Sometimes it makes sense to go light, and even lighter with a ski binding. And this too can apply when pushing the width of the ski beyond the 95mm underfoot realm. Light, under some circumstances, can still be right.
WildSnow’s legacy is the fabric of finding a sweet spot for light, fast, and functional. That sweet spot, we know, is a bullseye steeped in bias. What if you like to charge down a line, zig and zag a bit, say you make five turns, but straight lining and being airborne, then landing, are part of the painted canvas? Light might be a 400g tech binding, a 1800g+ ski model, and a stiff (say 130 flex) boot with an aftermarket power strap and four buckles. On the other hand, you knew we’d pivot; light might be physically light, as in minimal in mass and still functional.
We recently had a comment asking about bindings, specifically what manufacturers recommend in terms of the maximum size ski (read width) a certain binding can be paired with. Know we don’t want anyone to void a warranty — any advice or commentary moving forward are observations. Know yourself as a skier and what your limitations may or may not be.
Disclaimer out of the way.
ATK recommends in their documentation that the max ski width underfoot for the ATK Haute Route binding is 95mm. For example, we know of a skier using a Black Diamond Helio 200 binding (which is a rebranded ATK Haute Route) on a 100mm underfoot ski. Again, we also know of a well-loved ski, 107mm underfoot, paired with an ATK Crest 10. ATK’s documentation says a max ski width of 97mm is recommended with this binding.
We’ve also seen 110mm underfoot powder skis with minimalist race bindings.
If you like a longer, wider ski, which might mean heavier, sometimes it makes sense to pair the ski with a light binding to minimize the setup’s overall weight. In this case, a race binding or a speed touring binding might be in order.
Things to Consider
A race binding often does not include an adjustment plate for the heel, while some offer that option. For example, the PLUM Race 150 arrives with no adjustment plate, whereas the same binding with an adjustment plate is branded as the R170. The same goes for ATK’s Trofeo binding; you can buy the Trofeo Plus —— the “+” is an additional adjustment plate.
Note: most pure race bindings do not have the BSL adjustment. But, as noted, you can easily find the plate versions.
This is not a treatise on race bindings or speed touring bindings, for that matter. A bit ago, Doug Stenclik did a solid job of musing on race bindings mounted on non-race skis. He made several good points.
Doug wrote this in the piece: “Unfortunately, pairing your new ski mountaineering or speed touring skis with a race binding can still feel a little daunting with dozens of models with very subtle differences. After studying the inverse relationship of dollars spent versus grams purchased, there are a few other guidelines to choosing your next binder for big days beyond racing.”
His big takeaways about race bindings were these potential limitations; non-bsl adjustment (already noted), the fixed release values, and minimal riser options, which, if you are using a high-range-of-motion touring boot, might be fine. And also, maybe not such a big deal anymore, pairing bigger skis with these little gems of machined aluminum.
If, for example, pairing a race binding with bigger boards still makes the butterflies in your stomach rumble, stepping up to a speed touring binding might prompt less anxiety while keeping the weight down.
Several binding options come in just below or at the 200g-250g range (plenty light) that offer bsl adjustment, vertical and lateral release adjustments, and enough riser adjustments to keep one content on any reasonable skintrack. The point is this: going wide for the ski, say 100m to 115mm, doesn’t mean you must necessarily go heavier with the binding.
Brakes: The race category of bindings will be sans brakes, with a few exceptions we won’t get into here. The ISMF has begun mandating brakes in sanctioned competitions, and ATK has a sporty brake for their race bindings (up to 90mm underfoot), while Dynafit, too, has a race brake, up to 80mm underfoot, as does PLUM. (WildSnow has not tested/reviewed this gear and the size underfoot availability is according to the manufacturer’s websites.)
But bindings in the speed touring class can and do come with brakes. So if leashes are not your gig, adding 30-50g per binding with a brake can be done.
Know Your Style When Going Light
As noted, plenty of skiers smile on very deep days on very wide boards with very light bindings.
Know your ski style and the conditions you are likely to use your gear. A big aggressive skier on a 110+mm ski topped with a race binding in firm conditions might not be ideal. But that same skier and skis in soft, forgiving snow might work fine.
And know that if you are hucking and spinning and doing all the things new school, saving weight with a binding might not be the best idea — a more freeride binding might be in play. Those bindings feature higher retention values, more contact between the boot and skis via the binding, and a feature set more geared towards higher speeds, bigger air, and, overall, more aggressive skiing.
But, under the right skier and conditions, is it OK to go light, even race-binding light, on a wide ski? Yes, it is.
