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How to Buy Alpine Touring (AT) / Randonnée Bindings

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We have one of the largest selections of alpine touring bindings on the web, a super knowledgeable staff and expert guides. 

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.

Things to consider:

  • What type of skiing are you planning to do with this binding? "Burly backcountry lines with air" is different than "fast and light, long-distance touring.”
  • Do you plan to use this binding for lift-served skiing as well as touring?
  • Does this binding require a specific type of boot?
  • Are you willing to carry the extra weight of a heavy AT binding?
  • Are you willing to accept the downhill limitations of a light AT binding?

Types of AT Bindings

AT bindings fall into two categories:
Frame 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.
Tech Bindings – “Tech" type bindings are often referred to by the brand name Dynafit, although there now are a number of brands that make them. They rely on a set of pins to hold the toe (and with the exception of the Marker Kingpin, the heel) in place and require a special boot. Tech bindings are lightweight because the “frame” in the system is the rigid boot sole itself. 
Dynafit Radical STDynafit Speed RadicalDynafit Beast 14Marker Kingpin 13G3 Ion12
Dynafit TLT Radical STDynafit Speed  RadicalDynafit Beast 14Marker Kingpin 13G3 Ion 12
There’s a growing selection of both types of AT bindings, offering lots of choices in weight, function, and price. The selection of tech bindings that offer higher release values and improved elasticity is growing annually, and though the jury is still out, bindings like the Dynafit Beast 14 and 16 and the Marker Kingpin 13 may prove to be suitable for aggressive skiers in both the ski area and backcountry. 

Up vs. Down

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.

Strength vs. Weight

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 for some doesn’t provide the same downhill and release capabilities of a more robust, heavy 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 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 DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung, a German standards organization) scale as alpine bindings, but are not 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 binding has toe pins that hinge horizontally, releasing 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.

Which binding is for you? 

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. That is, with proper backcountry safety gear and knowledge, of course.

Heavier Frame Bindings 

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

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.

Tech 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 can use tech setups successfully for inbounds skiing, too.
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.

Boot Sole Compatibility

Frame AT bindings are generally designed to work with both ISO/DIN 5355 Alpine soles and ISO/DIN 9523 Alpine Touring soles. Early generations of the Guardian and Tracker bindings were compatible only with ISO 5355 and WTR (Walk-to-Ride) soles, a separate spec developed by Salomon but since adopted by other companies. ISO/DIN 9523 soles exist both with and without tech toe and heel fittings, but the fittings are required to use tech bindings (Marker Kingpins require only the toes). 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, but require an add-on heel attachment for use with some bindings. If in doubt about a specific boot and binding combination, ask your binding tech.

Common AT binding questions:

Can I telemark on AT bindings? No. People who are already familiar with telemark technique will sometimes throw in a few tele turns with AT heels unlocked, but they aren’t designed for the stresses of telemark skiing at speed. Furthermore, AT bindings pivot in front of the toe, while telemark bindings and boots are designed to flex at the ball of the foot with a spring for rebound. 
Can I use alpine boots with these bindings? Most frame-type AT bindings have enough toe height adjustment to use with an alpine DIN boot, but tech bindings will not accept them. Also, skinning for long periods in heavy alpine boots that do not have a hinging hike mode can be quite uncomfortable.
Can I use a tech binding for my everyday lift-served skis? Maybe. If you are light, smooth and don't get much air, they might work for regular lift-served skiing, but they are not for everyone. Also, tech bindings do not meet the ISO 9462 standard for alpine binding release and adjustment, and may not perform like the alpine bindings you've been using.
Can I use a tech binding with a wide powder ski? Probably. Wide skis place more stress on the boot/binding connection than narrow ones, but many people use this combination successfully. Tech bindings with wider mount patterns are also increasingly popular (Dynafit Beast, Plum Yak, G3 ION).
Can I use a frame-type AT binding with big skis as my only setup? Yes. Heavier frame bindings often use the same release mechanisms as their alpine counterparts and are extremely reliable.
How about adapters that let me use the alpine bindings I already own? There are a few systems that allow you to go into tour mode and still use your alpine bindings for skiing down:

The SI&I CAST System - This system allows you to use regular alpine bindings for the descent, but slide in a Dynafit Radical toepiece instead of your regular alpine toe for skinning. The CAST system requires a modification to your alpine boots so that they can be used with the Dynafit toes.
The MFD Alltime Plate - Plate is mounted to your skis, alpine bindings are mounted to it, and the MFD plate hinges up and down.
The BCA Alpine Trekker - They fit into your alpine bindings and hold your boots securely while allowing the heels to lift; you remove them and put them in your pack to ski down. 
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.
**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. We recommend that backcountry travelers take an AIARE Level One class or the equivalent, and practice the skills they learn there regularly with their partners.

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Learn more with our other Backcountry Guides:
Backcountry Basics – How to Get Started
Backcountry Gear – Checklist
Backcountry Backpacks – How to Choose
Avalanche Beacons / Transceivers – How to Choose
Avalanche Shovels – How to Choose
Avalanche Probes – How to Choose
Avalanche Airbags – How to Choose
Alpine Touring Skis – How to Choose
Alpine Touring Ski Boots – How to Choose
Dynafit (Tech) Bindings – Getting Started
Backcountry Basics - How to Skin
Climbing Skins – How to Choose
Climbing Skins – Size Guide
Climbing Skins – Weight Chart
Climbing Skins – How to Cut/Trim
Outerwear & Layers – How to Dress for the Backcountry

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