With the explosion of backcountry skiing in the last decade, we are seeing an explosion of alpine touring (AT) products. For decades, Dynafit had the tech binding market solidly cornered but in 2014 their patent on pin tech expired. And in 2018, there are far more choices than ever were before.
Folks unfamiliar with the market may have trouble deciding how to narrow their search. Do you want a frame-style binding? Maybe an ultra-light pin-binding looks more appealing? Or how about a burly, hybrid tech binding that’s alpine-inspired and promises the the ultimate in ‘downhill performance?’
It’s always nice to ask friends for advice, even if those friends will tell you their full rocker, buttery, twin tips absolutely rail on groomers. So instead of going down that road, let Unofficial steer you in the right direction by highlighting some of the benefits and drawbacks of each sub-category of touring binding.
Perhaps the simplest and most attractive option for a newcomer to backcountry skiing is the frame touring binding. This includes the Marker Duke, Baron, Tour 12, Tour 10, Salomon Guardian, Tyrolia Ambition, Fritschi Freeride Pro to name a few.
Pros: These bindings look like alpine bindings, ski like alpine bindings, and can be used with an alpine boot. Although we don’t recommend it, you can get away with a boot that does not have a walk mode. In addition, these bindings can be relatively wallet-friendly.
Cons: Frame bindings are heavy. Very heavy. They have a limited range of motion and they click every time you take a step up the hill. Switching between walk and ski mode can be tricky in certain snow conditions and some of them can ice up pretty bad. You don’t want to be on your hands and knees with your poles chipping ice off your bindings when it’s 0 out and blowing.
Best Use: These are best for folks brand-new to alpine touring who might want to go on a couple of backcountry missions a year. They are a low-risk investment for those who are unsure if they will fall in love with AT.
Unofficial Pick: Marker Duke
Mid-Weight Tech Bindings-
A practical and sensible binding that balances uphill and downhill performance, weight, and safety. This includes The Dynafit Radical ST 2.0, Radical FT 2.0, Fritschi Vipec Evo, G3 Ion, and more.
Pros: These bindings are strong and secure enough for the masses. They are on the lighter side, have reliable release systems and built-in elasticity. Bindings like the Radical FT 2.0 boast a release value of 12 which is strong enough for the majority of us.
Cons: If you only have one pair of skis, and plan on skiing some resort, these may not be the best choice. Performance on hard snow and groomers is lacking. True hard chargers or senders may need something burlier. (Note: Require tech fittings on boot.)
Best Use: These binders are best for the skier who wants a dedicated backcountry setup. They offer solid downhill performance at a reasonable weight and make a lot of sense for a lot of people. These bindings are way less-than-awesome on groomers, bumps, and harder snow.
Unofficial Pick: Dynafit Radical FT 2.0
Burly Tech Bindings-
These Hard charging, heavier tech bindings blend pin-style uphill performance with some alpine-inspired features. They includes the Marker Kingpin, Fritschi Tecton, Salomon Shift, Dynafit Beast (*discontinued).
Pros: Tech climbing abilities with excellent downhill performance. Alpine inspired components like the Marker Kingpin heel-piece provide a very secure and confident feel. These are the best pin bindings if you want to ski at the resort.
Cons: Heavier than the mid-weight options. Some of the features can be a little complicated. Require tech-fittings on your boot.
Best Use: These bindings are best for the skier who wants to maximize downhill performance on a tech style binding. These can handle many situations at the resort and could be a nice choice on a one-ski quiver
Unofficial Pick: Marker Kingpin
Lightweight Tech Bindings
These bindings emphasize uphill performance above all. They are popular with the mountaineering and ski-mo crowd. Popular bindings are Dynafit TLT Superlight or TLT Expedition
Pros: Very fast on the ascent due to a low weight. Maximum efficiency.
Cons: Does not place an emphasis on downhill performance. In addition, they typically don’t have brakes.
Best Use: True mountaineering and ski-mo races. These bindings are for those who emphasize speed and exploration above all.
Unofficial Pick: Dynafit TLT Speedfit 10
Well there you have it. That is just a brief run-down, but hopefully it helps narrow your search. The best advice we can give is to be honest about your goals and what you want to get out of your gear. It can be difficult, but try not to get too distracted by the shiny magazine ads.