Atomic, formerly known as ESS, is the binding of choice for Hermann "Herminator" Maier and other World Cup stars. A simple Variozone switch on the toe slides the entire binding fore or aft for different leverage and snow conditions, making it, perhaps, the most readily adjustable of all binding lines. Atomic's toe design retains a height adjustment and, in some cases, a lock that prevents the binding from releasing altogether¿features now missing in other lines.
Atomic's goal is to "harmonize" its skis, bindings and lifter plates. Tests show it's succeeding, and that its bindings interfere little with a ski's normal bending pattern. The idea is to optimize your ability to carve. A free-gliding connector between the heel unit and toe jaws, called Fullflex, creates a tensionless coupling between the ski and boot. The brake has both hard and soft springs that make it more comfortable to depress with your foot and keep the release properties in the heel consistent.
Centro 412 $265
The Centro is a self-centering binding that has enjoyed a warm reception from retailers, rental dealers and skiers everywhere. It will adjust to almost any boot sole and always retains the proper amount of forward pressure.
This year's model has an improved open-and-closing mechanism that cannot open in error, even if a skier crosses his or her skis. Just right for Newcomers, Aspiring Carvers and Players. All-Mountain Experts will want to add one of the Atomic plates (See Bindings 1999: Extra Lift.)
Centro 412 CXC (with CarvXcharger Plate) $289
Add the plate (read: added height) to this binding and you get truly superior performance on both soft and hard snow. Previous power plates from ESS seemed to make skis irritatingly demanding. Modifications to the CarvXcharger Plate this season allow skiers to add the plate without making the ski overly critical.
Race 614 RC $455
With the Race Charger (RC) plate, this binding offers a towering 17 mm of lift. An extremely smooth and powerful combination for Racers, Freeriders and All-Mountain Experts. Lateral leverage is enormous, and there is no detectable hinging in the ski¿anywhere.
It's reassuring to step in and out of the binding knowing there is adjustable backward release. A tube-shaped Betabooster concentrates pressure over the edges for slicing effectiveness. The Race 614 RC feels very impressive and has rich streamlined looks to match Atomic skis.