Another Convert from Telemark to AT?

Post by blogger | March 24, 2011      

Guest blogger Fiona lives in Telluride but spends most of her time skiing the hidden chutes around Ophir. She drops a knee but like many telemarkers these days, is being lured to the darkside by the lightness of tech bindings. She’s my sister and I had fun giving her a hard time about this one:

Fiona contemplates her options with only one ski at the top of the couloir, result of using bindings with no brake or leash. Not a specific problem for telemark, but getting bindings with brakes is most certainly easier in the AT world, and brakes make more sense than leashes in most situations.

By Fiona
Earlier this winter I was in an incident that has made me want to convert from telemarking in the backcountry to using an AT setup with ski brakes — or at least use leashes on all my skis. Some friends and I decided to do a tour from Trout Lake to Ophir near Telluride, skiing a couloir along the way. It was a gorgeous bluebird day with little to no wind up on top of the ridge. Once we reached the ridge we ripped the skins and started making our way down to the couloir. I made a couple of turns down to the saddle of the ridge which had little snow coverage. When I lifted my right foot, in an effort to carefully walk across the rocks and grass, I was horrified to discover that my ski was no longer attached to my boot.

I think that the binding cable must have snapped as I’m pretty sure I was properly clipped in to them. Since I wasn’t wearing leashes and since my bindings don’t have brakes, my ski shot down the mountain and out of sight. I was stranded on top of a 12,000 ft ridge with a steep chute on one side and a long, wind scoured face on the other. With one ski.
After collecting myself and talking to my friends about what to do, we slowly made our way back down the skin track (which happened to be in the same direction as the fugitive ski). A good hour or so later we found the ski lodged in a crack in a cliff and out of reach, about 500 ft from where I’d lost it. The only way we figured I’d be getting it back is to retrieve it this coming summer with a rope and belay up in the crack.

What took us two and a half hours to skin up would have taken a lot longer mono skiing back down and across to the car, but luckily half way down I got picked up by a snowmobiler who was kind enough to drive me the rest of the way.

Due to Nick’s involvement with the airbag blogging project, WildSnow was kind enough to provide a replacement pair of skis but I’m still out a pair of bindings. I’m thinking they should be Dynafits! A convert? We shall see.

Whatever the case, I’m not the first or the last person to end up on one ski because they didn’t use leashes or brakes. Lesson learned.



34 Responses to “Another Convert from Telemark to AT?”

  1. Robert Tangen March 24th, 2011 11:07 am

    Re: “…brakes make more sense than leashes in most situations.” I’m no expert on the topic, but in the book “Ski Randonee,” Jean Vives says on P. 36: “Many resort skiers avoid runaway straps because they can cause the ski to ‘windmill’ during high speed crashes, causing head injuries. However, backcountry ski speeds rarely approach resort speeds… I have seen skis with ski brakes disappear down very big slopes because the slope was icy and steep. In deep powder the ski can submarine under the powder for many feet before stopping. The most effective solution is to use runaway straps that are attached to the binding… Any attachment should be released before crossing a suspected avalanche zone.” [He also stated he “prefers” brakes, but that statement seems to contradict his above statement, so I’m confused.]

  2. ScottP March 24th, 2011 11:17 am

    I like leashes in the BC because the brakes dig into the pack when you’re carrying your skis A-frame. And as Robert said, in some situations brakes still don’t do any good. Still, brakes are more convenient most of the time.

    Would using both leashes and brakes be like wearing a belt and suspenders?

  3. Rob S. March 24th, 2011 11:32 am

    I’ve seen mine scream away due to user error, that was enough to promise myself that brakes would be part of any setup I purchase again (still on the existing rig because it’s otherwise fine and I’m poor)

  4. Jay March 24th, 2011 11:34 am

    “Whatever the case, I’m not the first or the last person to end up on one ski because they didn’t use leashes or brakes. Lesson learned.”

    Sorry you reminded me: )
    I loaned a friend some fine, in their day, Tua Excal Carbons. He refused to clip in even when not in avy terrain. He lost the ski on a kick turn and off it went. We found it a big bend halfway between binding and tip. Had an early rise tip and didn’t even know it!? Did I just say that.

