How to Get Started with Dynafit (Tech) Bindings


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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 familiarize yourself with 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 (or heelpiece cup) and lock the heel down. The rigid sole of your ski boot acts as the frame between the toe and heel piece, saving considerable weight.

Tech bindings have only a fraction of the mass of alpine bindings. 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.
 
Get familiar with the operation of your tech bindings on the carpet at home before your first outing. Practice clicking in and out, locking the toe lever, and using the different climbing levels. A bit of dry land practice will help when you try them on snow for the first time.

Proper Adjustment

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. The Dynafit Speed Radical and Speed Turn models require a 5.5 mm gap, while some other models and brands (Atomic Backland/Salomon MTN, 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. Newer bindings with heel elasticity should have zero to .5 mm gap - the Dynafit Radical 2.0 series, for example, use this negligible "kiss" gap (see photo below right), as do the G3 Ion and Fritschi Vipec. The Marker Kingpin and Fritschi Tecton do not use heel pins to secure the rear of the boot, and each has their own specific forward pressure (the adjustment screw should be flush with the plastic housing in ski position). Gap or forward pressure is critical to the proper function of your tech bindings; ask a certified technician if you are uncertain about how to check this.

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, as well as engaging one toe pin first, then rolling the boot flat so the other toe pin clicks in. 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. 

Certain 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, and your skill at stepping into tech toes will increase quickly with a few practice sessions.

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: Atomic Backland/Salomon MTN, Dynafit Beast, Marker Kingpin, Fritschi Vipec and Tecton heels do not need to be rotated to switch between ski and tour modes, but move back on a track to clear the boot heel or simply remain with pins forward-facing while skinning.

It’s normal for the boot to be suspended above the ski supported only by the rear set of pins when in ski mode, especially in bindings without a ski brake. It might look precarious, but it’s the way the binding is designed to work. Tech bindings with ski brakes will typically have a moving AFD (Anti-Friction Device) located under the heel of the boot that fills up this space.

Skinning Mode


If you want to skin, click into the toe, making sure the heel is turned to the climbing position if needed. Then "lock" the toe into the climbing position by pulling up on the toe lever until you hear an audible click (or series of clicks, depending on the binding). If you don't hear the click(s) or see the word "Walk" on the lever base (Fritschi) , it could mean 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.

Use your heel risers to adjust to varying levels of steepness while you skin. In steep terrain, a higher position makes it easier on your legs, helps prevent heel blisters, and enables better traction by placing more weight on the rear of the ski to maximize skin grip. For flat or rolling terrain, a low position is usually best. For examples of some common tech bindings in the low, medium and high climbing positions, see the photos below (top to bottom - Dynafit Radical 2.0, G3 Ion, Marker Kingpin):

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.

Ski Mode


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. Currently, a limited number of tech bindings have attained ISO/DIN 13992 certification, which means their release performance has been consistently tested to perform to a specified standard. These include the Dynafit Radical 2.0 and Beast series, Fritschi Diamir Vipec "Black" and Marker Kingpin series.

On traditional tech bindings, 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). Exceptions are the Fritschi Ion and Tecton bindings, which are adjusted for lateral release value at the rear of the toepiece. Atomic Backland/Salomon MTN release values are adjusted by swapping the "U" spring in the heelpiece and the upward and lateral functions can't be separated. Most ultralight race-type tech bindings have no release value adjustment.


Dynafit Radical heel adjustment points


In practice, tech bindings may 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.

Tech Binding Quick Tips
 

  • Check that the toes are aligned properly and the heel pins engage correctly.
  • Spray under the toe arms periodically with silicone spray to reduce snow and ice buildup.
  • Raise and lower the heel of your boot a few times when engaging the toe to make sure the interface is clear of debris.
  • Make sure your toes are fully "locked" before skinning. If the toe won’t lock fully, check for debris in the boot toe sockets or under the binding toe arms.
  • If ice does collect under the toe arms, hold the ski upright and snap the toe open and closed a few times without the boot to remove it (wear gloves so your fingers don’t get pinched). If this isn’t enough to break up and remove the ice, use a multi-tool or similar pointed object to get it out.
  • Forward (vertical) and lateral (horizontal) release values are normally set with different screws, and are not necessarily equal to alpine DIN values with the same number. Start with release values that are familiar, and be prepared to adjust them if needed.
  • Dynafit Radical and Radical 2.0 (the newest model) heels are only meant to be rotated in a clockwise direction – turn them ¼ turn to skin, then another ¾ turn in the same direction to return to ski position. The exception is the Dynafit Speed Radical with external anti-rotation tab, which should be rotated counterclockwise back to touring position rather than forcing the heel over the tab (disregard the arrow on the heel top plate).
  • Dynafit Turn heels are designed to be rotated with the tip of a ski pole inserted into the riser “volcano” (Radical heels are not) but proper technique is important to avoid breaking the top plate. Use an arcing motion rather than pulling straight back on your pole.
  • Dynafit Beast, Marker Kingpin, Fritschi Vipec/Tecton and G3 Onyx heels move rearward rather than rotating for skinning. Atomic Backland/Salomon MTN heels may be left with pins facing forward to skin.
  • G3 ION heels may be rotated in either direction, and the lifters function equally in either posiiton.

Skinning Quick Tips

 
  • Slide your feet along the snow surface for efficiency rather than picking them up.
  • When it gets steep or you start to slip backwards, keep your weight back on your heels for better traction. Stand up straight and think about "pulling up your toes." This isn’t intuitive for most people, but it works.
  • Keep your angle of ascent moderate and consistent whenever possible. If you’re following, stay in the skintrack and take your turn breaking trail when the leader gets tired.
  • Use your climbing lifters when it gets steep. Using them puts less strain on your hamstrings and helps pressure the back of the ski for better traction.
  • Learn and practice your uphill kickturn technique, starting with mellow terrain and working up to steeps. Kickturns on 45˚ slopes in two feet of powder are half Tai Chi and half ballet, but still faster than bootpacking.
  • When transitioning in deep snow, pack out a flat area and take off only one ski at a time to maintain a solid platform.

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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