Light can still be right.
We’d love to hear what some readers have paired up, considering wider skis and lighter bindings.
You can shop for light or even lighter bindings here.
While most of the WildSnow backcountry skiing blog posts are best attributed to a single author, some work well as done by the group.
Light bindings FTW on all skis!
In regards to “The ISMF has begun allowing brakes in sanctioned competitions” it should say it has begun “mandating “brakes, which is a whole other discussion.
Ah, good catch. I’ll make the edit.
Plum Race 150, on DPS Spoon 190cm 158-148-151mm, with classic orange Scarpa Maestrale is the most elegant and fun powder rig I have ever used.
Then I tried Plum 150 on DPS Lotus 124 at 191cm with my trusted Maestrale. It worked but I did not love it.
This year I am going with Plum 150 on DPS Pagoda Tour 112 and those favorite orange boots. We shall see.
It should be known that Plum offers an aftermarket riser that gives a couple cm of added climbing height, in addition to other heights, for the Race 150.
In my experience I don’t feel a need to adjust binding length ever, so the non adjustment is no big deal.
As for release value and brakes. It all works for me and I have never had issues with release or lost skis, but it will probably happen someday.
What I hope does not happen is a knee or tib fib injury. The lack of dynamic release combined with the large lever of long fat skis make me think this is a possibility.
6′ 1″ 200lbs once upon a time ski racer. I know this is not a dating app, but this does seem like relative information.
Great info about the quiver setup. Thanks.
For most people, there is absolutely no reason to worry about light bindings on wide skis. The only reason to go heavier is the feature set — e.g. the great snowpack-free system of the ATK Raider 12 and similar, or the nice riser options, the much easier and more reliable step in of independent heel pins (vs. U-springs*) — and perhaps the smoother release on some bindings. The idea that the light bindings are not “beefy enough” is pretty much speculation. I don’t believe it. Consider that Nelson and Morrison’s Lhotse Couloir descent was on Plum Oazo bindings.
ATK offer 102 and 108mm brakes for the Crest 10 so I guess they’re not recommending 97mm max underfoot?
All true. And I clearly am not heeding that advice/rule. It took me a bit as I was scrolling too fast reading the documentation; but it is in there, maybe right below the heading. “MAX SKI WIDTH UNDERFOOT: 97 MM”… in Crest 10 documentation. I’m hoping Italy is less litigious than the US, I’m not sure, but maybe the skiing lawyers had something to say.
It feels that, as with most things, people want a simple answer (plug in the ski width and here’s the binding you should get) but all those other factors (skier height/weight, ski aggressiveness, type of terrain, requested feature set) need to be taken into consideration when making a decision. And then, importantly, understanding the limitations of the gear you are on. With that said, I think articles like this are helpful for that latter piece (understanding the limitations) as it can change your outlook when all you’ve been told by freeriding shop-people is that your knees will basically explode if you do a lap in the resort with tech toes.
I put a lighter binding (Plum Oazo 8s) on the DPS Pagoda Tour 112s for this year and will run it with an atomic backland boot. I’m a bad skier, plan to mostly run this in soft snow, and am 5’11 155lb.
As a non-freeriding shop people I will still advise you against going and taking chairlift laps* on your tech toes, and in fact, if you peruse the WildSnow archives they will tell you so as well. At the end of the day, binding elasticity, boot performance, and equipment durability will benefit you regardless of whether you consider yourself a bad skier or not.
* – If you ski only the occasional bit here or there, that’s fine. Uphilling laps? Whatever, your goal isn’t downhill performance. But lift served skiing is about downhill performance. Please please tell all this to the person I saw show up day 1 of working as a kid’s ski instructor with tech bindings.
We went out on a limb for a new setup for my wife this year. Went with a Line Pandora 104 for 100% backcountry use which seems a little nontraditional . She values the progressive geometry and playfulness of that ski in particular, which is still reasonably light at ~1500g/ski. She went with Dynafit Blacklight binders, which initially felt like kind of a funny combo, but I think fits the niche slot this article describes. Will be curious to see how the blacklight bindings work out (haven’t really seen these referenced in WildSnow?)
Hi Jason. Super article. I was in touch with ATK, and just got a feedback today (GREAT customer service, by the way). Here is what they say: Our catalog shows the “ideal ski features”, but they are only a suggestion and not mandatory.
THIS IS THE WAY!!! I have two sets of 100mm+ skis and both are set up brakeless with pretty minimal bindings; Dynafit Beast 108 with the superlight 150s and Salomon QST Blanks with Marker Alpinists (270g, my “charger” ski).
