wintersteiger Drivetronc to test how well the binding “DIN” release values matched the numbers printed on the bindings. With the help of the XL Mountain shop staff, we did hundreds of tests.
Note that with most bindings, the advertised release values are not required nor do they promise to conform to any specific standard or regulation (and those that are TUV certified are still allowed a significant amount of deviation). Thus, our results don’t indicate a “good” or “bad” test, nor do they prove that what you buy in a shop will give similar results. If anything, these results prove you should be careful with your binding settings.
That said, our Wintersteiger test method is the only reliable, calibrated and irrefutable way with which we could compare the various models as to how the release/retention function interacted with boots/fittings.
As with our past Buyers Guide binding tests, we mounted the bindings on hardwood planks, so that the result was uniform and not influenced by the consistency of ski top-sheets (not to mention that it would have taken 35 pairs of identical skis). We mounted the bindings with care, using the original manufacturer templates, while centering and lubricating perfectly. In short, a work of perfection. The tests were done with ideal conditions, with new boots, pins and bindings fitted to perfection.
We tested each binding with the most popular types of boot inserts on the market: Quick Step-in and Master Step by Dynafit, La Sportiva, and Salomon/Atomic. So for each binding we performed twelve release tests (four front right and four front left on the toe, four front on the heel). Total, for lovers of numbers, 240 paper “card” receipts from the Wintersteiger and almost two days of tests. The data collected by the Wintersteiger were first evaluated, then averaged and combined to obtain eight values/percentages, illustrated with histograms that use the same three-color scale (green, yellow and red) that the Wintersteiger prints on the test cards. The value percentages are the result of a weighted average.
This data is not definitive — for example we tested a limited selection of bindings, on one machine. Consequently it can mean everything or nothing, depending for example on your interpretation and needs. [Lou’s take: the data proves what we’ve known for years but bears constant repetition: don’t trust the numbers printed on the bindings.]
Remember this all is rapidly complicated in real life. For starters, things drastically change when the ski is flexed and the boot heel hits or presses against the heel unit (e.g., while hard cornering or landing jumps). We did some simulations and they weren’t very reassuring.
Adding to the fray, just imagine how worn inserts, pins and loose, unscrewed attachments must influence things. Moreover, there are a lot more people than you can imagine who’s bindings have play in the mounting screws. Perhaps even you. Go check!
Beyond all this, the worst inconsistency happens when bindings are skied with the touring lock engaged. Doing so usually sets an ultra-high resistance to sideways release, and yet eliminates the small amount of elastic movement you get with the classic tech-toe system, thus making for a harsher ride and possibly damaging equipment — or bones — if you do happen to fall.
[As we have repeated too many times to count here on WildSnow, ski with locked bindings only for good reason — not because you’re lazy about tuning your binding adjustments.]
Over the years we’ve seen an a incredible amount of improvement in ski touring bindings, in the mechanics, in the reliability, in the care of details. There are now bindings that seem to operate nearly at the peak of mechanical perfection. You enter, you hear a reassuring clack, then enjoy smooth touring lock levers and easily positioned heel lifts.
It’s on the subject of release and retention where the story of the future will probably be written. We will watch what happens over another year. And as our industry progresses, we’ll be the first to cheer when downhill performance and safety are finally the words associated with ski mountaineering bindings. When the deviation from the ideal value becomes noticeable.
[I’ll leave you guys with on thought: SkiAlper picked the same brand for their Race Binding of the Year, Light Binding of the Year, and Tour Binding of the Year. Care to guess what brand that might be? Hint, they’re influenced by Ferrari.]
See a selection of our WildSnow tech binding release information.
And see Brono’s SkiAlper review. It’s wonderful. Makes me want to leave for Italy tomorrow. Maybe I can get a job as a translator for next year’s book. Though full disclosure: The only Italian I know is grazie mille, scarponi, and AI is my. friend.
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. For more about Lou, please see his personal website at https://www.loudawson.com/ (Blogger stats: 5 foot 10 inches (178 cm) tall, 160 lbs (72574.8 grams).