  5. yuri March 24th, 2011 12:06 pm

    Had Dynafit release while skiing in Switzerland a couple weeks ago. Brake failed to deploy on the Vertical ST and the ski shot downhill – luckily I found it in the treeline after a bit of a one-legged sideslip down some heinous snow…

    The brake was completely iced up and it seemed like this was the problem. When I went to buy leashes at the local Salewa/Dynafit shop in Davos, they were sold out – and the guy mentioned that this seemed to be a problem this year due to funny snow/temperature conditions…

    So I have brakes and leashes now. However, since I use Titans, I had to put a small loop on the lowest buckle to clip to. Not ‘pretty’ but it seems to work.

    BTW, the release was odd and I suspect it was due to ice buildup in the toe area…I skied 50% Dynafit and 50% telemark during the trip and had no issues with the telemark gear other than the PITA boot packing with duckbills!

  6. Matt Kinney March 24th, 2011 12:19 pm

    Those look like BD 01 bindings. It’s important to mark the setting and check it every time you go ski. If not, the cable will slowly backout of the cartridge and you will possibly lose your ski. I doubt the cable snapped as they are pretty bomb-proof.

    Hopefully you can retrieve your ski to solve this mystery.

    Tele on…. 8)

  7. AndyC March 24th, 2011 12:21 pm

    All this reminds me of when I got my new Tua Excalibur Mitos by special order and backpacked them up a couple of thousand feet on Mt. Rainier (summer) to find snow. We stopped for lunch, I stuck the tails into a sastrugi ridge (it was a calm day), turned around to open my pack and out of nowhere a strong gust blew the skis out of the snow and they both took off, perfectly parallel until they separated on a ridge and one flew over a cornice and the other out of sight down the valley. My wife skied down and found the one ski sticking vertical just down from the cornice and retrieved and a little later a snowboarder came boot-packing up with the other and said “Is this your ski?” My never skied skis made the first run by themselves.

    If you want brakes (and pressure releases) on your telemark skis, I believe 7tm does the trick. I have brakes on my Freerides but not my Dynafits; I carry BnD leashes which go on and come off quickly–can be used on any setup. You don’t need and excuse to switch from tele to AT (after telemark) other than ease of breaking trail, climbing, skiing, getting in and out of the bindings, less weight, better performance … even so it took me 20 years to make the switch.

  8. Lou March 24th, 2011 12:28 pm

    Robert, no need for confusion (grin), in my experience brakes are usually better because of avy safety issues and also the windmilling ski effect (which does occur in the backcountry, don’t believe everything you read). But straps have their uses. They save weight, and keep you from loosing a ski down a crevasse, for example. Personally, I dislike leashes/straps but use them on occasion for above reasons.

  9. Dostie March 24th, 2011 12:38 pm


    One more point about BD’s O1. I’ve noticed that the heel levers are prone to letting go, even with a properly tensioned cable yoke. It doesn’t happen very often, but as you realized, it only has to happen once at the wrong time for it to be catastrophic.

    I was on a tour with Tyler Cohen of Backcountry Magazine earlier this year. He was using O1s with G3 heel levers. He said they held bomber, and were easier to put on. So…the cure to the problem you experienced is to replace the BD heel levers with G3 heel levers. Unless, of course, you’d really rather just be done with the tele thing and use training heels. 😉

  10. Brian March 24th, 2011 12:49 pm

    The obvious solution is to always ski deep, blower snow so that a runaway ski just augers into the slope. 😉 The downside is you may spend hours digging for it.
    It’s a toss up.

  11. Dave J March 24th, 2011 12:59 pm

    Hmmm… maybe I’m missing something here, but aren’t straps always a bad idea, due to the risk of being anchored under the snow in the event of getting caught in a slide? Sure you can unclip while exposed in suspect terrain (either crossing suspect slopes or skiing down), but wouldn’t that defeat the purpose?

