Ok, my “day one” anyway. The Outdoor Retailer tradeshow here in Salt Lake City actually started with an outdoor demo a few days ago while I was still doing my European traveling. After a nicely non-eventful plane flight (mainly, the Linzertorte from Huberta made it through without being confiscated by any hungry customs officers), I landed in the evening here in Salt Lake City, got a good night’s sleep at follow blogger Andrew McLean’s house (thanks Andrew and Polly), and dragged my somewhat jet lagged posterior down to the convention center yesterday morning to start checking out the goods. Here we go:
Speaking of packs, another stop was at Granite Gear. They’re one of my favorite pack makers as their stuff is always innovative and minimalist. But they’re not a huge company so I was wondering how they’d be doing during our little economic event. Turns out they got a military contract for 45,000 packs over five years. Job security. Congratulations.
To assist you loyal readers, I was most interested in how the G3 Onyx brake and crampon worked, as these are not included in G3’s excellent online information. The brake is cool. It’s super easy to install and remove. No matter what mode you’re in it remains deployed till you step into the binding. If in touring mode, a catch grabs the brake and holds it out of the way once you step on it. In downhill mode it’s held down by your boot same as any other ski brake. Beauty of this is when you’re fiddling around with binding entry the brake can always remain deployed, thus eliminating the sliding ski syndrome. Crampon attaches to two studs on the toe unit, very simple, as does the Scarpa F1/F3 shim.
Also regarding Onyx, the G3 online video includes some cryptic statements about how the binding automatically de-ices. Turns out that means that when the toe jaws open and close a mechanical part moves back and forth underneath, in the pocket area that can sometimes fill with ice and keep Tech style bindings from closing properly. Users will still have to deal with ice in the boot toe and heel fittings the same ways we always have with Dynafits.
Along the lines of G3’s “totally user friendly” concept, the toe pivot pins mounted on the toe jaws are threaded and easily removed and swapped by the user. Dynafits used to be built that way but they tuned the hardness of their steel so well that wear and subsequent replacement of the toe pins has never been much (if any) of an issue. Getting the steel hardness correct is a tricky deal, as with such a small bearing surface an inordinate amount of wear can easily occur. If such wear is in the boot sockets and becomes excessive, you’re looking at a new pair of boots. Thus, what I’d hope to see with G3 is that the Onyx steel hardness is as well tuned as Dynafit’s, or else the binding pin steel is slightly softer than that of the boots, since the G3 pins are so easy to replace. (Of note, G3 is using stainless steel for both the toe and heel pins of the Onyx.)
Which brings me to another thought — and something I feel is pretty danged important. As more “Tech” compatible bindings become available, standardization of the boot fittings will continue to be key. Up to this point most Tech fittings you see in boots are sourced from Dynafit and thus standardized (though how they’re located in the boot is a matter of some concern). The older style fittings (ones without “Quick Step-In”) are not patented anymore, so boot makers are for economic reasons trending to making and installing their own fittings. Problem is that tech boot-toe fittings are actually quite the complex shape — they’re not just a hunk of steel with a hole drilled in the side. Black Diamond appears to have duplicated the fittings quite well, but will other boot makers be able to do so? If the boot fittings are improperly shaped they may still work for touring, but can compromise safety release, and they need to be made from very hard steel. WildSnow will keep an eye on this. Consumer beware.
While I was at Scarpa I also spoke with a guy about the Naxo binding, which is now made by Rottefella, makers of the crazy NTN telemark binding. (In the original version of this blogpost I mistakenly wrote that Scarpa was distributing Naxo, sorry about the mistake, it is actually distributed by Alpina Sports.)
As many of you you might have guessed from our deafening silence about Naxo, we’ve not been highly impressed (rather than go negative here at WildSnow and get endlessly flagellated by PR people, we tend to just ignore what we don’t like). But from the latest PR story I heard at the Scarpa booth, a bunch of beefing makes the NX 22 model very unlikely to break. More, to increase stability the feet of the binding under the heel area have been widened from a 62 millimeter stance to 70, along with the binding frame being stiffened by using closed rectangular tubing for the rails. In our view, along with stability while downhill skiing being a problem with Naxo, lateral stability in touring mode (such as while edging with skins) is also a concern. I guess we’ll have to test some Naxos again and see if the improvements are smoke or concrete.
Lighter weight NX02 Naxo is also available. But as far as we know this version is little improved and thus not jiggling the needle on our excitement meter, though perhaps a reasonable choice if you’re not asking for a lot of alpine performance from your touring binding, since the Naxo ergonomic toe pivot does have its benefits. Note that NX22 goes to DIN 13, in case you want to help your orthopedic surgeon pay for his new swimming pool.
SPOT Satellite Messenger safety beacon is now offering a roadside assist option. It works like this: You buy the service (similar to any other roadside assistance plan) for an extra $29.99/year. Through your SPOT website account you then configure the unit (before traveling) so pressing one of the buttons will send an auto assistance alert to SPOT, who then sends a tow truck to your GPS location. Without 2-way communication as with a cell phone we’re not sure how facile this will be, but it is an interesting idea and worth a test, since it’ll work where cell phones do not.
Lastly, It was interesting to me that Outdoor Retailer is noticeably less crowded than last winter, ostensibly due to the economic situation. Even so, most people I speak with are upbeat about human powered sports being an island of business opportunity in the midst of a storming sea. This perhaps because you can do things such as ski touring and hiking for much less money than more energy intensive activities such as lift skiing and snowmobiling. That’s not saying backcountry skiing is cheap, but it can be done on the cheap if you really need to, thus providing an economic buffer.
Back to the temple of gear again today. I’ll file another report ASAP.
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.