Outdoor Retailer Day 2 — The Duke, Scarpa and More From the Temple of Gear

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | January 27, 2007      

Today, dear readers, we journey deep into the temple of gear. First stop after the free chapstick was to get my hands on the Marker Duke touring/alpine binding (TA?). I remember conversations years ago when we’d wonder out loud why a binding maker couldn’t just mount an alpine binding on a touring plate and be done with it. Sure, such a setup is heavy, but a niche for it definitely exists. Skiers have tried to fill that niche with beefy AT bindings such as Fritschi Freeride. But making a binding light enough to tour longer distances yet still behave exactly like an alpine binding is a tough call. Hence a niche for the Duke, which ignores weight issues, ostensibly in favor of alpine binding durability and performance. We’ll get a test pair of these as soon as possible — even then, consumer testing is what will really tell the tale. So it’ll be a season or so before we know if the Duke can make the grade. Meanwhile, fun to fiddle with. SHOP FOR MARKER DUKE BINDING

Marker Duke backcountry skiing binding.
Duke in alpine mode. The heel is basic Marker stuff, toe is said to be same unit as used on a new model Marker regular alpine binding.

Marker Duke backcountry skiing binding.
Mode change lever moves a long beefy catch that slides through slots in a plate mounted on the ski. Movement of the catch has the feel of finely machined equipment. No snapping and popping, just smooth sliding action with no play.If this is a pre-production prototype (as said to be) it’s very advanced. Most parts appear to be aluminum.

Marker Duke backcountry skiing binding.
This is the plate the mode change sliders engage for lockdown. It’s long and quite strong looking. When the binding is latched down there is no discernible play. In alpine mode with a boot in it, you’d have a hard time telling the difference between this and a regular alpine binding. The latch and pivot add weight, but not much — when you pick it up it feels like a heavy alpine binding.

Marker Duke backcountry skiing binding.
Underside of plate that mates with plate on ski. There will no doubt be issues with this binding, but a solid binding/ski connection won’t be on the list.

Marker Duke backcountry skiing binding.

To go along with bindings such as Duke a new class of boots has come on the scene. They’re simply well made alpine boots with a cleated sole that’s interchangeable with a more alpine-like sole — and no cuff release for walking. This is of course the boot many North American lift access backcountry skiers have wanted for a long time, but why not include a walk mode and adjustable angle cuff latch? Sure, in a boot this stiff any sort of walk mode is going to be minimal — but a bit is better than nothing.

Garmont’s boot in this category is the Shamen pictured above. It’s not only as beefy and stiff as some alpine race boots, but features a “pre punched” shell that’s more anatomically molded than any other boot I know of. This yields amazing off-the-shelf comfort for those with average feet. Scarpa’s entry in this category is called the Hurricane and it’s equally impressive, if not scary for tour oriented backcountry skier such as myself. Let’s just say if you’re a cliff hucking 20 something that’s gaining much of your vertical by tram or sled, make a beeline to these boots. Otherwise you might want to consider the fact that modern skis allow enjoyable turning with less boot, not more.

Scarpa F1 backcountry skiing boot.
Speaking of Scarpa, I spent an hour getting dialed on their lineup for 07/08 and was impressed by an overall trend to small improvements on their already terrific boots, as well as several new models. For starters, the venerable F1 gets a closure mechanism that still works with one throw of a lever (in photo above), but when in the open position the lever now stays tucked close to the boot instead of sticking out like some kind of mutant appendage. More, said lever has a cool micro adjustment for the catch that snaps you into alpine mode. Before, to make this action easier you had to grind out the slot in the boot. Doing so was non-reversible. Now, just turn a small setscrew (shown with arrow) to adjust how hard or easy it is to snap or unsnap the lever. On top of all that, the lever has a cable loop that’s super easy to yank for a quick change to touring mode from alpine.

In other models, Scarpa is now making a boot called the F3, which is basically a lightweight tour oriented boot with a bellows like the F1. And in heavier boots, they’re now making the Spirit in a 4-buckle model called Spirit 4. This appeared to me as more a nod to style than being much different than the Spirit 3 in terms of performance, as the buckle mounting system of the Spirit 3 easily takes the place of a fourth buckle. For many of you dear blog readers the big news at Scarpa is of course the Terminator X boot, which works as a telemark shoe as well as AT footwear. This Darwinian event is made possible by the NTN binding not requiring the archaic duckbill toe for tele, so the boot can have a DIN standard toe (as well as the “second heel” the NTN needs to work.) The boot will also be sold with Dynafit fittings. As for evolution, some may contend that making a boot for both AT and tele is actually devolution. Scientists are still arguing about that, as are televangelist fundamentalists who you find here in the temple. In my case, I just want to fiddle with the things and see what they can do.

Whew, what else from Scarpa? Women’s versions of Spirit 4 and Spirit 3 look quite nice and have lower cuff height to work with the common woman’s lower leg shape. And lastly, the company is now working with thermo-liner maker Intuition, and now includes an improved thermo liner in all their top boots. Advantages of this liner include enhanced durability, ability for several dozen moldings with little to no loss of volume, slightly lighter weight, traction sole, dual density foam and more. I can’t wait to get my hands on these liners and to retrofit some of my boots. Yes, the Intuition liner will be available separate so you can upgrade any boot. Stick some in your old Lasers for the ultimate retrofit! In all, Scarpa is a good example of what I’m seeing across the board in the backcountry ski industry at Outdoor Retailer: Incredibly functional products that receive frequent and excellent improvements. This is a terrific time for our sport. Enjoy.


