After a nice stop in Italy during my EU wanders a few weeks ago, I grabbed a series of four trains back north to Austria. The journey took all day and challenged my adventure travel skills (if not taxing my emotional intelligence), but I got it done. Specifically, visit Atomic ski company HQ at Altenmarkt.
Atomic is known for what I’m told is the largest ski factory in the world — with nearby ski slopes such as Flachau, where 2-plank legends such as Hermann Maier refined their game. With ski touring being the only expanding market in glisse snowsports, Atomic is doing what comes naturally to any business. They’re clearly trying for their share of the pie.
While I’m a fan of the more “niche” ski touring gear makers out there, big guys entering the fray has advantages for all of us. Prices might go down, and could quality actually go up? On the other hand, we risk an oversupply situation with reduced profits and thus reduced funds for innovation. We shall see.
Meanwhile, while Atomic is no doubt the big guy, they’ve segmented out their ski touring product development to a spirited group who practice what they preach. Result, nice gear that’s fun to write about and terrific to ski on.
It’s here I should reiterate the main disadvantage of “U-spring” touring bindings such as Backland-MTN: You can’t fine-tune the release adjustment, nor can you adjust vertical release independently from lateral. Instead you’re at the mercy of how the manufacturer wants to build and supply the springs. But, is that so bad? Reality of tech bindings is that even those that conform to the DIN/ISO touring binding standard allow quite a bit of variation in the actual release tension as compared to what’s printed on the binding. What is more, very few people fine-tune their touring binding release, opting instead to dial their settings higher than “chart” to help prevent accidental release that can be life threatening rather than simply limb injuring.
Me, I’d prefer that the Backland-MTN binding had one more spring that was between the “Men” and “Women” in release value, as the “Men” spring is too strong for me and the “Women” too weak. Further, perhaps yet another spring could be supplied for “Child.”
Both Atomic and Salomon are leery of spouting “DIN” numbers regarding their swap springs. I can say that the “Expert” spring is probably around 11, while the “Men” is around 8, the “Women” around 6. As with all tech bindings, actual release value is also dependent of wear of boot toe fittings and the exact heel gap that exists at the time of release.
It was a long meeting. Boots are next. Availability of Backland binding appears to be spotty, check the usual suspects, and know that both the Atomic and Salomon versions should be widely available come fall of 2017.
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.