I wrote this blog post back in December of 2004, the first year of WildSnow.com. Sadly, with a bit of editing it becomes an encore presentation…
One would think that since the departure from cable bindings nearly a half century ago, we’d have backcountry skiing bindings engineered like, say, an iPhone. Bindings such as the tech system really are backcountry skiing marvels (about the same size as in iPhone), and most people figure out how to get many excellent days out of their randonnee bindings (especially compared to the breakage history of earlier telemark bindings that were essentially nordic touring bindings asked to perform as alpine bindings.)
Nonetheless, considering the cost of randonnee bindings and the resources that have gone into improving the things, they’ve long been in a state of development that in my opinion could best be termed “retarded.” (Yes, I know it’s not always PC to use that word, but here I use it to mean arrested development of a manufactured product, ok?)
Over the last decades most rando bindings released for retail sale have had either durability or function issues in their first season of retail. Most of those problems are eventually fixed through “in line” changes or release of a new model, but who knows what lurks on the horizon? No company is immune.
I remember when the first Fritschi Diamirs came to me for testing a number of years ago. On the workbench, I snapped in a boot and the heel unit exploded into high velocity shards. An improved heel was quickly designed and released to the public, but not before a number of people had this somewhat shattering experience (lesson: wear eye protection when bench testing bindings).
Then there was the Dynafit Tristep debacle of 2002. Deservedly renowned for the engineering savvy of the original tech bindings, Dynafit released a binding that worked fine in alpine mode but which you’d walk out of in one or two steps while touring. A fix was soon issued, but it never worked 100% and the Tristep was discontinued to be replaced by the Comfort model, Verticals, and current Radicals — all of which have had issues.
And who can forget the Silvretta SL, which would explode into small parts if you took a forward fall while touring? You needed the skills of a Swiss watch maker to put ’em together again — if you could find the parts.
The nearly comical litany has continued. Exciting new brand-model comes out, heel units shattered. Another brand’s heels self destructed. Plate frame bindings snapped in half or the touring pivots quickly wore out. AFD’s flew apart. Tech binding toe wings and toe pins snapped.
Here at WildSnow, we’ve become very leery of testing pre-production or first-year ski bindings. We still test and review, but with subdued enthusiasm and sometimes downright paranoia.
Your take oh esteemed readers of WildSnow? Is there some kind of endemic problem in ski binding developments that’s leading to the constant sound of snapping aluminum and cracking plastic? Or am I totally off base here? After all, more than five million iPhones were just returned to the manufacturer due to defects. Should we just expect everything to be flawed?
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.