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.
So you've decided that "Light is Right" and purchased a set of tech boots and bindings for a lighter weight ski touring option. They're mounted up and ready to go, but you've never actually stepped into them… and dang, they seem so tiny!
Relax. Lots of people have gone through the tech binding initiation process and survived to tell the tale. Tech bindings have a short but steep learning curve. Here are a few hints to help you get to know your new bindings.
Tech bindings, sometimes known by the brand name Dynafit but now produced by many companies, are ingenious, lightweight alpine touring bindings that rely on two sets of precision-machined pins to hold the toe and heel of your boot in place. The binding must be used with a special boot equipped with metal pin sockets molded into the toe and a screwed-on heel plate with deep molded indents in the heel. While skinning uphill, your toe is held in place by only the two front pins; when you want to descend, you step down to engage the two rear pins and lock the heel down. The rigid sole of your ski boot acts as the frame between the toe and heelpieces, saving weight.
Tech bindings have only a fraction of the mass of alpine bindings, and people who haven’t used them sometimes find it hard to believe they’ll be reliable in the backcountry, but strong skiers have used them successfully in some of the most severe conditions on the planet, and chances are you can too.
After your bindings are mounted, check the lateral alignment of the boots (not while wearing them) by clicking the toes into the toe pieces and raising and lowering the heels a few times. With the heels in "ski" position (pins facing forward), the heel plate slots in your boots should line up perfectly with the pins. A millimeter or so to either side is okay, but the pins shouldn't hit any rubber sole material as they slide into the slots. If they don't line up properly, a qualified ski shop can sometimes correct the alignment by loosening the screws and re-tightening them in different sequences.
Check the gap between the boot heel and heelpiece with the boot clicked into “ski” position. Use the plastic spacer that comes with the bindings or a set of digital calipers to check this distance. This gap must be set accurately for the binding to function properly. Current Dynafit "Radical" models require a 5.5 mm gap, while some other models and brands (Plum, for instance) require 4.0 mm spacing. Older Vertical and Comfort models, which originally specified a 6 mm gap, should also be set to 5.5 mm. Some newer bindings with heel elasticity should be set closer - the Dynafit Beast 16 and 14, for example, use a negligible gap, as do the G3 Ion and Fritschi Vipec. Ask a certified technician if you are uncertain about the proper adjustment of your bindings.
Note: There are two versions of the Dynafit 5.5 mm spacer. The older model measures 5.5 mm between the two "bumps" while the new model must be compressed halfway between heel and binding to measure 5.5 mm.
Tech bindings require a bit more skill to put on than regular step-in ski bindings, but you'll get the hang of it with a little practice. There are several common ways of getting into a tech toe, including stepping straight down (necessary with newer Dynafit Radical toes), as well as engaging one toe pin first, then rolling the boot flat so the other toe pin clicks in (popular with some other brands and older Dynafit models). Some people prefer to position their boots against the heelpiece first, then step down on the toe, and many people use different techniques depending on the situation. G3 Onyx toe pieces have a default "closed" position, so the toe lever must be held down with a pole or your hand in order to open the jaws and engage the toe pins.
Some boots come with toe alignment markers molded into the toes, if you don’t have these you can draw marks directly over the toe sockets on your boots with a Sharpie so you know where the toe piece pins should line up.
After the toe piece arms close and the pins are in the boot sockets, gently raise and lower your boot heel a few times to "seat" the pins. If there is snow or debris in the way, this action will cause the pins to bore into the sockets and force extraneous matter out. If you want to ski, twist the heelpiece so the pins face forward and step down hard so the pins click into the slots in the heel of your boot.
Note: Dynafit Beast, Marker Kingpin, Fritschi Vipec and G3 Onyx heels do not rotate to switch between ski and tour modes, but move back and forth on a track to clear or engage the boot heel.
It’s normal for the boot to be suspended above the ski supported only by the four pins when in ski mode. It might look precarious, especially if you don’t have ski brakes attached, but it’s the way the binding is designed to work.
If you want to skin, click into the toe, making sure the heel is turned to one of the climbing positions (pins turned away from the forward position). Then "lock" the toe into the climbing position by pulling up on the toe lever until you hear a series of audible clicks. Depending on your weight, three to four clicks is normally enough for security. If you don't hear the full number of clicks, it probably means you have dirt, ice or snow blocking the system, either in the pin/socket interface or under the toe arms. Take the ski off and check. Using the binding for skinning without fully locked toes can result in the ski releasing when you don’t want it to. (Note: The Dynafit Beast 16 toe locks by pushing the lever forward until it is flat to the ski surface)
Use your heel risers to adjust to varying levels of steepness while you skin. For steep terrain, a high position makes it easier on your legs, helps prevent heel blisters, and enables better traction. For flat or rolling terrain, a low position is usually best.
Note that the Speed Classic heel is twisted to give different riser heights while the Radical remains in the same position.
Note: Some brands or models of tech bindings have toes that go into lock mode automatically when you step in, or a smooth locking lever that produces no clicks. If you own these bindings, you need to be aware of their quirks).
All tech manufacturers recommend that you unlock the toes (so the lever is down and parallel to the ski) for skiing, and lateral release values are calculated with the lever in this position. Skiing with the toe lever in the locked position increases the force needed for a lateral release, but does not affect forward release. If you ski with your toes locked, you risk unreliable lateral release when you need it.
While most tech models use a set of numbers for the release values that appear to mirror alpine binding DIN settings, there is currently no industry standard for certifying tech binding difficulty of release and these numbers are only approximate equivalents. Recently, a limited number of tech bindings have attained DIN certified release values. These include the Dynafit Beast 14, Beast 16, Radical 2.0 ST and FT, Fritschi Diamir Vipec "Black" and Marker Kingpin 10 and 13.
Both vertical (forward) and lateral (sideways) release values are set at the heelpiece, but with separate screws. Release value numbers are printed on the heelpiece body; vertical release is indicated by the moving plastic tab at top while lateral release is indicated by where the sharp edge of the metal cap lines up with the markings (see photo).
In practice, tech bindings will perform differently than alpine bindings during release, especially in the forward (vertical) plane. Elasticity may also not be the same as alpine bindings, so be aware that your tech binding may not offer the same level of retention in extreme conditions. If in doubt, work up to high speeds and air gradually.
Learning curve aside, most people who transition to tech bindings find that the light weight and smoothness of operation while skinning improve the overall ski touring experience immensely, and we’re guessing you will too.
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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