How thinking about the safety of my knees has influenced my choice of a tech binding this winter…
Now that I have a few years experience of the exciting world of ski touring using a “beginner’s” alpine “frame” binding (in my case Fritschi Freeride), this year feels like the right time to finally take the step up into the domain of more serious touring tech (or pin) bindings. Why? Because I have been listening for years to my more experienced friends extolling their benefits at length:
- A lower and more solid connection to the ski
- More efficient pivot point when hiking
- Increased simplicity and strength
- Oh and did I mention they are lightweight!!!
Plus it is now very important for me to ski this style of binding because it highlights to the strangers sharing my telecabine that I am a serious skier who just happens to be skiing blues that day because I am entertaining my mother-in-law…
More seriously, my one major reservation about pin bindings has been their poor reputation for safety. So rightly or wrongly, I believed that they were really only for experts who have skied since being in their diapers. As someone who began skiing late and who has already experienced a skiing related ACL reconstruction and the related months of rehabilitation, I did wonder if I would ever be prepared to take the risk. So I’ve stuck with my old faithful Fritschi’s despite the comments and frowns, until now…
I cannot claim to be an expert but in doing my research over the last couple of years it does now appear that there is a new breed of tech bindings which have addressed the safety limitations of the previous designs. These models are distinguished by their DIN certification which provides much greater reassurance that both the pre-release and release performance of these bindings is more consistent and in-line with traditional alpine bindings.
From what I have read and heard from friends, a big issue with older pin binding models has been their tendency to release when skiing. This is called a pre-release and can cause serious injury, particularly when the consequences of falling are high. To avoid this problem the toe part of a pin binding can be locked into touring mode while skiing. This avoids one problem but causes another as then the ski binding will not release in the event of a fall and so dramatically increases the likelihood of knee and leg injuries.
What the new binding designs all appear to do is to reduce the likelihood of pre-release, so for normal skiers (like myself who is not hucking huge cliffs or skiing death chutes) there is now no need to lock the toe when skiing. The new designs also ensure the forces involving in binding release are now much more standardised and consistent. So essentially I can set the binding release values in a similar manner to on my Fritschis and be confident that in most circumstances I will come out of the ski bindings when appropriate (when I inevitably crash), to save my knees and legs from further trauma.
So back to the nitty gritty of choosing a binding, here are my list of priorities:
- Safety (DIN certification)
- Easy to use
- Look cool!
It does seem that all these new breed pin bindings have had reliability issues with their initial models but it does appear that these have now all been addressed. Based on these priorities here is my short list:
Dynafit Radical ST 2.0 – The new standard for tech bindings, apparently a bit tricky to step into particularly for those new to pin bindings.
Marker Kingpin – A hybrid design that combines a pin toe with an style alpine heel for improved skiing and release performance, but at a greater weight.
Diamir Vipec 12 – A lightweight design which has dealt with early reliability problems, but is apparently tricky to step into for new pin binding users.
Dynafit Beast – A lightweight binding for hard chargers which unfortunately suffers from a couple of drawbacks including a required modification to your boot heel and no option to tour with the binding flat.
I think I could choose any of these options without compromising on my knee safety, but I do find myself swayed towards the Marker Kingpin with its reassuringly familiar alpine style heel clamp and release mechanism. Perhaps I’m still not quite ready to make that complete leap to trusting knee safety and ski performance to a set of small metal points and pins!
The small print… obviously your knees and limbs will not be protected by binding choice alone! It is probably more important to make sure you are fit for skiing before you hit the slopes, warm up at the start of a day’s skiing, make sure you ski with good technique by having lessons and also try to avoid skiing when you are tired…
In my research I found this review by Outdoor Gear Lab to be the best overview of all the tech/pin bindings available with very sensible recommendations offered for different types of skiers.