DISCLAIMER: THIS GUIDE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. IT IS NOT INTENDED AS A “DO IT YOURSELF” GUIDE TO ALPlINE TOURING BINDING MOUNTING, ADJUSTMENT AND/OR MAINTENANCE, NOR AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL ADVICE AND SERVICE. ALWAYS HAVE YOUR ALPINE TOURING BINDINGS MOUNTED, ADJUSTED, SERVICED AND INSPECTED BY A CERTIFIED BINDING TECHNICIAN.
Alpine touring (also known as "Randonnée" or "AT") ski bindings allow you to lift your heels naturally while skinning uphill or moving over rolling terrain, then lock your boots down and use regular alpine skiing technique when you want to go downhill. Used in combination with climbing skins and alpine touring boots that have a hinging upper cuff, AT bindings make traveling over snowy ground remarkably fast and efficient. If the idea of skinning uphill under your own power and using conventional alpine technique to ski down appeals to you, consider alpine touring bindings.
Frame type bindings have toe and heel pieces connected by a frame or rails and often work with both alpine and alpine touring ski boots.
There’s a growing selection of both types of AT bindings, offering lots of choices in weight, function, and price.
There's compromise involved in any ski, boot, and binding system that goes both up and downhill. What's best for the up - light weight and range of motion - is at odds with what works best for skiing down, namely width, mass, and stiffness of boot and binding.
The best binding for you will vary depending on your skiing style, ability level, fitness level, conditions, and the type of touring you plan to do.
A burly ski combined with a heavy frame binding will ski as well as most alpine setups and be suitable for heavier skiers or those who ski aggressively in the backcountry. It also appeals to those who can only justify one pair of skis and boots for both lift-served and touring days. The downside is weight - extra pounds on your feet are slower on the uphill, which takes its toll over a long day of touring.
A very light ski and boot with a tech binding will let you fly up the skintrack but doesn’t provide the same downhill and retention capabilities of a more robust, heavier setup. Tech bindings require a boot with molded-in toe fittings and a slotted heel plate. Some super light tech boots will only work with tech bindings, but many boots will work with frame bindings as well. Super light setups are appropriate for people who plan to use their binding predominately for touring vs. skiing in a resort and don’t plan to catch a lot of air or ski super aggressively. They are great for long trips, spring and summer tours where deep fresh snow and crust are rare, and randonnée racing.
Keep in mind that tech binding release values appear to use the same ISO (International Standards Organization) and DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung, a German standards organization) scale as alpine bindings, but are not ISO/DIN certified like alpine bindings - the elasticity of tech bindings and the force required to cause a release, won’t necessarily be the same as an alpine binding set at the same number. As of October 2015, a limited number of tech bindings are certified to the ISO/DIN 13992 standard used for frame AT bindings. These include the Dynafit Beast 14, Beast 16, Radical 2.0 ST and FT, Fritschi Diamir Vipec "Black" and Marker Kingpin 10 and 13.
Unlike alpine bindings which release laterally at the toe, most tech bindings currently on the market have a fixed toe and are designed to release initially from the heel in both the lateral and vertical directions. When the boot has travelled far enough out of the normal ski position, it levers the toepiece open and the boot pops out. Recently, several exceptions to this have appeared on the market - the Fritschi Vipec and Trab TR2 bindings release laterally at the toe. The toe piece also has some side to side elasticity, while the new Dynafit Beast series and Radical 2.0 series have some free rotation at the toe before a release is initiated. This trend should continue as more tech bindings with heel and toe elasticity/release come onto the market.
The best bet for many people is to start at the heavier end to get a feel for the sport without jeopardizing their enjoyment of the downhill. Some people simply swap their alpine bindings for AT bindings, get some climbing skins, and head out - with proper backcountry safety gear and knowledge, of course.
Heavier frame bindings like those from Marker, Salomon/Atomic and Tyrolia have the same sort of retention and elasticity as their alpine counterparts and use many of the same components. These bindings can be used reliably for inbounds skiing by aggressive skiers and are suitable for wide and heavy skis. A frame binding and stiffer AT boot can be a good choice for skiers trying to do it all with one setup, or hard charging skiers transitioning from alpine setups.
Note: Not all frame bindings are certified for use with all alpine touring soles - check the manufacturer's recommendations to ensure that your boot is compatible with the binding you choose.
Lighter frame bindings from Fritschi and Marker can be the right choice for those who mix touring and lift-served skiing, want to lessen the total weight of their setup, and aren’t as concerned with charging hard and fast. These bindings can often be used with almost any touring boot and will also fit alpine boots. The step-in operation and release settings will be similar to alpine bindings.
Choosing a tech binding and boot combination may be the best choice if you plan on touring far or fast. The lighter weight and smoother mechanical action will save you energy on the uphill, and you’ll cover more ground with less fatigue. Light, smooth and less aggressive skiers often use tech setups successfully for inbounds skiing, and recently introduced tech bindings like the Dynafit Beast 16 and 14, Fritschi Vipec, and Marker Kingpin, which are slightly heavier but incorporate more elasticity and higher release values have also proven reliable for lift served skiing.
Keep in mind that most frame bindings function like alpine bindings for entry and exit (the only difference is a locking switch to convert from tour to ski mode), but tech bindings require a short learning curve - this adjustment period might not appeal to everyone, especially newcomers to touring. Recent tech designs from Dynafit, G3, Fritschi and Marker continue to make use of the standard tech fittings while offering improved elasticity and extended release value range; these models may prove to be viable "quiver of one" solutions for a wider range of skiers.
Frame AT bindings are generally designed to work with both flat ISO/DIN 5355 Alpine soles and rockered ISO/DIN 9523 Alpine Touring soles, and will also be compatible with proprietary rockered soles like WTR (Walk-to-Ride) and GripWalk. Early generations of the Guardian and Tracker bindings were compatible only with ISO 5355 and Walk-to-Ride soles. ISO/DIN 9523 soles exist both with and without tech toe and heel fittings, but the fittings are required to use tech bindings. To further complicate matters, there are tech boots with shortened soles that do not meet the shape requirements of ISO/DIN 9523 and work only with tech bindings. If in doubt about a specific boot and binding combination, ask your binding tech.
These options could be a solution if you prefer your alpine bindings with extremely high release values, don’t need to skin far, or aren’t afraid to carry the extra weight uphill.
We recommend that backcountry travelers take an AIARE Level One class or equivalent and practice the skills they learn there regularly with their partners. Here are some great resources for avalanche safety education:
— American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education
— American Avalanche Association
— Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center
You should carry an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe when travelling in avalanche terrain and know how to use them. Backcountry travel requires an acceptance of the risks involved (avalanches are not the only danger) and implies a willingness to take responsibility for educating oneself about these dangers and ways to mitigate them.
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