A gear analisis but as well on how to apply it according to our terrain and ski modalities.
Last week we dove in the topic of reinforced tech bindings for freeride. As you can remember, this year all the meat is in the grill. On the one side, we have the ultra protagonist Salomon Shift, at the core of last week’s article, as been the first legit proposal of a tech binding for the uphill while remaining a full freeride binding on the downhill, both on the toe and heel parts. Impressive. The second great success of the season, at the core of this article is the consolidation and mastering of ultralight reinforced tech bindings.
The reinforced tech bindings for freeride highlighted in the last article of 2017 were weighting from slightly under 600g as the Dynafit Radical 2, the G3 Ion 12 or the Diamir Vipec 12 up to almost 800g for the claimed Marker Kingpin 13.
Most of the ultralight reinforced tech bindings that we will study today weight around 350g with brakes; that’s almost half of the Salomon Shift and around 40% less than the old reinforced tech bindings for freeride. Moreover, most of those new models come with a DIN 12 and even up to 14. Want to know more?
Let’s get started!
Dynafit TLT Superlite 2.0 and Dynafit TLT Speed.
Let’s start looking at the proposals by Dynafit.
Dynafit launched to the market a few years ago the proposal that has helped the most to develop the category of ultralight reinforced tech bindings: the TLT Superlite 2.0. Mounted with brake and on the additional adjustment plate that allows 2cm of adjusting, it weights totally 300g with a maximum DIN 12.
DIN 12 and 300g is something that got us seriously excited, especially for ski alpinism. The binding is effective, but uncomfortable. It is not easy to lock and unlock the breaks while transitioning from the walking mode to the ski mode. I don’t like either that on walk mode you are not allowed to walk flat because you have to be stepping on the back of the heel box. To me it is too high as to progress ergonomic on valleys and low steepness terrain, as it’s quite often the case on the approach. Finally, the toe part is far from giving the trust of the old TLT radical 2, now updated to the TLT Rotation 12.
This year, that first concept have been redesigned and we are witnessing the launch of the Dynafit TLT Speed.
The maximum DIN remains 12. With the breaks, it weights 349g and offers 1cm of adjusting to the boot. For those that only look after the weight, perhaps you won’t notice any improvement; however it does have significant achieved gains in operability while offering improved support and drive on the downhill. When we commit to our downhill, we do not only want to know that the maximum DIN is 12 while blindly trust the binding without getting a solid feedback. We want to feel solid pressure points connecting our strength through the boot to the planks and we want to feel that connection reliable. Definitely the Dynafit TLT Speed overperforms the TLT Superlite in that business.
Just as with the Dynafit TLT Superlite, you still cannot step on flat on the walk mode and you have to be on top of the back end of the heel part; however it is much more simple and drama free to transition to walk mode. Moreover, it seems as well that they have put big effort in optimizing the materials for saving some grams and preventing frost on the mechanism. Probably there are some results in that direction, however when it comes to new materials, specially on the ultralight spectrum, it is better to have them tested for at least a long season before concluding. Just remember the case of the Marker Kingpin: the front pins were mounted around a metal that proved to be too soft and progressively worn out until the front pins could end up falling.
As you remember, that happened to my friend Jan-Eric, pretty much in the middle of nowhere in Norway this Spring, and this is how he fixed it. Dam, I have some resourceful ski partners.
DIN up to 12 for 335g with brakes. 1,5cm of adjusting on the heel box. The Marker Alpinist is no doubt one of the best crafted tech bindings of this season. As its name points out, it is designed with ski alpinism in mind. On complex terrain where you better mind your steps, you better be fast and smooth and where you want to have the option of a fast retreat, this binding has an extremely relevant mode. on the one hand, you can normally rotate the heelbox 180º for fixing the hike mode choosing to step flat or in the lever. Option number two will be, with the binding on ski mode, you can just cover the pins with the lever. In that case you can have access to a hiking mode where you are constantly stepping on the lever, but in case you want a fast retreat or a fast transition, you can just tilt backwards the lever and turn into ski mode. No need of taking the ski away, complex binding rotations or other time consuming tasks; well, except taking your skins away, of course. In couloirs with variable conditions, days with rising temperatures or with a storm approaching, this can be a really big marginal plus on your safety.
The materials have been chosen and optimized for their light weight and for preventing frost, but one more time, this is something that should be tested in the long term.
For been such a lightweight binding in theory optimized for ski alpinism, we still have a DIN 12 and strong support and transmission points, especially on the version with brake. When the heel box is locked in downhill mode, it offers an achieved side flexibility before the release in case of fall or over flexing of the plank. Taking that into account, I would not only limit this binding to the ski alpinism terrain, but I would gladly built it in a planks around 100m with some solid core.
Salomon t mtn / Atomic Backland Tour.
