Dec 17 2012

Review: Marker Duke for 2013


Back in the day Corey Stern and I could only dream of the Duke.

What Marker’s Duke has made clear, and the reason so many alpine companies are now jumping on the backcountry bandwagon, is that heavy gear is NOT a limiting factor, but an enabling one. To an experienced backcountry skier a six pound binding is not a hurdle, it is a barrier. However, to a resort bred convert, it is a bridge to the land of fresh tracks, and the bigger the bridge, the better the ride.

While some thought the lack of numbers in the backcountry was due to a fear of the dangers there, the Duke made clear, danger is part of the lure. Marker simply provided the requisite ingredients that alpine skiers could and would believe in to chase untracked lines.

So far, only Duke has a track record proving it can rock as hard as you can in-bounds, as hard as you dare out-of-bounds, and can help you climb back for another run as easy as pie. Users are adamant and consistent in their endorsement of how well the Duke skis compared to any other touring binding, and until this year, there was really no serious competition for its reputation.

With the advent of competition from Tyrolia and Salomon it is clear skiers have voted resoundingly with their wallets, yes, we want to ski anywhere and everywhere. We want a binding with beef on a plate, screw the weight.

Downhill Performance

A binding with beef on a plate, screw the weight!

To achieve that Marker elevated their Jester binding to royal status by integrating it with a touring plate made of composite plastic. The beauty is how tightly it is held to the ski for downhill mode. In addition, a heavy duty spring is used that allows release values from 7 to 16. It isn’t so you can crank your release up to 16, but rather, so that if you feel the need to crank ‘er to 12 or 13, you’ll be operating in the middle of the springs range. If you set your release value below 8 you should consider the Baron instead with a spring that is good from 4-13.

Mounting pattern is 46mm
28% wider for ’13.

Fans and new customers will appreciate that Marker ups the ante this season by making the mounting pattern 28% wider, from 36 to 46mm for better power transfer with full fat skis. Edging power is increased a skosh, more so with fatter skis, and the change improves Markers marketing advantage. All the other functional basics remain the same, including a tour mode that offers flat, 7° or 13° climbing posts.

In the binding you will be a full 36mm above the top of your ski. Not so good for sensitivity, but great for better leverage on hard snow. There is also a sliding AFD under the toe, and the height of the toe is easily adjustable to accommodate the variation possible with sole thickness in AT boots.

Tour Mode
Like any plate style AT binding touring performance is a compromise. Nonetheless it’s quite acceptable for short or sidecountry tours. Some folks bemoan the fact that you need to exit the binding to switch modes, but if you’re putting skins on, you need to be off your skis anyway. If you’re wearing fat skins you might need to step out to take them off which just creates an opportune time to make sure the tracks on the rear slider are clear of ice. Though tech bindings may tour better, the Duke tours fine enough and far better than what most pinheads put up with in the 90s.

While the Duke is known to ice up, even regularly, it rarely becomes an unmanageable mess. The locking baseplate is plastic which helps reduce icing, and when snow does pack underneath the rails it is easily cleaned out so you can lock the heel for turns. Usually you just need to slam the binding closed a few times and, voila’, you’re ready to charge back down.

Eric Ongerth harvests one last turn in Tahoe’s freshest

The climbing post resides under the heel, not optimal but it can be flipped into position, with a bit of practice, using your ski pole. Marker also calls attention to the fact that the binding shifts aft 40 mm when in tour mode claiming it tours better here. I’ll admit it can help the tip to float in soft snow or give better skinning purchase with the pivot more toward the rear but it definitely does not make kick turns easier as claimed. Since it is a free pivot it doesn’t hinder them much either, but a more centered pivot position, as well as one that is under the toe, not in front of it, is superior. The Duke has neither of those traits. It’s a small demerit and only worth pointing out to correct bogus marketing spin.

A big part of the weight with the Duke comes from a super heavy duty, 16 DIN spring. It sounds like overkill to seasoned backcountry skiers, but to those taking as much air as they dare, having a range of elasticity up to 16 DIN sings with the sweet sound of assurance at every landing. That’s also why it is so solid in the bumps, or wherever it is that you are compelled to crank it up.

As soon as you start going long, either on big days, or several consecutive days fully earning each turn, the weight will wear on you – especially if you’re breaking trail in deep snow. When you get to that stage know two things. First, you’re hooked, and two, you can chop weight without even adjusting your technique, all it takes is mo’ money (for a tech system).

