A gear analisis but as well on how to apply it according to our terrain and ski modalities.
When the first snow falls take place, when we witness the first touring excursions of the season in instagram, when you get home the catalogue from the main shops and the first flash sales and black friday approaches, then you know it’s time to get excited with our winter gear and fix some proper ambitious objectives for it on the mountains.
This season, we should be very excited with our gear options. Over the last years, the average market proposal has been introducing sutiles but significant improvements. However, this season, finally they start to become strongly noticeable. Planks, boots and bindings, are becoming on the one hand lighter, but as well safer, stiffer, more agile and reliable. As a result we are able to ski higher, further, with better gliding and ski stronger both in the freeride and ski alpinism terrain.
By now you are probably thinking, “yeah, that’s cool, but same old story”, however this year we can be especially fascinated with tech bindings. In february 2017 I wrote an article that worked remarkably well about reinforced tech bindings for free touring.
It’s time for an update. This year there are two relevant new advancements with game changing potential in freeride ski touring and powerful ski alpinism.
The first big hit is the hyped Salomon and Atomic Shift, with the motto of been the first technical binding on the uphill while been 100% a freeride binding on the downhill, both on the toe and heel part. The second important launching, that I may even consider more interesting, it’s actually a whole new category of bindings that is getting consolidated; I call them ultralight reinforced bindings. Most of them weight around 350g and score a DIN 12 and even up to 14. The freeride reinforced tech bindings that we reviewed on the last article have a ranging weight from slightly under 600g for most of them, such as the Dynafit Radical 2, the G3 Ion 12 or the Diamir Vipec 12, to almost 800g for the Marker Kingpin 13. That is definetly a proper advancement.
Salomon – Atomic SHIFT
We are opening now this article with the new Salomon/Atomic Shift. DIN between 6 and 13 and 850g per binding. For those of you that may be confused, Salomon and Atomic belong to the same business group. Even though they may market their products under two different brands, quite often, the R&D as well as the manufacturing is shared. In this case the binding is exactly the same for both brands, and your criteria for which one to chosen should be pretty much if you prefer the Salomon or the Atomic colour, or simply which one your trustful retailer has decided to put on the shelf.
Ok, It’s time for checking what this buzz is all about. In this first video, Atomic explains on a pretty straight forward way its technology and functionalities, both in the uphill as in the downhill.
Salomon on the other hand, has opted for a more Rock n roll video showing us what this beast can do when unleashed. By the way, The Shift has multinorm compatibility (MNC) and is fully TUV certified, both on the heel and toe part, making it the only tech binding that has such double certification.
The video does the talk. A pure downhill bomb. The maximum DIN is 13 and the releasing works both on the toe and heel part. even more important, it offers 47mm of lateral elasticity before releasing. The Salomon Shift is not the first tech binding that offers a certain lateral elasticity but for sure it’s the first 100% freeride binding on the downhill, not only regarding safety and release, but as well in drive. The ability of transmitting strength, drive and receive feedback from a full front and back binding is just completely superior to have four tiny points of contact.
Salomon sells it as the holy grail or the “holy shift”. It is not doubt the next level when it comes to powerful skiing on the backcountry, but at the same time, we should not get fully blinded. There are some drawbacks that we should consider, especially in certain terrains and conditions.
The weight. The binding weights 850g and it only really makes sense on a proper freeride setting. It will most likely team up with skis above 1,8kg and boots of at least 1500g. Adding the skins to the equation, we will probably be above four kilos and a half per feet.
It is not a drama to ski with that weight in our feet, especially if you are an experienced skier with a solid touring technique and physical condition. Moreover, with the TLT inserts you are basically sliding most of the weight and not fully lifting it. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while or just followed my instagram @onthebelay, you’ve probably seen me and my buddies quite often with similar weighted setups on big days in the mountains.
When I state that it’s not a drama to tour with close to four and a half kilos under your feet, it is sort of true, but depending on which terrain and conditions. When you are on the typical short freeride sector in the forest, as it can be the case in the Salomon video, where you normally follow a not too long neither complicated way up and where you have the whole day for taking laps, then it’s not a drama. Moreover, if temperatures are constantly around the -15ºC range and there are not any other hazardous meteorologic episodes for the snow layer, such as strong winds, then there won’t be any drama for the uphills and we have all the time in the world for finding our rhythm, take some breaks and do as much laps as daylight can hold.
What may sound as the typical canadian breakfast, as they state on the video, it’s not always the conditions that you find at your local mountains. That is not quite often the case on the Spanish mountains, several places in the Alps and actually many transited mountain areas worldwide.
In most mountains, it’s not unusual to find great freeride terrain with mellow access and proper powder conditions. If you know where to seek it, you end up finding it. At the same time, in many mountains, just as in most valleys of the Pyrenees and several areas in the Alps, such conditions tend to not prolong over a long term. In such places, you better be there the day of the storm, but mind the effect of the wind!, or the day after, you will wake up to perfect and stable conditions with twelve degrees below zero for then suddenly changing to positive five by midday for then witnessing full mountain sides peeling off from the ground on the south faces and big slab cuts in pretty much any other facing. Those are not exactly the ideal conditions for taking the day easy and probably you will find actually a certain advantage in been quick, agile and efficient.
In such mountains, quite often ski touring happens in the high mountains and quite often goes through complex terrain with a certain exposure on the uphills, even in classic and very repeated runs. In the Pyrenees and certain valleys of the Alps, you can tell that our winters are not fully continental weather, every now and then you can feel strong the warm action from the mediterranean. Even in winter, constant heavy snowcovers do not go as far down on the forest and valleys as it can be in other full continental weathers, hence we tend to seek conditions in high mountain terrain. Even in the high mountains, temperatures can rise significantly and sometimes unexpectedly by midday. That’s quite often the case in spring, making the mountain dangerous after those times due to fusion avalanches
Due to this need of having to play in the high mountain, it’s rare to find excursions with straight forward uphills without many quick turns and without steep ramps over complex and exposed terrain where you better be accurate in those kick turns and with your crampon game. Coming back to the optimal gear combination to build your Shift into, it will most likely be in some planks that are around 8cm taller than you. With those pikes and quite some weight you will definitely be more exposed on delicate kick turns and moving on exposed terrain while bootpacking, especially under the strength of the wind.
Don’t get me wrong, I am very excited for this binding, it does solve a lot of problems and I would strongly recommend it, but we should be conscious that it may have compromises depending in which terrain and conditions we play. Again, sometimes been fast, light and agile on complex terrain and conditions can be a key for our safety maybe even bigger that how much strength or release our binding may have.
Well of course, if you have been in this game for a while and you are planning on having several quivers, then you can split easily those compromises between different setups and have skis for different days. If that’s the case, then this is the “holy shift” for those king days.
Well, this is already enough information to digest for this week. Next week we will dive into the ultralight reinforced bindings. As a highlight, I’d like to point that in this category there are at least five strong interesting models. Most of them weight around 350g, put in other words, that’s half of a Shift binding and around 40% of the old reinforced tech bindings for freeride commented on the last article. Moreover, most of those models have a DIN 12 and even 14.We will as well be surprised by some clever features that we most likely haven’t had a thought about.
This binding will change the way we ski in the mountains.