In the last five years, demand from a growing backcountry ski market has dramatically pushed alpine touring binding innovation. This month at upcoming ski industry trade shows, companies will be unveiling their latest bindings for the 2013/14 season. In recent years, AT binding companies have struggled to make lightweight tech bindings that are also tough enough for freeskiing and DIN compatible for safe releases. This issue has been addressed in next year's products from both Fritschi and Dynafit. Fritschi recently announced that it will offer a DIN 12 tech binding for freeskiers, Dynafit is offering a DIN 16 tech binding, and upstarts like Cast bindings now have projects years in the making. We spoke with a couple of these companies to find out the details on their potentially game-changing new products.
Fritschi Diamir Zenith 12
Unlike the light, framed (connected heel and toe pieces) AT freeride bindings Diamir has long been known for, the Zenith is a frameless, DIN-adjustable tech binding, made more for big-mountain skiing. "We want to have safety and performance. The bindings are under 1,000 grams (2.2 pounds) per pair, with a DIN to 12, and they will have a normal, predictable release," said Thomas Laakso, ski category director for Fritschi distributor Black Diamond. The absence of the frame also means that skiers will be closer to the ski for better downhill performance. Added Laakso, "This binding gives skiers a choice -- they can ride the resort or the backcountry, and they have a choice of a safer tech binding." The newly-patented bindings will be widely available next fall. Like all tech bindings, compatible boots are necessary with the Zenith.
Dynafit Beast 16
The Dynafit Beast is for skiers who want a tech binding and a predictable release like the Zenith 12, but with a DIN they can crank to 16, made for truly aggressive riders. Freeride World Tour skier-turned-engineer Frederick Anderson and Dynafit athlete Eric Hjorleifson designed the binding, which unlike Dynafit's traditional binding construction, is a step-in (but still tech). "This was a five-year process, with over $1.5 million in R&D," said Jim Lamancusa, director of marketing for Dynafit North America. "The biggest complaint about our bindings was that skiers couldn't do what they wanted to do: steep aggressive lines at speed and cliffs. People had to lock the binding down to DIN infinity, which isn't safe. With the new Beast, there is elasticity in the toe." The binding was designed for fatter skis and it incorporates several new patented designs to avoid premature release from sudden impacts and landings. The bindings, which weigh 1,870 grams a pair (4.1 pounds), will be released in a limited capacity next fall and will cost $1,000.
The frame binding market, such as the Salomon and Atomic touring bindings, traditional Fritchis, and Marker will continue to focus on the ski market that is not interested in tech bindings, but still wants to head into the backcountry. Marker, whose game-changing Duke binding allowed big mountain skiers to tour, is bringing newer versions of the Duke, Baron and Tour to market next fall. "We're continuing to target our same market, but we do have one new binding coming out," said Geoff Curtis, head of marketing for Marker-Volkl. The new binding and its specifics will be unveiled at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City next week. "I can say, it is not a tech binding, we are continuing with our current platforms," said Curtis.
If you are the kind of skier who wishes to ascend a big mountain line in your alpine boots and a smooth-climbing tech toe-piece, and then replace that toe piece with an alpine binding for the descent, the Cast system is made for you. Freeride World Tour competitor Lars Chickering-Ayers designed the system and after last winter's prototype testing on about 50 pairs of bindings, the company is ready to start a production run. Cast also had to develop a way to make alpine boots tech compatible, which is necessary to use its system. "We're just hoping boot companies catch on to our method, and [tech compatible] becomes the standard way to make a boot sole," said Chickering-Ayers. This season, Cast will launch a Kickstarter campaign in February to help defray production costs of the initial line. The company also plans to develop their own tech toe-piece (currently the set-up comes with a Dynafit toe-piece). After Kickstarter, Cast will sell direct to the consumer in fall 2013, with plans for retail partners in fall 2014.