This 'How To...' page has been edited from Olly Allen's Off-Piste Binding Review 2015
Unlike skis, when you peel back what seems like a bewildering array of bindings you get two basic types. Pin type ski touring bindings (pin-tech), which tend to be simple strong and light but with minimal lateral toe release (though this is now becoming a more common feature) and the heavier 'frame' type like Diamir (eg: Eagle) and Marker (eg: F12) offerings which work on the principal of a traditional downhill binding with a pivoted rail.
I think what you have to decide on is whether you sit in the 'pin binding' camp or not. I have noticed that all manufacturers are scrabbling for a share in the pin binding market now that the Dynafit patents have expired. To reiterate - Dynafit type pin bindings are light strong and pretty simple. Most new freeride boots are now compatible so...
I think some folks are put off by the lack of a toe release system (most pin bindings release from the heel piece both laterally and vertically). In most situations in a normal fall this isn't an issue. They say: "in certain types of slow rotational fall pin bindings might not release at the heel". Statistically this is hard to quantify as there is no data at present comparing pin bindings, more traditional touring bindings and types of skier fall. From my years of experience in the business I have never seen any accidents attributed specifically to pin bindings. However, I have seen plenty of accidents on both types of bindings attributed to user error, poor technique, fatigue and just plain bad luck! Obviously this is anecdotal, but in reality if you're overlooking pin bindings because of this I think you're barking up the wrong tree! Okay, if you're a beginner snowploughing down red runs then, yes, Dynafit style bindings are inappropriate and you will likely hurt yourself. Most people who are buying touring or all-terrain bindings are not beginners but competent skiers, even if they aren't Jedis off-piste.
All touring and freeride bindings have their 'fiddle factor', not just pin bindings. The main thing to watch out for with a pin binding is ice in the toe lugs on your boots and ice under the plate that the toe piece wings depress into. This is easily remedied with a penknife to scrape ice out. Spraying these areas with silicon can help prevent ice and snow building up. As with skis it takes a few weeks to get used to any new binding, but once you have become a pin convert there will be no looking back.
Not really, a bit of research will reveal that some (definitely geeky and probably unscientific tests) have shown that the difference in flex between Marker and Dynafit bindings is minimal. All top end pin bindings now have a version with a high DIN setting (e.g. Dynafit Beast) to accommodate all you new school skiers who straight line at Mach 4. At the end of the day, by getting a pin binding you're saving a lot of weight on each ski and have a very strong, simple, efficient solution with very few moving parts to break.
Diamir still have the Scout, Eagle and Freeride Pro in their range. These bits of kit have been around for years, are very popular and most mountain huts carry spares for them. They keep changing the colours and adding bits of plastic between seasons but they have been essentially the same for a number of years. The Eagle is their top of the range touring binding and the Scout a cheaper alternative. The Freeride Pro is a heavier, more beefy version.
The Marker range hasn't changed much in the last few years either, apart from colours and tiny tweaks. These bindings have a more solid feel and less flex than the Diamir range but are noticeably heavier. The Duke is the beefiest in the range with the Baron following and then the lighter (Tour) F12 and (Tour) F10. Engaging them into walk mode and then back into ski mode can be frustrating as you have to take your boot out and the rails can get clogged with snow. NB: Information on the Marker Kingpin binding is later in the article.
Personally, I think the Diamir Freeride Pro, Marker Duke and Baron are too heavy for serious ski tourers, though they are good for those who want a freeride binding with some uphill capability. The Diamir Eagle and Scout and the Marker F10 and F12 aren't a bad compromise if you still want the flexibility of a downhill-orientated binding.
So, moving onto my favourite subject - pin bindings! Contrary to popular belief these have been around since the early 90′s. I still have an old pair of early 90′s fluoro coloured Dynafits in my shed. Over the past few years a number of companies have taken on the challenge of trying to re-invent the wheel i.e. improve on the Dynafit design. Some have got it right, others have missed the point entirely! The essence of a good pin binding is it's low weight, high strength simplicity.
The TLT range is really popular with tourers and after a few initial teething problems the original range seems to have settled down and is now a good solid tried and tested platform perfect for any keen backcountry ski tourer. The Dynafit TLT Radical ST 2.0 was released at the end of the 2014/15 season, this essentially has the TLT Radical heel piece and the rotating toe piece found on the Beast binding. Dynafit are citing the rotating 2.0 toe piece as the death of the frame touring binding (eg F10 / Eagle) as they think that the only advantage a frame binding had over a pin binding was the extra performance & security, which is now offered by their rotating toe piece. With the Beast binding Dynafit are trying to capture the freeride market as it has a sculptured insert on the toe and heel to allow greater stability of the boot/binding interface as well as a rotating toe piece. It works very well but does add quite a bit of weight; over 250g more than a standard ST binding. At the other end of the spectrum they have some of the best minimal race bindings on the market. If you want a practical yet weight conscious binding go for the TLT Speed Superlite, at 185g with fully adjustable DIN on the heel it's a winner.
Diamir entered the market in 2013 with the Vipec 12. After some initial teething problems they seemed to have settled down and currently are the only tried and tested pin binding on the market which has a fully adjustable traditional heel and toe release. As with the Radical ST 2.0 Diamir believe that the Vipec means the death of the frame touring binding as they think that the release feature of the front toe piece was the only advantage frame touring bindings had over pin bindings. There is a lot of plastic on them, but so far Facewest have not had any issues with durability (they've been for sale since winter 2013/14). You can also buy interchangeable coloured plastic pieces for them to match your outfit on the day! Woohoo!
After three years of hush-hush development, Marker have now entered the pin binding market with the Kingpin. I can only describe this as a hybrid binding; the front looks like any other pin-tech binding with a few extra springs. However the heel concept is a drastic departure and uses a more traditional non-pin type mounting. They have added a few extra release plates to allow rubber sole compatibility, also if you have low heeled touring boots you might need a bolt on boot adaptor to make the boot fit. It's a bit on the heavy side and sits between the Beast Freeride style binding and the Vipec & Radical ST2.0 in terms of weight. It looks ideal for anyone who would appreciate the ease of use and high build quality if they are only planning on shorter tours. I suspect this is the precursor to a lighter version to give Dynafit and Diamir a run for their money.
Hopefully this gives you an idea of the bindings which are available from us at Facewest. Of course if you have any questions or would like any further information on any of the bindings we stock then you can get in touch with us, details at the bottom of the page.