  12. Nick March 24th, 2011 1:11 pm

    Dave- You can make the strap so it breaks away in an avy, but still has enough strength to keep the ski attached in a mellow fall. Tricky to dial it in though. Check these links:

    Matt- I’ve found that a piece of electrical tape wrapped around the cable that goes into the cartridge (on the cable coming out the front of the cartridge, not towards the back) provides enough resistance to keep the cartridges from spinning. Not sure if I ever did that mod for Fiona’s bindings though (oops).

  13. Ben March 24th, 2011 1:15 pm

    I ski the 01’s and have for some time. I use leases and have two attachment points on my boots. One is bomber for skiing at the resort and spring mountaineering, and the other is a plasticz zip tie that will break in a bad crash or avy conditions. Many of my freinds who ski AT do the same. s

  14. rick March 24th, 2011 1:43 pm

    Nothing of substance to add with respect to leashes (I use a combo of cheap split rings, nasal cannula tubing and lanyard clips) or bindings (skiing Axl’s).

    Rather, the title and story caught my interest as my alpine/AT-skiing 14 y/o daughter Fiona is now completely enmeshed in making tele turns. Somehow it feels like the ski entropy is remaining constant. 😉

  15. Lou March 24th, 2011 4:02 pm

    Thing is, here at we actually are more concerned with WHERE the turn is made, rather than what type of turn it is. Although sometimes you wouldn’t know it (grin).

  16. Lou March 24th, 2011 4:04 pm

    Nice job on finding the linkage Nick, thanks!

  17. Dana March 24th, 2011 6:26 pm

    @Matt Kinney
    I always found with the 01s that if you set ’em, then take a little thin strip of druct tape (or Gorilla tape) and wrap it around the cable behind the cartridge, that solves the cartridge spinning issue.

    It probably won’t help with the pulling-out-of-the-ski issue with those binders. Which is also a bummer way to lose a ski…

  18. Dostie March 24th, 2011 8:04 pm

    A cleaner option to prevent O1 cartridges from spinning is to use Plumber’s Tape. It’s much thinner than duct tape, or gorilla tape and is made of teflon so you shouldn’t need a wrench to spin the cartridges, but adds enough resistance that they won’t spin spontaneously on their own.

    The other solution is to replace the cartridges with new ones that have the cure to spontaneous spinning designed in.

    BTW: Local snow depth in Tahoe is 700+ inches (Alpine Meadows and Sugar Bowl resorts) and counting.

  19. Jack March 24th, 2011 9:50 pm

    I still ride freeheel and telemark a lot, but for the steeply tilted terraine, Dynafit is the best solution for me – superior weight, power, and safety.

  20. stephen March 25th, 2011 1:47 am

    ^ Agreed.

    Re leashes versus brakes: we had a pair of skis with Vertical FTs at Gulmarg a couple of years ago, and one managed to escape and go a few hundred metres even on soft low angle snow. When we found it, the brake had not activated. OTOH, I’ve had zero issues with leashes in 30+ years, plus they’re lighter (and cheaper).

    I agree that brakes are handy and sensible for resort groomers, but am not so convinced that they are the best solution in the BC. The idea of two different strength anchor points is a good one IMO. Thanks, Ben!

  21. franck March 25th, 2011 4:08 am

    Hi, sorry for my english, i’m writinng from France…. in France al my friend put a link on their telemeark bindings an i ‘have a discuu with one french ski manufacturer who will putt a link on the ski (insert) because if you broke your binding, uou’ll lose your ski….
    But for the freehee, i think the most important thing is to not forget to add some Knee-oil. see-it on :
    bye see you in France with 2 skis !

  22. Brian March 25th, 2011 8:38 am

    Related FYI- Powderwhores has now given up tele exclusivity and will be making films including AT and splitting. They have answered “yes” to the age-old question of “can’t we all just get along?”

  23. Lou March 25th, 2011 8:47 am

    Or, perhaps their name says it all and they’re just trying to make a living (grin)?

  24. snorkel March 25th, 2011 9:23 am

    I have to say I don’t think in a couloir or on the steep brakes will do much. I find my dynafit brakes to be more of a ‘technicality’ to allow resort skiing. A few weeks ago I was into my 4th jump turn in a tight little line and felt my uphill ski act funny, I happened to see it ‘fall’ off my boot, and luckily I was able to grab it in time. As I looked at I noticed the brake assembly had come off the heel unit.

