In the beginning, God created Dynafit. Well, okay, so the Dynafit binding was really created by the Barthel father-son team, but they are definitively worthy of worship (or at least veneration) by backcountry skiers.
Anyway, God saw that Dynafit bindings were good — really really good! — and that such “Tech”-style bindings with a zero-resistance and zero-lifted-weight tour pivot should be fruitful and multiple. But patent law said otherwise, and even that was still good too, since anyone who devises such an innovative product deserves a temporary monopoly.
Once the Dynafit patents (at least some of them) expired (or perhaps even before then somehow), first out of the starting blocks were a slew of race bindings, with nonadjustable (and for many perhaps also unreliable) values for their release settings. But for this coming season, a wide range of full-featured “Tech” bindings is now available, as shown in this summary chart, with an equally wide appeal. (Note that the chart is a work in progress — as are some of the bindings! — and will be updated as needed.)
Before delving into a quick summary of Dynafit’s competitors, why would anyone want to experiment with a binding other than Dynafit? A good question indeed, and I would be perfectly happy even if all my backcountry bindings were the TLT IV from the late 1990s (which continues to this day essentially unchanged as the Speed model). But could you be even happier with an alternative Tech binding? Read on, and decide for yourself.
G3 was first in the backcountry appropriate Tech competition with the Onyx, now joined by the max-10 release value (“RV”) Ruby. With almost an extra pound and a half of heft compared to the Dynafit Vertical ST/FT models, and more moving parts and more plastic, the G3 offerings seem targeted more toward backcountry skiers who for a variety of reasons have been reluctant to take the Dynafit plunge.
By contrast, the other offerings seem aimed at Dynafit’s core users. First out with some teaser pictures this spring and available for purchase as of Fall 2010 is the RT from well-known rando race company (or at least as well-known as a rando race company can be) ATK Race. The RT seems designed to combine certain elements from typical rando race bindings with the Dynafit Speed, and also offers an innovative toe-mounted brake and an adjustable-tension tour lever. [Feb 3 ‘11 edit/clarification follows in the next sentence:] La Sportiva North America is selling ATK’s RT binding as the La Sportiva RT in North America under a private label arrangement between ATK and La Sportiva Italy, which means that La Sportiva North America will fufill all the usual functions of a distributor but only with respect to its branded RT bindings, whereas any ATK-branded bindings (whether the functionally identical RT or the full-on race models) are not connected in any way with La Sportiva North America.
Next up is another well-known rando race company (ditto the previous caveat!) Plum with its Guide series of bindings. With a weight comparable to the Dynafit Speed, the Guide once again incorporates some typical rando race features, yet with a fore-aft adjustment range comparable to the Dynafit Vertical ST/FT, and an RV range comparable to either the Vertical FT12 or alternatively a special 3-7 range for lighter skiers.
Moving into the more theoretical offerings, the snowboard binding company PHK has coupled its rando race toe with what appears to be a knock-off of the Dynafit Speed heel in its 10 binding. And finally, saving by far the most innovative for last, Trab, well-known for its ultralight touring and racing skis, has offered some teaser previews of its TR2. Although comparable to the Dynafit FT12 in weight and RV range, the TR2 retains only the touring pivot from the Dynafit design, moving the lateral release function to the toe (i.e., as on a typical alpine downhill binding) and eliminating the heel pins in favor of a clamp-style heel fix (i.e., once again as on a typical alpine downhill binding). Although the predecessor TR1 was demonstrated with a standard AT boot, the TR2 requires a special heel interface: unclear if this can be retrofitted onto an existing boot, or would require Trab-specific boots, or if after-market sole blocks could be provided for boots with swappable soles (e.g., Dynafit Titan, BD Factor), or if the final design might once again be compatible with regular AT boots.
(WildSnow guest blogger Jonathan Shefftz lives with his wife and daughter in Western Massachusetts, where he is a member of the Northfield Mountain and Thunderbolt / Mt Greylock ski patrols. Formerly an NCAA alpine race coach, he has broken free from his prior dependence on mechanized ascension to become far more enamored of self-propelled forms of skiing. He is an AIARE-qualified instructor, NSP avalanche instructor, and contributor to the American Avalanche Association’s The Avalanche Review. When he is not searching out elusive freshies in Southern New England or promoting the NE Rando Race Series, he works as a financial economics consultant.)