I just don’t go that hard when I tour. Regardless of what ski I’m on, I’m just going to be a lot more cautios than I would in a resort. Little bindings just make sense and honestly? They ski great!
I’ve been skiing several seasons on 96mm Sportiva Vapor Sveltes with straight Trofeo bindings. I use lightweight, five foot coiled lanyards to retrieve a ski if the binding releases, which it seldom does. The lanyards are attached to the ski via a lightweight split ring, which will fail I hope in an avalanche. The lanyards are long and stretchy enough that they stay attached all day, unless I’m carrying the skis on the backpack. The lanyards (also called leashes) weigh only 29g/pair. What’s more, leashes work on hard, steep, skittery conditions or in bottomless powder, where ski brakes may disappoint.
The Trofeos are the best tech bindings I’ve had for ease of entry. They ski great in all but hard, rattly conditions. Same goes for the Vapor Sveltes. For many years my boots have been Atomic Backlands, both Carbon Light and Pro.
As I have remarked before, “Risers? Phooey!”
Been skiing an Atomic backland 107 with a backland binding/ no brake for 4 seasons. Just bought a new pair of backland 107’s and put a BD Helios on it. Haven’t skied them yet, but I expect this set up to be perfect for powder skiing which is why I hike in the first place. I do not catch air and I avoid firm conditions when possible, but I’ve skied some boilerplate on the older set without issue.
Fischer Ranger 102 (183), Dynafit Superlite 150, Transalp Pro – works like a charm.
Hojis (112mm) and Renegades (122mm) with BD Helio 145s. I ski them pretty hard, and it’s a perfect setup. I’m 5’10” and 185lbs.
K2 Comback 104 mm + Kreuzspitze GT
K2 mindbender 117 + Atomic backland tour
Boot: Scarpa Maestrale RS
Older Voile Chargers with Backland bindings (no brakes) and Scarpa F1 boots. Mostly used for soft snow conditions.
Love a light setup, my go to binding has been the Plum Oazo, have it on my dedicated skimo planks and wide touring planks (black crows Corvus freebird). Ca 200g with 2 risers and adjustable lateral release, and now it can even take a stopper or stomp pad.
I’m going to give this a try this year. My problem with classic Dynafit was always prerelease in choppy conditions when the toes were unlocked. I’ve almost lost skis a couple times because of this. Beefy Rotation bindings solved that problem but are too heavy. I’m hoping ATK Trofeo do better, they will be tested on Hyperchargers.
That seems like a good combo. Hope it works out.
I had the same prerelease issues on Dynafit Speed Turns. I got a Marker Tour back then, which almost solved the problem, though not quite fully and created problems while skinning, and then bought a Salomon Shift 2 years ago. All problems completely solved.
Look for a binding that releases sideways at the toe, that mitigates prereleases when the ski is hit at the rear without compromising release functionality at hits from the front.
Also, the DAV (Deutscher Alpenverein, German Alpine Club) conducted a safety study on touring bindings, where they assessed the amount of energy a binding could absorb in sudden, short lasting hit without prereleasing sideways. I remember ATKs and basic Dynafits scoring the lowest at around ~1 J, the Dynafit Rotation was in the ~3 J range, Kingpin as well, Vipec and Tecton scored almost 6 J, Marker Tour F12 was at 8,5 J and the Shift ate up 12 J. The bindings were all set at the same release value, I think it was 8,5 or so.
That means a Shift can absorb ~ 10 times the sideways impact energy before prereleasing compared to a basic pin binding, without your leg getting hurt, by means of spring tension integrated over its elastic travel.
For the importance of toe release, see my comment below.
Thanks for the input. I’m not interested in frame designs or the shift. The Fritschi models… maybe, but still heavy. I don’t mind unreliable release, I just want the binding to stay on while skiing unlocked.
sometimes lighter can be right. But it (currently) always fails to account for your biomechanics.
There’s an important point in touring binding discussions that almost always gets overlooked, yet it is crucial if you are looking for a safety function out of your binding.
It is not about your binding beeing freeridey by marketing or not or your ski being wide or narrow, but whether the binding in principle has any chance of correctly assessing the torque on your leg and releasing if necessary, or not. And a binding that releases sideways at the heel can never correctly measure the torque twisting your leg, as opposed to if the sideways release occurred at the toe.
