Bindings

Can the Marker Duke PT Takedown the Salomon SHIFT as the Cool Kids’ Backcountry Binding?

These two bindings provide alpine performance in ski mode but tour efficiently in walk mode. So which is better? Our gear expert finds out.

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Active Pass members get exclusive access to SKI’s “Ask the Gear Nerd” column. Join Active Pass to get expert advice on all the gear you’ve ever heard of from Lead Gear Editor Jon Jay and his expert contacts throughout the ski industry. To submit your gear questions, email activepassmembers@skimag.com.

I’m considering making my next set-up a true one-quiver solution, which means for the bindings, I’d likely be looking at the Marker Duke PTs or the Salomon/Atomic/Armada SHIFT bindings. I’ll probably be doing 90-percent resort riding and only 10-percent touring, so I want to make sure the downhill capability is A1. Do you prefer either one of those bindings? And if so, would you trust either of them to do 90-percent of their work as alpine/resort bindings? Or should I just stick with normal downhill bindings? – Scott Fuson, Portland, Ore.

When the SHIFT launched in 2018, there were many reasons to be stoked about its potential to solve the one-ski, one-boot, one-binding equation. With a true alpine-style ski mode but tech inserts for touring, it was one of the first ski bindings that could perform on-par with alpine bindings on hardpack resort conditions, but still tour more efficiently than frame AT bindings.

The only other product that came close at that time to the uphill and downhill performance of the SHIFT was the CAST system, which involved using modified alpine and touring toe pieces that could be swapped depending on whether a skier was traveling uphill or downhill. The small company was started in 2012 by Lars and Silas Chickering-Ayers, two brothers who dominated the Freeskiing World Tour in its heyday. CAST is still preferred by a core audience of freeskiers but lacks both the scale and marketing capabilities of a company like Salomon.

Shop Talk: Salomon S/Lab SHIFT Binding

Sam Smoothy examining the Marker Duke PT
Pro skier Sam Smoothy examines the Marker Duke PT. Photo: Courtesy of Marker

In 2020, Marker launched the Duke PT. Like the original Duke—a freeride-focused frame-style alpine touring binding that launched in 2006—the new Duke PT has a 6-16 ISO release range and is considered to be pretty heavy relative to most alpine touring bindings with pins. Unlike the old Duke, however, the new Duke PT does not require the user to lift a heavy heelpiece off the snow for every uphill step because the binding’s toe-piece housing can be removed to expose tech pins for touring.

This removal of part of the binding’s toe piece as well as the beefy weight and high release values makes the Duke PT more similar to the CAST system than the SHIFT. But the scale and marketing capabilities of Marker are closer to Salomon/Atomic/Armada, which is why most consumers still want to know if the Marker Duke PT is better than SHIFT.

Related: Marker Launches New Backcountry Binding

So Which Is Better: The Salomon SHIFT or the Marker Duke PT?

"salomon shift holding"
Salomon athlete Chris Rubens holding the Salomon SHIFT Photo: Cam Mcleod

Both the Duke PT and the SHIFT feature downhill performance that is equal to their alpine binding counterparts (the Jester 16 and the Warden MNC 13, respectively). Both offer efficient touring as long as your ski boots have tech inserts. But the difference comes down to what type of skier you are.

Overall, most recreational skiers will be happy with the SHIFT. It’s rare for anyone to need ISO release settings above 10, and even then, most skiers who crank their SHIFTs up to 12 have been happy with the performance. The amount of weight and money saved with the SHIFT compared to the Duke PT is also noticeable.

If you are heavier, taller, stronger, jump off big cliffs on a regular basis, and/or don’t care about a little extra weight for the uphill, the Marker Duke PT is a better choice. Not only are the retention values higher, but the majority of the binding is made out of metal, which is both more responsive and more durable than the carbon-infused polyurethane plastic in the SHIFT. Also, when the Duke PT is in ski mode, the toe piece has a noticeable amount of additional contact with the front of the boot compared to the SHIFT, which provides a mental boost for skiers concerned about ejecting.

Yes, a group of Salmon skiers crushed some bigger cliffs in the SHIFT hype video. But the snow was deep and soft and absolutely nothing like the conditions that most resort skiers find. Comparatively, Ross Tester—an American whose high-flying backflips and 360s have won two Freeride World Tour competitions this season on variable snow—has competed solely on the Duke PT (and no one on the FWT is competing on a SHIFT).

Check it Out: Ross Tester’s Winning FWT21 Run in Ordino Arcalìs, Andorra on the Marker Duke PT

With that being said, both bindings have flaws, particularly with transitioning between walk and ski modes. The SHIFT has confused many users with its Transformers-esque toe piece that requires a few extra steps that people always seem to forget about, like locking the toe into tour mode or keeping the toe lever locked down in ski mode. The Duke PT, on the other hand, can be a pain when taking off and putting on the toe housing. And if you are skiing deep pow and accidentally drop the housing during a transition, make sure you find it quickly or have a metal detector handy.

Anyone who tours in the backcountry more than 50 percent of the season (and never, ever skis hard moguls) could get away with a Marker Kingpin or other lightweight tech binding to avoid these transitional troubles. But the alpine performance of the SHIFT and the Duke PT is definitely warranted for anyone who skis at the resort more often than not.

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