Backcountry Ski Bindings as Resort Bindings

Post by blogger | October 27, 2005      

Are backcountry AT randonnee ski touring bindings okay to use as resort bindings?

Talk about an eternal question. It’s amazing how often folks ask me about the suitability of AT backcountry skiing bindings for use at the ski resort. My thoughts:

I’ve got lots of experience with this issue. Since the first production Ramer ski touring bindings were released in 1974 (and I worked as a ski tech for Company 3, the distributor of the binding, gad, more than 40 years ago! No wonder they put me in a museum…), I’ve pressed AT bindings into service as resort downhill skiing bindings, and suffered the consequences. In 1977 I severely spiral fractured my left leg on Ramer bindings — an injury that nearly ended my career in outdoor education and mountaineering.

At the time, Ramer claimed I’d not maintained the binding correctly. That might have been true to an extent (he said I didn’t grease it enough*), but more, what I’d done is use a backcountry skiing binding that was easily inferior in safety release to the alpine bindings of the day (greased or not). In those days I was a skier who took my share of harsh falls because I was still learning how to handle steep terrain and natural snow, so the consequences were somewhat inevitable.

Thus, my points:

  • The difference between blowing a knee and simply stretching a few ligaments can come down to mere ounces. The latest alpine bindings are making an incredibly high-tech effort to stay under the load limit and protect your legs from injury. No AT backcountry skiing binding matches this level of release technology.
  • If you fall more than a few times a season, you are likely to experience the limits of any ski binding’s safety release. Thus, if you fall much, I believe it’s unwise to use AT backcountry skiing bindings for multiple days of resort skiing — simply because alpine bindings such as the Line are available.
  • On the other hand, if you’re a good skier who falls infrequently, choosing to compromise safety for the convenience of a “one-rig” AT setup may be acceptable.
  • Another question I field frequently is that of AT binding durability for use at the ski area. Unless you’re skiing more than 30 days a season, and/or tend to break alpine bindings, I don’t believe durability is an issue with today’s randonnee backcountry skiing bindings. Sure, they can break, but I’ve seen plenty of broken alpine bindings as well.

    That said, if you’re skiing quite a few days it’s true that ski touring bindings may have some wear points. For example, I used a pair of Dynafits for quite a few resort days one season, and noticed the rear boot fitting wore notches into the rear pins that insert into the boots. In the case of plate bindings, I’ve noticed the vibram sole of AT boots can eventually crack the AFD under the toe on some models, because the lugs of the vibram may impact the plastic in a concentrated way while resort skiing and backcountry skiing. And with all AT bindings, one must realize they’re built with minimal weight — meaning they have minimal bulk to stand up to bashing and banging from ski edges and rocks.

    Conclusion: No hard and fast rule, but I’d recommend a full-on alpine rig if you spend more than a few days at the resort, and/or fall frequently. And with all bindings, fine tune your release settings by setting them as low as possible, then gradually increasing settings if you pre-release.

    (*Note about Ramer: For the record. In later years, Paul Ramer was fond of claiming I’d somehow modified my Ramer bindings to lock out the release, and thus broken my leg. While this particular pair of Ramer backcountry skiing bindings may have lacked grease, I never modified them in any way that would obviate the release. As for “resort skiing,” to be clear I should state I broke my leg in out-of-bounds terrain on Aspen Mountain, lift-served, after a long day of crazy skiing on the ski resort. It was a good lesson about the relationship between frequency of falling, binding release, personal style and the like.)


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  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

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