12 Responses to “Outdoor Retailer Day 2 — The Duke, Scarpa and More From the Temple of Gear”

  1. ziff January 27th, 2007 11:41 pm

    Hey Lou,

    Up here in Vancouver, we have been lucky to have had Intuition liners for quite a few years. They are quite remarkable and very, very warm. I think you will like them.

    Enjoying your blogs,

  2. Lou January 28th, 2007 8:26 am

    Ziff, don’t get the idea we’ve never seen the things, what’s new is that Scarpa is working with them in their boots and also providing a reliable aftermarket source.

  3. Mark January 28th, 2007 1:52 pm

    Man, thoe Shaman boots look like Lange World Cup racers or something! I toured a few times on a Nordica boot one step shy of a race boot, the miles were definitely Frankenstride-funny. The new AT boots are a huge improvement, assuming you want to hike further than the first nearby ridge.

  4. Kevin January 29th, 2007 4:09 pm

    Hey, does Garmont have anything new with dynafit fittings? I am still hoping for something like the adrenalin with dynafit compatability. Barring anything beefier than the Megaride, have they at least changed the color scheme on the Megaride? I was hoping to see Garmont’s line-up on your website today, but instead you featured dog slippers. I guess I need more patience. Thanks for the great website.

  5. Randy Cordray January 30th, 2007 1:51 pm

    “I remember conversations years ago when we’d wonder out loud why a binding maker couldn’t just mount an alpine binding on a touring plate and be done with it.”

    Lou: Wasn’t this pretty much the concept of the Petzl Ski’Alp or 8008 available in the mid-eighties?
    These bindings were comprised of a standard Solomon Alpine toe and Look heel mounted on a sliding, pivoting plate. They worked very well mounted to my old Chouinard Tua Excaliburs. It was my first and only AT setup for years and never failed me. Reliable release and pretty darn burly!

  6. colin February 5th, 2007 2:24 pm

    hey Lou,
    hope all is well. no snow here but fun skiing.
    i have the spirit 3 and 4 and still trying to figure them out using different tongues with my comformable heat molded neoprene liners with tongue (which i swear are the stiffest, most comfortable and warmest liners on the market). the tornado tongue is impossible to tour in and the hinged tongue is a bit soft; so i use the denali tongue. i actually think the spirit 3 skis better than the 4 which seems to have a less progressive flex with a bit of a “delay” in in.
    another wierd thing with these boots is they are difficult to get “dialed” for touring; always to loose or too stiff and needs a lot of bending over and tweaking to get just right. buckles are also hard to clean clogged snow out of (i miss the old simple denali type buckles!)
    having said all that, i love the new concept and my fore foot is totally snug without being tight which gives much more precise edging feel. i think if Scarpa continues to tweak these models they are onto to something.
    here is a comment on Duke i posted on Davidoff’s site:
    I recently saw a pair up close and was not impressed at all. super heavy and look like they would completely ice up in most conditions…and the toe piece was a bit funky, similar to the naxo and silvrettas that barely hold in toe of boot…crappy heel riser that looks like it would last even less then the old emery ones; also on Duke no ski crampon?
    sadly the Fritschi is still the most solid on the market, despite a dismal track record of repeated massive failures impossible to repair in the “field� due to material fatique and poor engineering.
    I still trust my Dynafits more than any other binding for steep ski touring.

  7. Oscar March 20th, 2007 3:18 am


    Any news (or pictures) of the F1 Race 07/08? The F1 07/08 is already available in stores here in Europe but I haven’t heard any news about the Race.

  8. Zo April 17th, 2007 10:51 am

    I skied The Duke on a pair of Volkl Mantra’s during the retailers on-snow demo and came away very impressed. It’s perfect for fat skis and bomber in stability. This is the perfect binding for the skier who wants to ski the backcountry out of the resort boundaries to find powder stashes etc. It’s also the perfect binding to replace using one’s Alpine Trekkers. I am sure many touring purist will dismiss this binding and find many faults with it, but this binding is NOT for YOU. This binding will serve many skiers in Europe and in North America who venture out an hour or less from the resort ropes at places like Alta/Snowbird, Jackson Hole and Whistler.

  9. Lou April 17th, 2007 11:08 am

    Zo, I’m a fan of bindings such as Duke. It’s an important niche that today’s technology should have no problem filling. Can’t believe it took this long… They look to me like they’ll work fine, but proof will be consumer testing.

  10. Mike October 11th, 2007 12:59 pm

    Don’t laugh… For the budget conscious skier, what do think of the very old school FT-88s?

  11. Darren January 27th, 2008 9:29 pm

    Not without some apprehension I bought a pair of the Dukes two weeks ago and mounted them to a pair of Seth’s for my every day skis (I have a separate light touring rig.) After four tours (longest 11 miles with 4,800 ft ascent) I’m reasonably happy with them. They climb smoothly and the heel riser is simple and effective, it didn’t collapse once during a climb (which has been my fear.) And the performance in Alpine mode is simply awesome as one would expect.

    There are two glaring issues:
    1) ice build-up on the plate. I wrestled with one ski for several minutes on a very cold, windy peak before finally managing to lock the sliders into the plate for the descent.

    2) The lack of an elegant ski crampon solution. Any suggestions here?

  12. Lou January 28th, 2008 8:14 am

    Darren, try mounting a crampon fitting in front of the binding, aftermarket available from B&D http://www.bndskigear.com/

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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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