Are backcountry AT randonnee ski touring bindings okay to use as resort bindings?
Talk about an eternal question. It’s amazing how often folks ask me about the suitability of AT backcountry skiing bindings for use at the ski resort. My thoughts:
I’ve got lots of experience with this issue. Since the first production Ramer ski touring bindings were released in 1974 (and I worked as a ski tech for Company 3, the distributor of the binding, gad, more than 40 years ago! No wonder they put me in a museum…), I’ve pressed AT bindings into service as resort downhill skiing bindings, and suffered the consequences. In 1977 I severely spiral fractured my left leg on Ramer bindings — an injury that nearly ended my career in outdoor education and mountaineering.
At the time, Ramer claimed I’d not maintained the binding correctly. That might have been true to an extent (he said I didn’t grease it enough*), but more, what I’d done is use a backcountry skiing binding that was easily inferior in safety release to the alpine bindings of the day (greased or not). In those days I was a skier who took my share of harsh falls because I was still learning how to handle steep terrain and natural snow, so the consequences were somewhat inevitable.
Thus, my points:
Another question I field frequently is that of AT binding durability for use at the ski area. Unless you’re skiing more than 30 days a season, and/or tend to break alpine bindings, I don’t believe durability is an issue with today’s randonnee backcountry skiing bindings. Sure, they can break, but I’ve seen plenty of broken alpine bindings as well.
That said, if you’re skiing quite a few days it’s true that ski touring bindings may have some wear points. For example, I used a pair of Dynafits for quite a few resort days one season, and noticed the rear boot fitting wore notches into the rear pins that insert into the boots. In the case of plate bindings, I’ve noticed the vibram sole of AT boots can eventually crack the AFD under the toe on some models, because the lugs of the vibram may impact the plastic in a concentrated way while resort skiing and backcountry skiing. And with all AT bindings, one must realize they’re built with minimal weight — meaning they have minimal bulk to stand up to bashing and banging from ski edges and rocks.
Conclusion: No hard and fast rule, but I’d recommend a full-on alpine rig if you spend more than a few days at the resort, and/or fall frequently. And with all bindings, fine tune your release settings by setting them as low as possible, then gradually increasing settings if you pre-release.
(*Note about Ramer: For the record. In later years, Paul Ramer was fond of claiming I’d somehow modified my Ramer bindings to lock out the release, and thus broken my leg. While this particular pair of Ramer backcountry skiing bindings may have lacked grease, I never modified them in any way that would obviate the release. As for “resort skiing,” to be clear I should state I broke my leg in out-of-bounds terrain on Aspen Mountain, lift-served, after a long day of crazy skiing on the ski resort. It was a good lesson about the relationship between frequency of falling, binding release, personal style and the like.)
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.