WildSnow Goes Euro – Day 4 – Origins of Dynafit Backcountry Skiing Bindings

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | January 6, 2007      

I’ll have to tell you later about the 12th century church I was checking out in Alpbach today, and the story about the guy we saw caught in an avalanche will have to wait as well (he survived). After climbing about 5,000 vertical feet and skiing a nice peak above Alpbach, we headed back to the Barthel’s, where I spent some time with Fritz in his workshop, getting the detailed lowdown on how Dynafit bindings were invented. A few photos and comments below, more later as always, including Fritz’s attempt at a Dynafit telemark binding.

first Low Tech (now Dynafit) binding that binding inventors Manfred and Fritz Barthel actually skied on, during 1982 and 1983.

first Low Tech (now Dynafit) binding that binding inventors Manfred and Fritz Barthel actually skied on, during 1982 and 1983.

For additional details about this binding please check it out in our backcountry skiing binding museum.


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13 Responses to “WildSnow Goes Euro – Day 4 – Origins of Dynafit Backcountry Skiing Bindings”

  1. Matus January 6th, 2007 3:15 pm

    Well, it is really very interesting to see that this binding was not invented in high-tech underground labs of Dynafit (Salewa). More, it was apparently invented without any computer! It would be interesting to know if Fritz or anyone who is working on further evolution of Dynafit binding uses AutoCAD or other software.

  2. Lou January 7th, 2007 12:44 am

    Matus, Fritz now has a mechanical engineering degree and does quite a bit of design work for Salewa/Dynafit, all using computer software and of course hands-on prototypes as well. The company really does work hard at improving their products and coming up with new ideas, and Fritz is an integral part of that. This wasn’t always the case, as
    with the Tri-Step binding debacle the binding design changes were done by someone else.

    I’ve been talking quite a bit with Fritz and Manfred about the difference between independent design and that by groups working for corporations. Fritz told me that the vast majority of European sport equipment design is driven by marketing and fashion people rather than engineering types, which is one reason we see such a slow pace of improvement in things such as boots. Another problem with gear design is that the process is constrained by standards such as ASTM and TUV, which force things into the designs which may actually degrade performance or prevent new ideas from evolving.

    For example, the Dynafit TLT binding has a bump on the heel unit, in the space between the boot heel and binding. This bump is there at the behest of the TUV, to prevent the binding pins from going farther into the boot heel holes when the ski flexes, because the binding release factor increases as the pins are effectively shortened when they move into the holes. However, the bump my cause pre-release and limits ski flex. I’ve ground mine off all my TLT bindings, even before getting the inside scoop on this from Fritz, who says that indeed the bump is unnecessary, not preferred , and is not present on Comfort style heel units (modifying bindings of course voids warrenty and is not recommended.)

  3. alex January 7th, 2007 2:39 am

    Well, suppose one would grind the bump, then the distance should remain 6mm(adding the extra space instead of the bump) or 4mm as recomended?
    Leaving the binding in the same position is best?

  4. Lou January 7th, 2007 3:37 am

    Alex, while Dynafit does not in any way condone or recommend modifying bindings, as an independent user, blogger and modder I can speak to that. Leave the gap as specified unless you have problems with the pins pulling out of the holes when the ski is over cambered, such as when doing a jump turn with 10 lbs. of slush on your tips and tails (very rare).

  5. Greg Louie January 7th, 2007 12:58 pm

    Alex, since the measurement is taken above the bump, you wouldn’t be able to lengthen it to 6mm without putting in longer pins (ie. Comfort pins). After grinding my TLT bumps, I tried shortening the gap to 2.5 mm and it seemed the force required for a forward release actually decreased (makes some sense, as the distance between the pins is greater when you move the heel closer to the boot), so I put it back to 4mm.

  6. Jonathan Shefftz January 7th, 2007 3:53 pm

    Any truth to the rumor that an inventor of the Dynafit binding died in an avalanche, in part b/c his toe unit did not release when in touring mode? (I heard this from the instructor for my Level 3 avy class, who was the former ACMG technical director … and on Dynafits of course!)

  7. Lou January 7th, 2007 4:20 pm

    Jonathan, after lengthy conversations with Fritz and his father I can address your question to some extent, though I don’t want to violate their privacy. It’s public knowledge that Fritz and a friend were indeed caught in an avalanche in Canada in the 1980s, and his friend died. As far as I know the binding had nothing to do with the accident, and no inventor died.

