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The Choice Is Yours

With the trend back toward flat skis, consumers get to choose their own bindings again.

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“The march toward all-inclusive system skis continues apace,” we reported in our update on bindings two years ago. “Bad news,” we went on to note, “if you have a perfectly good binding that you were hoping to recycle.” It was a troubling trend for anyone concerned with personal choice or the cost of ski equipment. Touting the undeniable merits of system skis—where ski and binding are designed and sold together as a seamless, smooth-flexing whole—manufacturers were morethan happy if they could convince you that you needed to buy a binding—their binding—every time you bought a ski. But consumers protested, and while system skis are rightfully here to stay, especially for carve-oriented, on-piste skiing, the trend is back toward flat skis and a la carte bindings.

Why? For starters, experts don’t like to be told which binding to buy. They might already have one—or simply prefer Brand X over Brand Y. Furthermore, the higher stand-height of a system binding, while great on hard snow, is unwieldy in powder.  Sponsored athletes wanted to be down on the deck, close to the snow, and manufacturers had to listen.

So, the wider the ski you’re buying this year, the more likely it’ll come flat, and you’ll have to—get to—make a binding choice. Here are some options.

Marker seems rejuvenated since the debut last year of its Freeride series, including the park-oriented Jester and the freeriding Duke. They’re simpler designs than the old Biometrics, with wider footprints that yield better leverage over wider skis. The Duke quickly became a must-have among early adopters, combining powerful skiability with touring functionality. You can free your heel, slap on skins, tour out to that out-of-bounds powder stash, then lock back down for a fixed-heel descent. It’s pricey ($495) and undeniably heavier than other alpine-touring (AT) bindings, but it offers the downhill performance alpine skiers demand. And with a DIN max of 16, it’s plenty beefy. This year, there’s a lighter version, the Baron, with a lower DIN range (4–12) and price ($435). The Jester ($395) gets a lightweight companion as well: the Griffon ($295). Marker’s M and Comp series bindings are still around, but since the ascension of the “royal family,” it’s hard to get excited about them.  

Sometimes, the way a binding stays on is a lot more important than how it comes off, and Salomons have long been prized by hard-charging experts for their reliability in no-fall situations. That heritage comes through in Salomon’s a la carte binding offerings. New this year are high-end additions to the Z and STH lines, both with DIN ranges up to 14. Hence their names: the Z14 ($375) and the STH14 ($450). The STH line debuted last year, positioned as a freeride binding. STH stands for Steel Tech Housing, and the line features a stronger construction than the Z series, with a five-hole mounting pattern and steel base plate in the heel and a wider toepiece foundation for better leverage on wide skis. For Salomon purists, the STH16 ($475) still features adjustable toe-wing height, but it’s automatic on the 14 and the 12 (and on all Z series bindings). Only the heaviest or most daring experts need the 16. For most, either the Z14 or the STH14 will be plenty of binding—the Z for carvers, the STH for freeriders.

Tyrolia, Head’s sister brand, got its start supplying bindings for Austrian troops in 1847 and makes more bindings than any other company in the world, though many are rebranded under licensing agreements with ski manufacturers. If you’re in the market for a binding alone, it’ll be a Tyrolia. The Peak series (same as Head Mojos) is designed for wider skis. They’re built low to the deck, for optimal snow-feel, and with wider footprints, for better leverage. The Peak 11 ($160) and 12 ($235) feature Tyrolia’s diagonal-release heel, which releases laterally, vertically or on any vector in between. The Peak 15 ($335) is upward-release only, so you can land that air without fear of prerelease.

Nordica bindings are back, though exclusively on Nordica skis. The company introduced a proprietary binding design when it entered the ski market but shelved it upon entering into a partnership (recently terminated) with Marker. The binding continued under the Vist name, but now Nordica has brought it back in-house.  It’s the only binding that employs two springs in its toepiece—one to manage horizontal release, the other to manage vertical release—thus ensuring that’ll you come out when you need to, and not when you don’t.  

Neox, a carve-oriented series built on an interface that allows the ski to flex freely, tops Atomic’s line. The heel and toe are allowed to float aft and forward, respectively, as the ski flexes, thus maintaining constant pressure on the boot (and consistent, predictable release). With a DIN range to 12, the AF 412 ($349) will be plenty rugged for most experts. The FFG collection, for freeriders, is the same as sister-brand Salomon’s STH.

Look remains the house brand at Dynastar (and therefore Rossignol, Dynastar’s sister brand). Fans cherish its famous elasticity: A boot toe can travel as far as 22.5 mm off-center before releasing, so the normal shocks of aggressive skiing won’t cause prerelease. The high-end PX collection’s heel (which features 25 mm of vertical elasticity) was introduced two years ago. Gone is the old turntable design, replaced by one that offers more forward pressure (for reliable retention when a ski is deeply flexed) and a more reassuring snap than the somewhat mushy turntable ever mustered on step-in. PX Racing models feature all-metal components and micro-adjustable forward pressure. The PX18 ($429) offers a DIN range up to 18 for the biggest skiers and most aggressive attack, but the 15 ($399) is still plenty stout. ●

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