WildSnow.com Goes Euro — More Barthel’s Workshop

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | January 13, 2007      

A few more amusing and intriguing photos from the Barthel shop, and some insider Dynafit backcountry skiing binding info:

Backcountry skier's parts selection.
Ever wondered if you had enough parts to keep all your Dynafit bindings working? That’s one problem these guys don’t have. Is that some titanium binding screws visible at upper right? Perhaps someday we’ll know the answer.

Dynafit backcountry skiing binding boot workers.
How Dynafit bindings became “Dynafit:”
When first produced, the bindings were made and sold by the Barthels as the “Low Tech,” and required a Dynafit boot that the Barthels and helpers modified in their workshop (truly the former livestock area in the lower reaches of the family farmhouse). To get into production they bought more than 1,000 pairs of the Dynafit boots. This photo honors the Low Tech “boot mafia” as they worked their way through hand installing the fittings into those thousand shoes. After investing that kind of money the Barthels realized they’d rather be in the design business and leave the manufacturing and sales up to a larger company (my guess is that the boot work was cutting into their ski time too much). Fritz shopped the binding around to companies such as Tyrolia, but Dynafit (then a ski boot company) was the only one interested and ended up being licensed.

Interesting factoid: Many Dynafit binding fans have wondered why the boot fittings are not available in more than two other brands of boots. You’ll hear all sorts of myths about this, including sales babble that the “fittings are too expensive,” or “we don’t want to support our competitor’s binding.” The truth is that when Scarpa was licensed as the first outside company to use the boot fittings, Scarpa negotiated the contractual stipulation that the fitting would only be licensed to one other boot maker (Garmont). At this point it would no doubt be better for everyone if any boot maker could sell boots with Dynafit fittings, but Garmont and Scarpa will of course hold on to their exclusive until the agreement expires in 2008. Bottom line: don’t look for new brands of Dynafit compatible boots until 2008. (Thus, the new line of backcountry ski boots that Black Diamond is working on could indeed be Dynafit compatible.)

Backcountry skis and snowboard.
Now we get to the truly fun stuff. Check out this snowboard made with two skis. You can ski on the skis and carry the center insert in you pack, or ride it as a snowboard. As with most of Fritz’s other prototypes he’s actually used it. What in the world would one call this thing? A boardskis?

Backcountry skis and snowboard.
Ever wondered what a binding design prototype would look like for something as complex as a step-in step-out touring binding based on the plate/frame type of design? Fritz, after showing me a variety of early Dynafit binding prototypes: “Now, you have to see this — I call it the MONSTER.”

Backcountry skis and snowboard.
Yours truly tuning skis in the Barthel workshop. Ever wondered if you had enough tools to maintain your skis and bindings? In this workshop, if you have a problem with a binding just spend a few hours on the milling machine and make a new one!

Backcountry skiing binding.
And lastly for this blogpost, in honor of the Barthel workshop I give you the Dynafit ST rental heel unit — another example of the Low Tech approach to minimalist design. Building on the strengths of the Dynafit heel unit, this version simply has a longer base plate and longer length adjustment screw, and thus yields a wide range of boot length compatibility, with little weight cost and no change in height above the ski. In the future will there be a variable toe unit to go with this so the boot position on the ski can easily be changed? Perhaps. (Practical note: This rental heel unit is a bit tricky to use as the threads on the longer adjustment screw can strip if it’s rotated past its adjustment range. A model that prevents this may be in the works. Please be aware of this issue if you’re a shop or individual who acquires this version of the ST heel.)

We at WildSnow.com hope you’ve enjoyed our short tour of the Barthel workshop. This area of the Tyrol is of course closed to the public, but when Dynafit completes construction of their lightweight gear temple up on the Suldenspitze where they had the sales and press meeting I attended, you’ll be allowed to view certain historical prototypes so long as you dress in a lycra rando racing suit (AKA “sausage skin”) and carry a pack that weighs less than one kilogram. More on that later, including backcountry skiing trip reports from the Suldenspitze. Until then, Berg Heil!


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6 Responses to “WildSnow.com Goes Euro — More Barthel’s Workshop”

  1. Matus January 13th, 2007 6:47 am

    Lou, thanks for the report – I doubt that this historical and background info about Low tech/Dynafit would see the light without you being here in Europe to investigate and reveal it for the public.

    Though I use solely Dyanfit binding (ok, I had Diamir II for about 3 weeks), maybe also invention Silvretta or Diamir bindings have interesting background – do you think they would be eager to let you in to their labs?

  2. Lou January 13th, 2007 8:26 am

    Matus, the other bindings do have some interesting history, but nothing I’ve heard is so populist as the Dynafit origins. Also, the unique thing about what Dynafit made possible for me with the Barthels is that it’s so authentic — no sales hype here at the old farmhouse. Would be difficult to find this level of honesty and personality elsewhere, though I’d be happy to try.

  3. Andrew McLean January 13th, 2007 9:13 am

    Very cool Lou! Any insights on the Dynafit patent? I’ve heard it is expiring soon and wonder what will happen.

  4. Greg Louie January 13th, 2007 12:42 pm

    Thanks for the glimpse behind barn doors, Lou! Someday I hope to make the pilgrimage to Dynafit Mecca myself.

  5. Lou January 13th, 2007 1:00 pm

    Andrew, the first patent expired last year, but a series of new patents have been filed over past years that cover various changes, so it would be difficult to just make a third party commercial Dynafit binding that copied present bindings. For example, according to Fritz you could make the toe fittings for the boot, but the heel fitting is still covered by some patents.

  6. ullin February 9th, 2007 9:40 am

    Thanks for the report, Lou! Even here in Austria few people know about the history of the Low Tec binding and its inventors, so it’s great to have some insight.

    PS: In case you should need photos and information about weird old AT-bindings for your virtual museum please let me know. I’ve got some pairs of Tyrolias (80’s, the big, heavy red ones), Markers (80’s, still in use) and a pair of Vinersas (probably 70’s, made from solid steel) …

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