    As for the general idea of the Dynafit toe unit releasing in an avy, it indeed could have a more effective safety release in touring mode, but so could a binding such as a Fritschi or Naxo. Once you’re in free heel mode with any AT binding they tend to stay on your feet without release, because the leverage forces are so much different than in alpine mode. If you tour with bindings such as Fritschi, just think of all the times you’ve fallen while in touring mode. Have you popped out of the binding, or does it just stay on your foot with the ski flopping around? In my case, I’ve had much experience with this and can testify that no touring binding releases that well in free heel mode, unless the lateral release is set quite low.

    Also, with Dynafit you can always bend down and undo the touring lock which results in a very low lateral release setting — much lower than a binding such as a Fritschi set for average weight skiers. It’s possible to tour without the Dynafit touring lock, albeit with care so you don’t torque out. So looking at it from the positive side one could say the Dynafit has an “avalanche danger touring mode” that’s quite effective. Continuing that thought, it would be cool to have adjustable release tension with Dynafit in touring mode for more avalanche safety, and I know Fritz has thought about that and would like to address the issue at some point.

    Another point is that the Dynafit WILL come off your feet while locked in touring mode, it just takes a bit more force than when in downhill mode. The guy I saw caught in the avalanche the day after this blog post was on Dynafits in touring mode, and at least one came off during his ride even though he was not tumbled around.

    But in all, I think people make too big a deal out of the Dynafit being that much different than other touring bindings in this regard.

  8. Bob Power January 8th, 2007 9:16 am

    Ha! I’ve always thought that a cam-action lever would be a terrific addition to the tuning-fork concept. Now, to see it in the original prototype of the Dynafit is pretty funny.

    I tried once to add a bicycle “quick-release” to a Ramer Classic, to replace the front cross-bolt. The folded lever was going to “hide” inside the concave tuning-fork arm.

  9. Jonathan Shefftz January 8th, 2007 10:13 am

    Lou, thanks for the clarification — that definitely explains the origins of the incorrect rumor (as rumors of course quite often are).

    Just a few follow-up points though:

    “If you tour with bindings such as Fritschi, just think of all the times you’ve fallen while in touring mode.”

    — In eight seasons of skinning I have never ever even come close to falling while skinning (even on pitches up to the low 40s) and have no plans to do so (especially on pitches in the low 40s)!

    “It’s possible to tour without the Dynafit touring lock, albeit with care so you don’t torque out.”
    — Personally I’ve found either position/click 1 or 2 impossible to skin with for more than a few meters, even on gentle terrain, although I suppose a slower pace could help?

    “…it would be cool to have adjustable release tension with Dynafit in touring mode for more avalanche safety…”

    — I think it already exists. With the tour lever at position/click 3 (i.e., the end of the lever engages the little plastic bump), I was able to twist out at the toe, using forced that seemed a bit more (but not that much more) that my alpine downhill race bindings set at 7. I did not test position/click 4 or 5 since I was concerned about the binding toe pincers scoring the boot toe inserts.

  10. Lou January 12th, 2007 3:28 pm

    Jonathan, all good points. Indeed, I don’t fall that often while skinning but do so occasional, usually while descending a small downhill pitch to change route lines. I’ve done this enough times over the years to know that one doesn’t easily pop out of any rando binding when in touring mode.

    As for skinning without touring lock, I think this varies for different people, perhaps base on year/model of binding, weight and style of skier, etc. Your point about the different click positions is a good one. I’ve found that indeed works on some Dynafit bindings, but it doesn’t seem to work on all of them, so I’ve never felt comfortable talking about it as if it was a real feature of the binding. It’s certainly on the list I’ll hand over to Fritz and Dynafit before I leave, as it seems like a very easy feature to build into the binding (a variable touring lock).

  11. Urs March 26th, 2008 10:21 am

    Cool site. I had the bright yellow low-tec on bright yellow kästle from 1989 till 2001. A long time people were laughing about my bindings. It took a long time to kill the binding. Very rare these days.

  12. Gordon June 30th, 2009 12:06 pm

    Just recently (after many years use) I’ve started to pop out of the toe unit in the locked position – what’s wrong here?

  13. Lou June 30th, 2009 12:21 pm

    Gordon, everything wears out… could be the boot toe sockets or the bindings…

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