You owe it to yourself to spend some time thinking about bindings. If you don't, you may sell yourself short. You might spend too much. You might not spend enough. And you might miss out on a lot of fun. Here's a smart way to shop.
First, ask your salesperson to determine your binding setting (also known as your DIN setting). You'll need to know your height, weight, age, and boot-sole length in millimeters (usually printed on your boot), and the entire process takes ten seconds. Knowing your DIN setting is essential: A binding's
Adjustment Range is one of the biggest determinants of its price. Plus, talking it over with your salesperson will make him immediately aware that you're not one to be bamboozled.
High-end bindings that are functionally identical often differ greatly in price. Why? Because one is labeled "Race" and sports a higher DIN range. With today's bindings, most skiers don't need a setting higher than 10. Since bindings work better at higher settings within their respective DIN range, you should consider models that will put you over the halfway point on the binding's scale (for example, if your setting is 7, you'll look for a DIN range of 3-10). Very, very rarely will that be a race binding.
A WORD ABOUT SEX
From a release perspective, bindings don't care about sex. As far as a binding is concerned, a skier is a skier. Some women's models, like the Venus bindings from Look, have a ramped lifter under the binding to compensate for a woman's lower center of gravity. Other than that, women's bindings are functionally identical to unisex models. The only difference is in DIN range and, of course, color.
Most mid- to upper-level bindings incorporate some sort of enhancement technology. Enhancers sit between binding and ski, and they change how a ski feels on snow. There are two types: Active and passive. Active enhancers allow you to adjust the binding's performance characteristics. Passive enhancers include lifters, plates, and dampeners.
WHICH WAY OUT?
Today almost all bindings release upward at the toe. Common sense would suggest that the more ways you can get out, the safer you'll be. Unfortunately, statistics don't bear that out. But peace of mind is worth something. More important are AFDs (anti-friction devices) and other friction-compensation systems. Plain-vanilla bindings will likely sport a Teflon pad at the toe, while more sophisticated models will have a mechanical AFD or another techy variation.
In general, based on our lab tests over a couple of decades, we can say that more sophisticated (and expensive) bindings work better than lower-priced ones in more complex falls (e.g. falls of the forward-rolling and backward-twisting variety). Which is not to say that you need the most sophisticated binding available. Today's midrange bindings work just fine, and even the lowest-priced models are an improvement over bindings from eight or ten years ago.
Should you get new bindings? How much should you pay? Try this: Imagine that frozen moment in time that comes just after your skis leave the snow and just before you turn into a yard sale. Quickly, now: What type of binding do you want attached to your boots?
Click on the related links (above right) for specific manufacturer and model reviews.