The Next Generation of Backcountry Ski Bindings

With greater and greater demand for product designed specifically for backcountry skiing, Alpine Touring ski bindings have been redesigned to suit.  Recent trends are toward bindings that are wider, lighter and easier to handle with a glove or ski pole.   At the big, bold end of the market, most are essentially improvements upon, or challengers to, the original Marker Duke, which has been amongst the most popular backcountry ski bindings since its first release in 2007.  These muscular 16-DIN bindings suit the young and aggressive skier, but there are also some newer releases, with a maximum 12-DIN, that have managed to shave weight off the bindings and open the market for more casual all-day touring.

After testing a number of Alpine Touring ski bindings during the recent Northern Hemisphere season, I’ve found several that will add to the breadth of your options depending on the type of backcountry skiing you want to do.  Most are set for release in time for 2012/2013 skiing in the northern half of the globe, which means they won’t be in time for much of the current Australian and New Zealand season.

The Marker Duke is still being held out by many as the premier Alpine Touring ski binding.  But Marker hasn’t sat on its laurels.  The Marker Duke EPF (Extended Power Frame) has been redesigned for the 2012/2013 season.  The Duke EPF will be 28% wider overall, with a 10mm wider screw pattern to aid power transmission edge to edge on wider skis.  The Duke binding has also been redesigned for uphill climbing, with a riser that can be positioned flat, at 7 or 13 degrees.  The climbing riser’s cover is rubber for ease of use with a ski pole.  Marker has also redesigned the Duke’s toe plate to lighten the binding, and the guiding plate has been improved to keep snow and ice out.  It’s hard to see how the Duke is going to be knocked off its lofty pedestal.  Marker is distributed in Australia by Mission Sports.  In New Zealand, Marker is distributed by Gravity Sports, where several retail websites already show the Marker Duke EPF for sale at around NZ$ 800.

Two challengers, the Salomon Guardian 16 and the Atomic Tracker 16, are definitely worth considering.  The designs are essentially the same, as Salomon and Atomic, both owned by Amer Sports, partnered to create an Alpine Touring binding to compete with Marker and Fritschi.  Product development took 5 years to complete including feedback from top experts and athletes, with the ultimate goal to become the benchmark in Alpine Touring ski bindings.  The bindings have been designed lower and wider, with an 80 mm toe piece and a stack height only 26 mm off the snow.  The addition of the Hike & Ride Switch system allows a skier to switch from hiking to skiing modes using only a ski pole and without the need to step out of the bindings.

I tested the Atomic Tracker 16 on a pair of Atomic Charter touring skis and fell in love.  The ski and binding combination reacted to anything I wanted to do on the slopes with incredible ease.  The only drawback is weight.  These bindings feel like they’ve been built with more emphasis on downhill skiing than uphill.  Amer Sports, the parent company of both brands, handles distribution in Australia.  In New Zealand, Snoworld Sports is the Salomon distributor, with Brandex handling Atomic.  Neither binding, unfortunately, will likely be available for the Southern Hemisphere ski season, with a release date set for later in 2012.  Retailers can find the bindings in their ordering catalogues, however, with an RRP, at least for New Zealand, set at NZ$ 800.

While I didn’t test the Tyrolia Adrenaline 16, to be offered under the Head and Elan brands, it is yet another noteworthy competitor muscling its way into the beefy-end of Alpine Touring bindings.  The DIN ranges from 5-16, which is better than most and has the typical climbing aid positions at flat, 7 and 13 degrees.  Weight is about average at 2600+ grams, but the real downfall is the stack height at 36 mm.  The trend is lower to the snow, not higher, and yes, in my opinion, the 10 cm difference to a Salomon or Atomic 16 will make a difference.

If you want an all-day alpine touring binding, the Marker Tour F12 ranked as the best I tried.  It’s all about lighter weight, coming in at around 1900 grams per pair.  It has a nice 4-12 DIN range and the same climbing riser positions of flat, 7 and 13 degrees as the Duke with a similar design.  The drawback is the stack height at 36 mm again.   The Marker Tour F12, however, is simply a sturdy, reliable alternative, available at retail outlets now for around A$529 or NZ$699.

Lastly, there are rumours that Fritschi has something big in the works, but for now, the best they offer is the Fritschi Diamir Freeride Pro.  While it’s been updated and redesigned, it’s caught in the middle in terms of both weight and stack height in what is becoming a polarized Alpine Touring community that seems to either want an emphasis on power and reliability for downhill or lighter weight for all-day touring.

Don Jurries

Featured Photo: Atomic Media Images

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