The oldest known ski, found near Kalvtrask, Sweden, dates back to 3200 B.C. It attached to the hunter/skier's foot with an ingenious leather thong that wrapped around the ski, nestling in a slot across the ski's base so it interfered little with its glide. Today's engineers, using far more sophisticated materials and concepts, strive to accomplish much the same thing: disrupt the ski's performance as little as possible.
Early on, the goal was simply to attach the toe securely. It wasn't until well into the 20th century that the heel was clamped down, too. The name of the game was retention¿that is, keeping the ski well attached. In an eggbeater fall it was a tossup as to which would break first, ski or skier's leg.
Toward the middle of the century, releasable bindings burst upon the scene. Early ones released at the toe; heel-release came later. These prevented injuries, but adjustment was imprecise, and skiers were confronted with the problem of pre-release¿when a ski comes off before you want it to.
In the past 30 years, designers have balanced the benefits of release and retention while perfecting other facets of binding technology, especially elasticity. Now it is possible to retain the boot while also allowing it to move slightly within the binding to absorb shock. Debates rage about how much elasticity is beneficial.
Most recently, skis and bindings have evolved together in the R&D stage. Engineers now strive not to interfere with the natural, round flex of the ski. Others make a conscious effort to stiffen or soften portions of a ski through its binding platform in order to improve performance. All believe, quite correctly, that good bindings make better skiers.
With lifters, plates and other binding accessories, we are all more powerful skiers. Bindings are lighter and, adjusted for inflation, getting cheaper. If you ski on bindings that are eight or 10 years old, you're skiing in the Dark Ages.
What follows are write-ups of the best in bindings for 2000-01. We asked manufacturers to submit their most significant models, covering a range of prices, then took them out for a day of testing at Stowe, Vt. Each write-up includes suggested retail price and the Skier-Types for which it is most appropriate. For an explanation of Skier-Types, see "Who Are You?."