    I think dynafit brakes are junk, they get iced up, dont deploy, etc… Not that it matters to me, I dont often resort ski, so I dont need brakes. I am more inclined to use leashes if I am concerned…

  25. claude March 25th, 2011 9:25 am

    The perfect solution doesn t exist yet but for me, brakes are completely useless when the slope is more than 30 degrees, on hard snow and in deep powder. Even if leashes are not perfect I prefer leashes, I have some special ones that can just restrain a bit more than the ski weight, so they can break in case of avalanche.

  26. Brian March 25th, 2011 11:24 am

    True Lou- it will be interesting to see if their films capture a larger audience in the bc community in the future.

  27. Brian March 25th, 2011 1:50 pm

    My dynafits came with brakes but I ended up replacing them with the B&D leashes and couldn’t be happier. They’re not as light as the ones I’ve seen Lou post about, using just a couple small loops of cord, but I like the fact that the skis can get away from me a bit in a crash, but still stay attached.

  28. Carl Pelletier March 25th, 2011 4:51 pm

    I have “lost” my share of skis with those 01 binders. That being said, I still think that the O1’s rock.

    I’ve been telling myself that I need to use the tape trick that Dostie mentioned, but always find myself…distracted after a good day of skiing. So for now I just have to keep giving the cartridges a few twists each time I have my skis off. The O1’s do have a tendency to “walk” and “loosen”.

    I’m looking forward to the new telemark bindings that I’ve heard Voile is coming out with next year. I’ve spoke to some folks who have been demo-ing them and they seem to love ’em.

    On a similar note, I was out skiing yesterday with my skis with Dynafit binders…and on my 4th jump/hop turn on a steeperish shot my ski came off. I was really happy to see that the leash held. I’m not sure a ski with a brake system would have stayed put on that pitch. I’ve been tinkering around with different “pressure” release straps that have been discussed here on Wildsnow. Thanks guys!

  29. Lou March 25th, 2011 4:56 pm

    Carl, stay off the Dynafits, they’re a crutch.

  30. stephen March 25th, 2011 5:25 pm

    Also very pleased with the B&D leashes. A group of us now use them and find that not having to undo the leash when fitting (and removing if you’re a wimp!) skins saves time and effort and absolutely prevents the skis escaping.

    If Dynafit and other rando race people start making much lighter tele boots and bindings I might get interested again, but for the present I think XC and tech bindings and boots are more efficient for everything. Of course, that doesn’t mean tele isn’t fun sometimes…

  31. Shredgar March 25th, 2011 10:21 pm

    Ski it out on one foot!

  32. DMR March 26th, 2011 3:37 am

    I skied on Fritschi Freerides for a 7 years for backcountry skiing, and maybe had my ski come off once on relatively moderate terrain (went over the handle bars). The tip stuck in the snow, so I can’t say whether or not the brakes would work well.

    I’m now on the Dynafit TLT Speed, so I use the leashes provided. Have had my ski come off a couple of times on the odd and sometimes firm snow we’ve had here in the Northern French Alps this season, and was glad to have the leashes. My skis in these cases did not windmill or hit me.

    In one tremendous high speed fall in powder last winter the leashes actually came off and both skis were tip first stuck in the snow.

    As others have written, when skinning in or traversing through avy terrain, I tend to undo the leashes.

    There jury in my head is still out about which is “best”, though I have come around to liking (or at least tolerating) leashes more than I thought I initially would.

  33. gringo March 28th, 2011 2:34 pm

    Its astonishing how many BC skiers use leashes!

    Any of you ever seen what an avalanche can do to a person who is weighed down with skis?!

    a once in a life time, not so fun, runaway ski is worth not having your limbs torn from your body while you are still alive.

    not an exageration. i have seen it. ski leashless to ski another day!

  34. max March 29th, 2011 11:22 pm

    your sister bought AT bindings from me at BootDoctors today in T-ride and i told her the heel can stay free you just need skis that are bigger and radder and it/s alllll goood

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