When I mentioned to my Italian friend Paolo how G3 had been keeping their binding secret, and were releasing the new grabber via a global conference call, he said “what do they think this is, a new Ferrari or something? It’s just a ski binding.” Italians, you know, they always have a way with words…We’ll, the new Onyx backcountry skiing AT binding is not equivalent in s*x appeal to a new Italian sports car (at least not to me). But it could be close.
While we don’t have the new Onyx in our hands yet, I spoke at length with G3 engineer Cam Shute, who’s been in on development of this exciting new grabber from its inception. Cam walked me through their amazingly complete website as well as exchanging a bunch of emails. Below are my first impressions. What do you WildSnowers think? Comments welcome.
– Yes, Onyx is Dynafit compatible (meaning it works with boots that have Dynafit toe and heel sockets, now known by competitors as “Tech” fittings.) Here at WildSnow we’re incredibly excited about this as competition can only bring great things for consumers and the sport as a whole.
– Please know that when a company puts as much money love and sweat as G3 has into doing an entirely new product, there is no reason for me to try and be a curmudgeon. So if this appears a bit fluffy I’m just trying to play nice ’till we really test these things. Even so, unlike magazines that award relatively untested products their “Editor’s Choice” and whatnot, we’ll refrain from considering gold labels ’till months from now.
– I want to compliment G3 on utilizing the web in doing a beautiful job of “information marketing” for a product launch. Instead of “here is some champagne and a slice of smoked salmon, if you want beefy information call later and I might know the answer,” we have what has to be one of the most thorough explications of a new ski binding in the history of the sport. Heck, with this as a resource we might even end up with a WildSnow FAQ that’s shorter than a novel! And, I won’t have to make a video as I did for the Duke launch (though I might anyway)!
– An issue in product development of any sort is the balance of marketing/design vs raw engineering. At first and second glance, it appears this effort is at the least done in full partnership with the development engineering team (who are all committed and active backcountry skiers). More, it appears the project was perhaps even driven by the engineering team. For example, who tells the story on the website? The development team engineers. And who walked me through the launch website? Yep, one of the engineers. Even so, a bit of marketing BS crept in. For fun, I’ll let you readers pick it out.
– Yes, Onyx switches modes on the fly — rather than having to exit the binding to easily change from downhill to tour mode and back (though we’re wondering if this will be the case once the brakes are installed.)
– MSRP $399.95 USD without brakes.
– Weight is somewhat disappointing, with Onyx specified at 1430g / 50oz (with screws) compared to Dynafit ST at 908g / 32oz. BUT, important thing about weight of Onyx is more mass not only allows features such as the attachment plate and toe indexing system — but allows for beefed parts such as the internal heel post. What’s more, G3 tells me that this is only a start and hints that other lighter offerings could be in the pipeline.
– Claimed “anti icing” feature at toe that eliminates problem of toe jaws not closing due to ice underneath. Not clear on how this works, but if it does then G3 has eliminated a niggling problem that frustrates less attentive Dynafit users.
– Binding adjusts for a 33mm range of boot lengths. Not much different than Dynafit FT/ST range of 26 mm, but Onyx includes for-aft positioning to maintain optimum boot position on ski. This feature is sure to be handy for a variety of applications, from using your own variety of boots, to shop rental and demo programs, to experimenting and finding out for yourself where the sweet spot is on your skis.
– It appears the toe unit positions the boot while stepping in, eliminating the sometimes difficult process of lining up your boot with Dynafit bindings. On the other hand, it also appears you have to hold the toe unit open with your ski pole, which could be awkward in tricky situations (but does eliminate the persistent and annoying problem of Dynafit bindings not closing properly due to improper positioning or thickness of the “trigger zone” on the boot sole.)
– Binding is attached to ski with a plate system. This not only allows adjustment for/aft but will allow users to swap bindings between skis by installing several sets of mounting plates on various skis. That’s holy grail territory.
– Onyx is optimized for downhill ski performance, with efforts at reducing play and adding strength in areas such as the internal heel post.
– Instead of scoffing at AT binding concepts WildSnow has advocated for years, such as precise for/aft boot position on ski, solidity of boot/ski connection, necessity of mode switch without exiting binding, and user maintainability;upgradeablity;repair, G3 appears to have embraced these concepts. The engineer even told me that as a nod to WildSnow’s emphasis on complete accuracy of weights they made sure to include screws in the binding weight. Amen?
– Crampons and brakes are still under development. Indeed, this is not a full retail distribution-ready product as of yet (it’ll be on shelves next winter), though test samples are headed out and it’ll be under demo at the OR show. We thus caution all readers to know that just as with any first generation product, the consumer test program has not yet commenced and may bring issues to light that we or G3 have no way of anticipating.
– Use G3 toe with Dynafit heel or versa? Hmmmmm… I feel another Frankenbinding coming on…
– In summary, while Onyx may not satisfy the anorexic cravings of the vertical-or-else crowd, it is weight competitive with most touring bindings, but yields a more solid boot/ski connection and a host of other features that could make this a very popular product.
– Lastly, while business propriety means G3 can’t easily include the roots of the “Tech” system, it is worth mentioning that if it wasn’t for Fritz Barthel and his father Manfred creating the amazingly long living Dynafit binding system more than two decades ago, innovations such as the Onyx would have no platform to build on. More, it appears Dynafit will still be the king, queen and lord of lightweight full-function AT bindings. Thus, all hail the “Tech” system, in both new innovation such as Onyx and as the original Barthel Dynafit “Ferrari”.
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.