In the world of retail, a cherry picker is a dealer who wants to buy only the most popular and profitable models in a manufacturer's line--a GM dealer, say, who wants to sell only Suburbans and Corvettes. Manufacturers discourage the practice and often convince their dealers--usually with incentives--to stock a broader assortment of models. The same thing happens at your local ski shop with bindings, which is why picking one can be so confusing-there's just too damn many.
We aren't influenced by sales incentives or manufacturers' guilt trips. So, we've done the cherry picking for you and selected what we think are outstanding values from each company. Generally, we chose one from the top of the line, one from somewhere in the middle, and one at the value end of the range. They're the cherries of each manufacturer's line.
Not Too High Tech
While we did go for mechanical Anti-Friction Devices (AFDs), upward-releasing toe pieces, and some other moderately techy features, we tended to ignore exotic materials like titanium. Titanium is tough and it's light, which makes it popular for jet fighters, satellites, and other spacecraft, where weight and strength are at a premium, and cost--taxpayer dollars here--isn't much of an issue. For ski bindings, lots of other materials are plenty tough, and the savings in weight between a titanium binding and one without is usually less than the weight of either binding's screws. You might think that the weight of a couple of screws is important enough to spend good money on. We don't.
Not Too Racy, Either
Another thing that we've largely ignored is high DIN settings, which eliminated most race models from our selections. We're fine with that because most people don't need settings higher than 10. Period, end of story.
Besides being unnecessary, bindings with high DIN settings are also expensive--in our opinion, unjustifiably so. The difference between a race binding with a 5-14 setting and a similar nonrace binding with a 3-10 scale is almost always the spring that's used to create the binding's tension. Somewhere back up the manufacturing chain, the springs used in both bindings--or the wire that they were made from--was sold by the ton. There's nothing magic about a stronger spring, but buy a race binding and you'll pay a ridiculous premium to get one.
Now Get Smart
Since a binding's DIN range is such an important factor, the first thing you should do when shopping for bindings is to ask what your setting should be. It's determined by your height and weight, your skiing style, and the length of your boot sole in millimeters (you can find that molded into the side of your boot sole, usually at the heel).
Your DIN setting should fall in the upper third or so of the adjustment range of the bindings you look at. If your setting is 6, 7, or 8, a binding that tops out at a 10 has plenty of retention. A couple of numbers for a cushion is more than enough.
Though there was more to our selection process, the above is the underlying logic behind our binding picks. Basically, don't spend more than you have to. When comparing bindings that we reviewed from different companies, remember to compare those that are similar in price and DIN range.
And there's nothing inferior about the bindings we didn't write about. If you have a Cherries Jubilee mindset and a budget to match, spend away, and the folks who own the shop you patronize will bless your little heart.
Now, all you have to do is click on the Gear Guide 2001: Bindings slideshow in the related links (above right) to see the best that each binding manufacturer has to offer.
Cliff Meader and bindings go way back: Among other things, he's been the product manager for both Burt Bindings and Spademan.