Just as in the case of the Shift, this model is as well sold under both brands, Atomic and Salomon. The version with brake weights 390g and allows 3cm of adjustment in the heel. Regarding the DIN, the system is slightly different: instead of regulating with a spring the maximum load before release, we must change the whole U piece. It has three variations, one for men, woman and expert, probably with release values close to 7, 9 and 12. It is a comfortable model. It has a guide in the toe box for making more intuitive to fix the boot with the pins. Moreover the locking of the brake and the transition of the modes is solidly achieved. Just as on the Marker Alpinist, you can hike without rotating the heel box covering the pins with the mid lever. We can as well rotate 90º the heel box for been able to step in flat or using the two levers.
To be truth, I get a bit sad when I see that Salomon and Atomic are purposely leaving behind this model for boosting to the maximum the awareness and sales of their Shift model, even though they target different purposes and that this binding has some clever details. One last important detail; even though it’s on the same weight category that the other bindings described in this article, it is true that this one is slightly heavier.
ATK Freeraider 2.0
Several of the previously described bindings come into different DIN ranges, however I’ve only mentioned the highest DIN value, as most of them have the same weight for the two variations. When it comes to the ATK Freeraider, I will instead mention both existing variations:
The DIN 14 version, surprises for having even a higher DIN value that the Salomon Shift, but with it’s 395g, has the same weight than the Salomon T MTN.
The other version, with DIN 12, probably will be more than enough for most of us, and with it’s 350g has the same weigh than the Dynafit TLT Speed and slightly more than the Marker Alpinist.
One of the first things that catches our attention is that ATK sets their brakes on the toe piece of the binding. This has a purpose. In most ski touring bindings, for skinning uphill, you must lock the brakes in a way that they would not be activated by any chance even in case of the ski coming out on the uphill. However the brake system of ATK will always release the brakes if the ski goes out of the boot, both in the uphill and downhill. This may seem a bit weird at first, as when you are going up, you should lock the front lever and the skis should not be able to get loose by any means; however, if you’ve been in this game for a while, you’ve probably seen or had this experience before, ending up with your ski on the bottom of the valley or under a cliff. Moreover, this tends to always happen in the worst places, normally on steep slopes with icy snow making quite a nightmarish scenario.
The ATK Freeraider 14 is especially designed with freeride in mind. The base of the binding is wide and stable for spreading the strength balanced on planks with an underfoot width of 100, 112 and even more. It does as well the job on narrower planks.
To have the break on the heel box also has advantages. On ski mode, the boot will be pressing against the brake pad allowing us more contact and pressure area for improving the drive and transmission of strength. ATK has shortened that problem by setting a wide bar front of the heel box, especially designed for exercing the strenght through the boot to the whole width of the ski. This also mean that the ATK Freeraider keeps a clean and functional heel box where you don’t need to pinch the brakes. You can fix the walk mode both rotating the heel part or without rotating it and covering the pins with the levers. In total we can reach five different hiking heights, however we will most likely rather choose to not rotate the heel piece and use the mid and high lever, or instead we will do the rotation and choose between hiking flat or using the two levers. The heel part on ski mode has an achieved sideways elasticity before releasing for been a tech binding. However it does not have the TÜV certificate, as almost every pin binding in the market.
This binding, in my opinion represents the title of the article: Ultralight reinforced tech binding for freeride. That does not mean that it is my favorite or that I would choose it over the other in all conditions. That’s far from the reality, and as you can see, all of the bindings reviewed in this article have very solid relative advantages, to the point that on a simple terrain analysis the differences are marginal. The truth is that in the ultralight world, the relative strengths and weaknesses tend to be consolidated after around hundred days of use, so I definitely would need to roll longer on them or see them rolled by my trustful riders to make further judgements.
From this article it’s easy to conclude that we are escalating in performance while shaving grams. This can be extrapolated as well to boots and planks. As a matter of facts, we are not talking anymore about a few grams here and then; in aggregate, we are easily saving over a kilo per setup from just a few years back to now. This year I’m thinking on renewing my ski alpinism slash slightly skier-ish setup, so I’m considering some of the bindings of this article mounted in a planks around 100mm underfoot and with some solid core. It won’t be the lightest setup ever, but 1,9kg for planks with bindings and with suck performances, to me feels like christmas and birthday together. Just around five years ago, for a plank of that volume and performance mounted in a similar strength and drive binding, we would be pretty much talking of a freeride ski touring gear, with close to two kilos more per setup. This is definitely some serious progress.
Over these reviews, I have slightly missed some manufacturer trying to figure some improvement with the front part of the binding. Perhaps something on the way of the rotating plate of the Dynafit Rotation 2, for improving safety, release and get that little extra of drive. I bet that with the launch of the Shift, there is more pressure than ever on developing better toe parts. That should be some exciting news towards this ISPO or perhaps in two years. Let’s see where this takes us.
For now on, hopefully we can go out and enjoy the first snows of the season!