(Originally published July 29, 2010, redated for discussion of DIN/ISO certification of tech bindings, or lack thereof. If you’re in a hurry, start reading about half way down the blog post.)
I got an interesting press release yesterday, regarding G3. Rather than just blasting PR releases here like some kind of desperate blogger with writers block, I’d rather come up with a take (you can read the release at the bottom of this blog post). So here goes.
In a nutshell, the press release states that along with providing help if a retailer gets sued regarding the G3 Onyx binding, the Onyx this coming season will go to a full 12 on the release setting scale (both lateral and vertical, last season it only went to 12 on lateral).
When G3 released the latest itteration of their Onyx binding last season, many skiers were hoping for something that stood up to aggressive use and addressed some of the minor (as in never happens to most skiers) but nonetheless real pre-release issues that other tech bindings sometimes have. Onyx seemed to fulfill the beef side of the equation, but with a maximum release setting of 10 for vertical release it fell short of the magic number 12 that AT ski bindings must have to be marketable to the hard cores.
Now, fight me if you want but I’ll state as fact that for most average size skiers, falling and twisting a leg with your binding set at 12 is almost certain injury. Yet many skiers these days crank their bindings all the way up as a matter of normal practice, and they’ll go to 12 if they have it. More, for better or worse, the max release setting of a binding is perceived in the market as an indicator of quality.
While some skiers really do need a binding that goes to 12 (and at higher settings such as 10 or 11 it may be beneficial to have some “cushion” or “overhead” for the release mechanism), I find it appalling when numbers are used as a measure of quality (or machismo, for that matter). It’s like the guy in the old rock movie satire classic ‘This is Spinal Tap’ who says “these go to eleven” while bragging on his powerful amplifier that will easily cause hearing loss at the usual amp dial max of 10. I’ll embed a clip from Spinal Tap below. This is by no means meant to disparage those skiers who actually do need a release value (RV) of 12, but it fully intended to poke fun at those that don’t, and use it anyway (smile).
Thus, G3 now offering a binding that goes to 12 on all “dials” got my blog brain firing on all cylinders, so here goes some keyboard burn (I just wore out my last one, am on a nice new one now…).
Skiers max out their release settings for a number of reasons, top three being the following:
1. The occasional pre-release of any chart set binding, alpine or AT, can be rather annoying or even hurt you. Thus, if you don’t fall often, having a binding that’s set high but never comes off inadvertently can actually prevent injury. This especially true if you ski steep terrain where throwing a shoe could cause you to take a violent accelerating fall down a mountain. With more and more resorts offering steeps for our adrenaline pleasure, these types of falls are becoming as common in-bounds as they are in the backcountry.
2. The other most common reason for high settings is laziness. Many folks find that if they set a binding using the charts, they still pre-release too often. The safe solution is a tedious process of test skiing while you gradually crank the settings up a half turn at a time until inadvertent release stops or at least becomes rare. You adjust the upward and side release settings independently, based on what type of prerelease you had. All along, you try not to succumb to temptation and just dial the suckers up to 12 (or perhaps 11?) and be done with it.
3. Style and machismo enter the equation. Sadly, the maximum release setting of a grabber is a big part of how some shoppers read the overall cool factor of a binding. More, more than once I’ve heard skiers bragging about what release setting they crank their bindings up to, as if this indicates the power and skill of their skiing. Yep, overhead in ski shop: “But, does it go to 11?”
Hence, it sounds like G3 helping dealers with any liability issues is quite sensible, but considering the “does it go to 11?” factor one has to view it as a bit ironic as well.
G3’s announcement about liability makes even more sense if you consider another detail. You might have noticed in the above writing that I never use the term “DIN” as part of the release numbers as it’s normally used in the ski world, as in “my dial goes to din 16, dude!” (DIN is an acronym for Deutsche Institut fuer Normung, The German standardization institute that sources the standard for ski binding release settings). The reason I stayed away from the term is we need to be clear that the release setting numbers on any tech binding are not certified “DIN” numbers.
Rather, G3 and Dynafit both claim or at least imply their numbers match closely to international standards (DIN) for alpine ski binding safety release, and field testing on my part and many other’s shows this to be true (in other words, we’re getting safety releases when we expect them in comparison to alpine bindings).