I have thought about this for a while and the crucial part is how the rotational axes of the binding and of your leg relate. An alpine binding f.ex. fixes your heel and releases sideways at the toe – this means the rotational axis with the ski flat on the ground goes vertically up through the heel. With a traditional tech binding it’s the opposite, the toe piece is the fixated point and the boot heel can move sideways, rotation therefore occurs around the toe.
The rotational axis that matters for us humans probably is that of the leg and situated vertically at the ankles/shins. It is too much torque around this axis that will cause injuries and releases at too little torques that will be perceived as pre-releases.
The rotational axis around the heel of an alpine binding is much closer to the axis through our ankles than that of a traditional tech binding – the toe axis is much further away.
Therefore, the torques measured by the alpine binding much better correspond to the torques “measured” by the leg of the skier.
A torque is a force times the length of the lever. The lever is the distance from the point where the force is applied (f.ex. the shovel that is buried in the snow) to the rotational axis. If this lever to the rotational axis of the binding doesn’t correspond to the lever to the axis of your shin, bad things can happen. A traditional rear-release tech binding will measure the torque around the toe. But the distance from the shovel of the ski to the toe piece is ~250 mm shorter than from shovel to shin. This difference in lever linearly makes for a difference in torque. If a leg breaks at, say, torque Z=10, the pin binding in this case cannot yet feel that Z=10 torque by the time the leg breaks. If the hit occurs at the ski tail, the opposite happens, the binding already reports Z=10 and bails out, way before the torque on the leg reaches the release value you sought, because in this case the lever from ski tail to toe piece is longer than from ski tail to shin.
This is why lateral release at the toe is critically important. And why I would only ski on a Vipec/Tecton and Shift in the backcountry. Bindings releasing sideways at the heels might work ok if you ski conservatively and/or very well balanced and funnily the shorter your feet are, but they are inherently, fundamentally more flawed than toe release bindings and will run greater risk to both fail to release at hits from the front of the ski and pre-release when the ski is hit at the rear. And this does not even take into account extra properties such as shock absorption, the amount of elastic travel, the safety and control that forward pressure and compensation for ski bending might add to increase the likelihood that the binding can work as supposed. The design of a rear-release binding cannot overcome these design shortcomings, no matter how well other details might have been solved.
Btw, a turn-table binding like the Look Pivot optimizes this even further by placing the rotational axis of the binding right under the shin and therefore right in line with the axis of the leg.
I am in no way saying it is irresponsible to ski minimalist bindings. This is an individual decision. But at least, everyone should be aware of this fundamental design flaw in a rear-release binding and thus know what they’re doing when deciding.
For aggressive skiers, it is beyond questioning that a rear-release pin binding is a limiting factor and safety wise a no-go.
But also for light-and-fast tourers or alpinists: your biomechanics work the same way, the front of the foot is longer than the heel.
My advice would be to use minimalist bindings as a specialized tool, not a daily driver.
A Fritschi Vipec f.ex. is plenty light, boasts a lot of safety and convenience features, should ski way better and has a chance of saving your leg and your season.
For me, it’s a Salomon Shift for touring only. I have ~90 days on them in 1 1/2 seasons, they have worked flawlessly, zero pre-releases and very smooth release on three necessary occasions, they never iced up as opposed to my touring partners, can quickly be transitioned and ski amazingly well. I have sometimes wished for a lighter setup when carrying my ski on a 1-2 h approach. But I have never regretted it on snow or on the downhill and would buy it again without hesitation.
If anything, I would rather go lighter on the ski (1st gen QST 106, ~1800 g), than sacrificing basic binding functionality.
Lou frequently does a great job of testing and comparing binding functionality! Don’t oversee these issues when choosing your binding, broken tib/fib is no joke and nobody wants that to happen in the backcountry.
Cheers, keep up the good work and a great season to all!
It isn’t a “design flaw”. Using the toe as your pivot is simply inherent in the design of the binding with all the positive and negatives that go with that. This article from Skimo.co (https://skimo.co/tech-binding-release-testing) illustrates the differences in torques applied and where you run in to issues. The general consensus that I have gathered among binding aficionados is that a traditional alpine binding is more likely to result in a ACL/MCL tear whereas a tech binding is more likely to result in a tib/fib fracture. Ultimately both of these are rare events, and you haven’t heard of a rash of tib/fib fractures since tech bindings have become immensely popular. All your points are correct and a tib/fib fracture is a very bad thing in the backcountry, but real world results show that your fears are mostly unfounded. Skiing is a risk and every time you venture into the backcountry, we should be doing everything we can to mitigate that risk, which goes beyond trying to mitigate one specific type of injury/accident. One approach might be yours, heavier equipment that “might” be safer; another is to go light, travel a bit faster or at least not use as much energy for the same objective, leaving you with stronger legs for the descent, more energy for a potential rescue, and hopefully less time in hazards way.
