The number of tech compatible bindings out in the wild is beginning to remind me of the telemark boom days, when every guy with a pair of pliers and some spare time made tele bindings in their garage.
Pictured above, Trab’s race binding is a bit beyond the garage stage, and while beautifully made is somewhat of a yawner considering Trab is still planning on releasing their full-on tech compatible touring binding that has release value settings in the toe, and is configured with the toe wings flipped 180 degrees from those of normal tech bindings, (said to make the binding a true step-in).
Rumor says what’s holding Trab up with their touring binding is the difficult decision of what type of heel unit to use. Apparently, part of the dilemma is whether to go with the existing tech style boot insert, or develop a new one and thus have to find a boot maker who will install it in a boot model. I’ve also heard they are indeed working on a binding heel system that does NOT require a boot heel fitting. That would be cool, as the tyranny of tech bindings needing boots with tech fittings is a necessary evil many in the industry wouldn’t mind seeing cleansed from the planet.
Sources tell me the Trab touring binding will go well past RV 11 (yes Nigel), all the way to 14, and weighs 2.2 lbs for a pair.
Which brings us to tech fittings.
As we’ve covered in many previous blog posts, tech boot fittings are ever problematic. For starters, with no type of international industry standard for the fittings, any company can take a bar of steel, machine holes in each end, mold it into a boot and call it “tech compatible.”
Hence, if you plan on backcountry skiing using tech bindings such as G3 or Dynafit, it is super important for your own personal safety to buy tech compatible boots from companies who are known to make good fittings (or who purchase them from Dynafit), and who install them well.
Black Diamond, Garmont, Scarpa and of course Dynafit all have our stamp of approval for their tech fittings. We’re not so sure about other companies and have expressed our concerns for a while here on WildSnow. Of course, as many of you know our fears came true this spring when Salomon released a boot with substandard tech fittings.
One of my missions here at Outdoor Retailer is to get beyond gaga gear reviews and dig for some meat. To that end I met with Black Diamond VP of product Dave Mellon yesterday for a chat about boot standards, binding release standards and other such trivia that our lives and ligaments depend on.
When Black Diamond was developing their boot line, they made an agreement with Dynafit to have TUV (the product testing outfit in Europe), test a variety of boots and tech fittings. What they documented is that the boot fittings are indeed super important to the tech system and variations in the fittings do produce testable differences in release values. You can know this kind of thing in your gut, as most of us do, but it’s nice to see it prove out on paper.
Most importantly in terms of Black Diamond making their own fittings, TUV documented that the BD fittings work well in comparison to the crop of tested fittings, (or, yes Virginia, I probably wouldn’t be looking at the TUV reports unless I was dressed all in black and was doing it with a flashlight at 2:00 in the morning).
We already knew that BD tech fittings work fine, based on empirical impressions. But the scientific side is always good to add as support for real life. Or is it the other way around?
Interestingly, Dave pointed out that even the shape of the plastic that holds the toe fittings can change the release value curve. For example, if the binding toe pins drag or catch on plastic during a release, that will cause an uptick in release value. What’s more, he showed me how even the lasting of the boot and such things causes differences in values depending on if you’re releasing to the right or left! (Again, it would be nice if someday we could move to tech binding system 2.0)?
From what I saw on the TUV reports, so long as you stick with tech fittings from reliable brands, your release values will be near enough to the value printed on the binding for you to start on the low end of your DIN chart recommendations, then gradually dial up the settings until you get your desired compromise between total retention and possible pre-release.
Bear in mind that accurately tested binding release values will nearly always vary somewhat from what’s printed on the binding (they do with alpine bindings as well, and a certain amount of slop in the readings is even part of the DIN/ISO safety binding standard).
(Also know that a tiny manufacturing defect in your tech fittings, or a piece of dirt, could throw everything off.)
Dave pointed out some things to me that I might get more into here after spending time with the TUV data, but again, an important take-away is that what you see printed on a tech compatible binding, or any alpine or randonnee type ski binding for that matter, is a guideline not some sort of micrometer accurate number.
Indeed, as ski industry lawyer James Moss pointed out to me yesterday in a meeting, in a perfect world every, and I emphasize the word EVERY, ski binding really should be individually tested for release values after being mounted and configured for real-world use. That might be impractical in the reality of mail-order gear and last minute everything, but his point certainly is something to ponder.
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.