Wobble, Wobble?
If you use the Duke to earn a lot of turns you may eventually notice slop in the main pivot and in the mode switch. It makes for a wobbly tour mode. One cure is to send it to Marker for warranty repair. Another might be to add bushings around the interface between the main pivot and the supporting plastic. If you use a Duke on enough tours that it wobbles out, you’re ready to graduate to a tech system.

Even if you do reach the stage where you want a lighter, more durable binding, most Duke riders keep their Dukes handy for days when they’re making tracks on both sides of the rope and keepin’ up with the boyz. That’s where you’ll appreciate the solid connection of the plate to your ski along a sliding rail.

With a binding like the Duke, the only reason not to go into the backcountry would be a lack of skiing skill, or safety. Both those conditions can be overcome with knowledge and experience. That means if you’re a hard core skier, some day you will at least flirt with the Duke. You might even take ‘em for a spin and once you taste how sweet earning your turns is, the Duke will deliver plenty of fun filled adventure.

The Duke has one other bit of confidence inspiring value – a six year track record of largely satisfied customers. There may be other options to chose from in the heavyweight touring division this year, but no others with tens of thousands of testimonials.

Price: $495
Weight/pr: 6 lbs., 2 oz. (2.78 kg)
Sizes avail: Small (265mm < b.s.l. < 325mm), Large (305mm < b.s.l. < 365mm) Brake widths: 90, 110, 130 mm Baron Price: $445 Weight/pr: 5 lbs., 6½ oz. (2.45 kg) Sizes avail: Small (265mm < b.s.l. < 325mm), Large (305mm < b.s.l. < 365mm) Brake widths: 90, 110, 130 mm © 2012   [adrotate banner="35"]

  • http://www.facebook.com/TahoeMountain Dave Polivy

    Hey Dostie- You are wasting all your valuable content and link juice on this Marker and the ABS posts. You don’t have any avantlink product ads and you are not even linking your text with embedded tracking so get some credit for this great content! Enjoy the pow!

  • Dostie

    He he! Thanks (?) for the public jab. Fixed half of that, working on the other half when I’m not working on other things. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/TahoeMountain Dave Polivy

     Just making sure you get your credit where its due! These extremely detailed and informative posts take time and money! Just looking out for your well being;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/TahoeMountain Dave Polivy

     And, I seem to have lost your email so had no other way. Feel free to delete the comments if you think they are inappropriate.

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  • http://jasonflaherty.com/ Jason Flaherty

    Can you wear touring boots like say the Mastrale RS in these things?

  • Dostie

    According to lawyers, absolutely not. Two factors at work here. First, the thickness of the sole is not the same as with a DIN (alpine resort boot) sold, so the AFD (anti-friction device) will not work reliably. This is exacerbated by the sticky rubber lugged sole which changes the coefficient of friction between boot and binding. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t adjust the height of the AFD on a Duke, Baron or Tour binding so that the gap is ‘properly’ adjusted. IOW – you CAN use ‘em if you adjust ‘em correctly, but don’t expect to win a lawsuit for medical costs if you injure yourself ‘cuz they didn’t release as expected with a lug-soled AT boot. Besides, if you have Maestrale’s, what are you doing even contemplating using a Duke?

  • http://jasonflaherty.com/ Jason Flaherty

    Haha, ya good question for sure. I am looking for something to Jump off stuff with in the BC on a pair of Praxis Powderboards with full rocker. I ride Dynafit now on some other Praxis BC skis, but don’t think I want them on the full rocker (isn’t there a release issue possible when in that reversed / rockered flex in the ski?) and don’t want to huck 20+ in them with my 210lb frame. Not that I don’t trust them for large descents, its more the large impacts I am worried about. Hence looking into some Marker, Solys, or something else… I love the Dynafit / Mastrale combo BTW!

  • Dostie

    If you’re serious about hucking it seems a beefier boot would be something you want as well to absorb the energy of landing. Ultimately you want the MFD plate with a Look Pivot 18 and a boot like the Hurricane. If weight still matters though, I’d lean towards Dynafit’s Vulcan/Beast combo (reviews TK). Vulcan hasa similar fit to Maestrale, but is stiffer. Beast is a Dynafiddle with elasticity for absorbing in the impact zone.

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