That being said, it’s a well known fact among ski binding cogniceti that the release value of any tech style binding change due to the ski flexing and moving the heel pins in and out of the ski boot fitting, not to mention the influence of slightly different shapes or wear in the boot fittings themselves. Thus, at this juncture of design and function in the tech interface, any of the presently manufactured tech bindings could never match the consistency of release values in the best alpine bindings unless they are tested statically without much if any changes in ski flex or boot fittings (and in that case, could actually stack up just fine against alpine systems due to the consistent steel interface of the tech system). These are more reasons why it’s good to be careful with your release settings on a tech binding, and set them with at least a modicum of experimentation rather than blind allegiance to the manufacturer’s setting chart — or worship of a number such as the proverbial 11.
(To be fair, I’d also like to mention that I’ve got lots of insider information about both Dynafit and G3’s care for keeping their binding release numbers consistent with DIN alpine binding numbers, as well as how consistent their numbers are. From what I know, I’d say they both get good marks if used with consistently made and well made boot fittings, but as I’ve stated in previous posts, the boot fittings are super important and should not be overlooked as part of the system and a contributor to the safety of the system. Indeed, at least one boot maker has told me that in their testing of tech systems for release, they’ve found the values varied quite a bit given the use of different boots with different fittings, depending on the manufacturer, some doing better than others. Some independent testing of this would be nice, but until that comes about it would be inappropriate for me to mention any names, as the info I’m getting is from folks competing with each other, and is subject to interpretation.)
Sources tell me there are many reasons tech bindings are not certified, main ones being that any existing standards for touring bindings simply are not designed for the tech interface, and thus no extant testing methods can be used for certifications (though any product maker can take something to TUV and have it tested for whatever standard, and use the results to improve their design or manufacturing process.) I’ve heard that standards for tech bindings are in development, but they could take years to implement, if ever. Same goes for the tech boot fittings, by the way. There is no standard for those either as was so tragically demonstrated by Salomon last season.
The issue of product safety and liability is huge, and truly comes to the fore when you have a product that’s designed to save a person from injury. Like seat belts, child car seats, and yes, ski bindings. Many such products are highly regulated and adhere to any number of international standards. Thus, in the case of tech style skiing bindings, the lack of certification to the DIN or other standards must be a least a fleeting thought to any savvy retailer. So a bit of help from G3 in easing those worries is probably appreciated. Especially knowing that some of their customer’s main criteria will be “but, does it go to 11?”
Please see our backcountry skiing glossary for more about DIN standards and TUV certification thereof.
By the way, I’m going to start using the acronym RV for the non-certified release numbers on certain bindings. Short for “release value,” e.g., “RV 10.”
G3 Press Release from July 28, 2010
G3 becomes first alpine-touring binding manufacturer to offer liability reduction program to its retailers
New program for G3 Onyx, Ruby AT bindings applies best practices from alpine skiing to the backcountry world.
Vancouver , British Columbia (July 28, 2010) – This fall, G3, manufacturer of industry-leading gear for backcountry skiing, will become the first alpine-touring/backcountry ski binding manufacturer to offer a liability reduction and indemnity program to its North American dealers.
The program, the first of its kind in alpine-touring and backcountry skiing, is based off a system that is standard operating procedure among alpine-skiing binding manufacturers and retailers, reducing risk, and potentially cost, to G3 dealers in the process.
The basis of the program is that when G3’s Onyx and women’s Ruby alpine-touring bindings are installed and set in accordance with the company’s instructions, dealer agreement, and documentation requirements, G3 would take the lead in defending any legal case surrounding binding releasability or function involving a dealer and/or a sales rep. No other backcountry binding manufacturer offers such a program. G3 engaged risk-management attorney Jim Moss to develop the program.
“What we are doing is taking the best practices from the alpine-skiing world, and applying them to the backcountry world,” said G3 founder and President Oliver Steffen. “Given the very thorough process we use to test and document proper, precise releasability on every pair of bindings before they go out the door, we have extremely high confidence in our bindings, and extremely high confidence in stepping up to offer our dealers this added protection.”
The fact that G3 can offer this protection to retailers also speaks to and stems directly from the ground-breaking design used in the Onyx and Ruby, Steffen said.
The Onyx and Ruby are tech-style alpine-touring bindings with high-performance retention, dramatically reduced pre-release, and industry-leading releasability functions. They also offer the ability to switch from ski to tour mode without taking skis off.
For the coming fall season, G3 re-engineered and upgraded several components of the Onyx, including; increasing all release settings to 12; redesigning the brakes so they retract more fully; making the heel lifters more secure; and modifying the toe bale so it more effectively sheds snow. The Ruby is a women’s-specific version of the Onyx that is new this season.
The program also applies to G3 sales reps and retailers in ski-demo situations.
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.