Follow up, the Look Pivots do not have rear and toe release. The heel of the binding simply has more elastic travel from that design than most other types of alpine binding. There is no change in the pivot, but the elasticity might help prevent a pre-release.
Concerning the Look Pivot: I did not say they feature a sideways heel release. They still only release sideways at the toe, vertically at the heel. But the point of the “turn-table” is that it can turn 😉 It therefore moves the “pivot” from the boot heel, where it would be with normal alpine bindings, slightly forward to the ankle region, thus better aligning the rotational axis the binding with that of the tibia.
When you look at the uppermost plot in the Skimo article, you can see that for the alpine binding, torques from the ski tip (right side in the plot) make the ski release at slightly lower torques than from the ski tail (left side). The goal is to align the pivot with the tibia and thus for the binding to release at equal torques from front or rear of the ski.
Hi Ryan, that Skimo article is interesting stuff, thanks. The first plot shows exactly what I explained above, nice to see that. As for the ACL injuries, that’s interesting results, too. But beware, they tested at a release value of 6. I would expect for this mode of release, knees bent, deep in the backseat with a twisting fall, to only be functional when you run your bindings at similarly low release settings.
The aim of my comment was a heads up and it’s always good to know why a pin binding cannot work the way I would suppose a ski binding to work – I would call this a design flaw. I didn’t want to lengthen my text further, but the ACL risk is a design flaw in every binding as well.
The people commenting here seem to be avid skiers and skis like the Fischer Ranger 102 FR are heavy planks. When someone is running this ski, chances are the release values are not this low and they have a margin on the max weight they are fine with on the up. It is certainly safer to go with a more touring specific freeride ski and bump up to a Vipec binding for a similar weight.
@Philipp–I generally like your thinking here, but I don’t think the Vipec/Tecton is a “safe” system. See my comments on the skimo thread and others regarding this topic. I acknowledge that a Vipec/Tecton might absorb more force before releasing compared to lightweight pin binding (as shown by the DAV testing) but the Vipec/Tecton release, and essentialy all pin binding release, is so unpredictable and inconsistent as to be fundamentally suspect–and that’s in perfect conditions. Add in real world conditons of snow, ice, ski bending, weight, and so there is no certainty or confidence that a pin binding will release properly. This is supported by several years of testing by Skialper. The great majority of pin bindings vary widely and unpredicably in release function, except the Dynafit Rotation. The rotating toe picee of that binding allows the pin to ride out of the sockets smoothly and easily. My view is that the problem is related to tiny mental pins focused in tiny metal sockets, with all the attendent friction, binding, wear, tolerances, and so forth. Additonally, I think the sliding carriage of the Vipc/Tecton adds in even more unpredicatability. The carriage slides nicely when you move it by hand, but when it’s wet and cold, and you add weight, and the force and bending moments of a fal, the carriage does not slide easily, and sometines catches. It’s just not a reliable system. Therefore, despite the fact that I like the heel release ACL friendly nature of pin bindings in theory, the only pin binding I woukld ski with any confidence is the Dynafit Rotation. I don’t like the heel design on that binding, so it’s Atomic Shifts for me. For my skiing, I’m completely happy trading the weight for extra safety, confidence, and skiing performance (elasticity, control, etc.). Obviously, other people will have different priorities and preferences.
The ultimate frankenbinding for me, if I needed to use pin bindings, would be the Dynafit rotation toe piece, and the Atomic Backland heel piece and brake system. That would priovide the smooth release of the rotation toe with the simplicity and light weight of the Backland heel. ATK or other heel pieces could work here too, I just relaly like the Backland brake system. Now if I could only afford two new sets of bindings to mix and match….
But seriously, why is there no ATK Haute route with a release value of 12? or even 14? Is any one else as baffled as me? I cant imaging I am the only one out here not needing brakes who wants light bindings and high din. If that came out I would keep the ION LT toes and buy the “HR12” heels for the ultimate light weight big arc laying setup. Until that comes out I’ll stick with ION LT 12.
What about any of “ultralight” bindings produced by Grizzly.ski? For example https://grizzly.ski/en/product/gr-olympic/ The company have just got two other ISPO Awards 2022 for their bindings…
Hey Palic: A Grizzly binding has already landed in the Tetons for a long-term review.