For more, check out Marker’s Kingpin website.
Synopsis: I’m impressed. After about three years of secret development, Marker releases a “pintech” modified tech binding with alpine-like elasticity and step-in comfort. The Kingpin binding toe unit is somewhat similar to other tech bindings, but boasts three pairs of springs (the Six Pack!) that are said to offer better “energy absorption.”
Heel unit is the big change, Kingpin operates without the “pins” all other tech bindings on the current market insert in your boot heel for alpine (downhill) mode. Instead, the heel operates as a virtual combination of alpine binding toes and heels. In terms of how it clamps your boot to the ski, it’s an over-center pivot lever that snaps down on your boot heel when you step in — pretty much identical to most alpine bindings. In terms of lateral release, the heel opens to the side, similar to alpine toe jaws (with a “second stage” lateral release happening as the toe wings open, as with most tech bindings).
Fancy doodads such as roller bearings on the heel cup and a beefy AFD on the brake actuator pad are intended to reduce the friction problems created by rubber soled or dirty boots — as well as providing a general reduction in friction overall. A large vertical release spring that’s reminiscent of the Marker Tour F10 and F12 models provides that ever desirable and somewhat rare vertical elasticity and travel in a tech binding. In this case a claimed 16 mm of vertical travel, which is several times the vertical heel release travel of most tech bindings.
Claim by Marker is that Kingpin is the quiver of one and will function equally as well on/off the resort, in aggressive skiing or mellow touring. Word is that you do NOT have to lock the toe for fear of accidental release during aggressive skiing (sometimes a concern with many other tech binding offerings). A viable width selection of ski crampons and brakes rounds out this tour-de-force.
Real life advantages? While the Kingpin weighs a bit more than what could be considered equivalent competitors, it does appear to offer the retention and shock absorption of a full-on alpine binding, as well as offering easy operation. Overall, it is very “put together” in appearance and during my on-snow testing performed well. Importantly, or not (depending on your views) it has TUV certification to the appropriate DIN/ISO standards — the first tech binding to achieve this as far as I know and proved by the certificate in images below (dated July 17, 2014).
I’m writing this post while still in Chile at the Marker Kingpin binding introduction event. While I suppose they could be squirting some kind of brainwashing gas into the air ducts here at Rocanegra Mountain Lodge, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, I’ve been on-snow with the Kingpin for several days of real ski touring that included excellent testing such as skiing icy snow as well as walking in areas that required many cycles of clipping and removing bindings. Overall, the Kingpin worked.
Sure, I’d perhaps choose something lighter for core touring in my home range, but this really does appear to be a binding you could travel the world with and use for everything from a day of blasting the pists of Sun Valley to slogging the passes of the Silvretta Traverse. (Kingpin only weighs a ‘chocolate bar’ more than competitor equivalent in a ‘tech freeride binding,’ yet is quite a bit heavier at 650 grams (no brake) than super-light options — which of course leads me to suspect Marker probably has some sort of superlight version in the works.)
Consumer use will of course tell the tale. To that end Marker will do a limited retail release of Kingpin beginning early this winter. Full retail will begin for winter of 2015/2016. Please see below for details and images, and while we did ski on the binding quite a bit down here in the land where North is South, please don’t consider this a full review or endorsement. It’s just a thorough first-look at what appears to be something very interesting and cool for the sport of alpine ski touring, or if you like different nomenclature, freeride touring.
Crampon widths: 90, 105, 120
Brakes retract nicely so they do a good job of covering a range of widths: 75/100 and 100/125
DIN (nice to be able to call it that): One model goes from 5 to 10, model with black toe springs adjusts from 6 to 13 — and yes Virginia the black toe springs are slightly stronger and everyone will of course want them.
Rolling deflection (cuff of boot moving to left and right): I did a comparative test using other ‘freeride’ tech bindings, and kingpin clearly has less deflection. Of course it’s an open question as to whether you want to be welded to your skis like some guy with a buzz stick had glued a steel shoe to your topskin. On the other hand, all too many touring bindings have been way too sloppy, so a tighter connection is a better trend.
Screw pattern: 38 mm width.
Adjustment tools: Pozi 3 does everything.
Boot length range: 25 mm (demo version available with super wide range as well as adjustable toe position. Looks really good.)
Weight with brake and screws: 730 grams, 25.75 ounces
(Reference, Dynafit Radical FT is 566 grams, 20 oz, though this is not an apples to apples comparo. Dynafit Beast might be a better comparo, but we don’t have retail production weight for the 2014/15 Beast models.)
Kingpin weight without brake: 650 grams
Who better to make the aluminum parts than a climbing gear company? After all, skiing dangerous terrain and depending on small tabs of aluminum for your life is no different than hanging from carabiner. To that end, all the gold anodized parts are hot forged by DMM of Wales. It’s said they’ve been making the best metal in the world since the Bronze Age.
The small tabs of the “step in guides” are indeed similar to a competitor binding, but they’re metal instead of plastic as well as being tiny. While they come pre-adjusted (and during our testing worked fine for most boots) they can be user adjusted to compensate for boot wear and such. Removal would entail grinding or otherwise cutting them off, as the back part is integrated with the springs. They do not retract when you click, as competitor does. I experimented with a boot and the tabs don’t block release function, which I found surprising.
The elephant in the room for new touring binding releases is always durability. Sadly. While the only true test of binding strength is to get it out into the retail wild, I should note that in our three days of touring here in Chile with about 20 people (60 user days) I didn’t see any problems. Marker guys have been here with several other groups, for a total user day count of over 300 days, and say that did not have one durability problem during that time.
Oh, and you asked what was it actually like to ski and walk on the Kingpin? Touring felt like most any tech binding. A little heavier than I’m used to and the toe of my non-standard TLT-6 boot bumps into the front lever a little earlier in the stride than some other brands and models. The binding was quiet and the heel lifters seemed solid. When skiing down I noticed how reactive my skis were due to the astoundingly solid connection between boot/binding/ski. I’m feeling it’s even stiffer laterally than a Duke. The marketing term for this sort of beef is “power,” and that might be valid for some of you, but in my own skiing I don’t feel the need for any more solid of a connection than I already get with the average tech binding. I do however want a binding with nearly no chance of pre-release when set to normal release values. In that, I’m optimistic Kingpin may deliver. This involves personal safety of all of us, and that’s huge. So whether your’e looking for power — or safety, Kingpin will be something for your attention.
For details from the source, check out Marker’s Kingpin website.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.