Without a doubt, Voile’s Switchback is my favorite telemark binding these days. It adorns three of the five pair of skis in my quiver — a pair of Karhu Guides that take a cruise through the backyard woods about 4 times a week, a pair of Atomic RT-86s for all manner of turns, and also a pair of RT-80s for spring tours when the 86ers are overkill. It has the most important features I require in a telebinding, and the ones it doesn’t have I don’t need (knock on wood).If bindings were cars, the Switchback would be a Subaru for its all conditions driveability. In my house it is unanimous, the Subaru is a great winter vehicle — reliable and agile (summer too). There is constant jostling for the option to drive the Outback, especially when you consider the only other options in this household are a couple of Chivys. It isn’t the most powerful binding on the market, but it easily goes where others can’t. It doesn’t weigh a lot, and it isn’t the most expensive. It tracks superbly, uphill and downhill, and if you know how to drive ‘er, you can out maneuver higher-powered vehicles.
Like a Suby, it’s a no frills ride, but well engineered. The toe plate is a hunk of bombproof, heat-treated stainless steel that wraps around your boot in a unitary design with brass bearings for the pivot. Tele resistance comes from Voile’s classic Hardwire cable assembly using solid cable bars and linear compression springs. The heel lever has been improved to be tougher and to latch with a more solid snap, whether on top of the heel step, or in the groove. It’s also easier to take off, especially with the tip of your ski pole.
Switchback has enough power to easily control the biggest ski I use (88mm waist) and then some, with a 3-buckle boot. I see plenty of folks using the Switchback on fatter skis, but they’re also pairing it with bigger boots. I think as soon as your ski gets wider than 100mm underfoot most skiers are better served with a more powerful binding. On the Hammerhead scale it comes in around HH#2.5ish, due largely to side routed cables that deliver a smooth, slow engagement of tele resistance. Fully loaded the binding feels like HH#3. In soft snow, the sensation is delightful and there’s no need for more. On firm snow, just drop low and there’s power enough to hold an edge as long as your head’s screwed on right.
If earning your turns is a priority and dominates your ski time, fat rigs mean bigger boots and wider skins and more surface area for the snow collect and you end up hauling around over 10 pounds per foot in the skin track. Ugh. At only three pounds per pair the Switchback is the perfect antidote for the overweight heavy tele blues.
The mode switch is among the easiest to use. A thin, pear shaped loop of stainless steel sits at the front of the binding. Rotate it left to tour, right to lock the toe for turns. Just remember “righty tighty, lefty loosey,” like the convention for bolts. It is spring loaded, so it moves super easily with just a bit of rotational force and a smidgen of dexterity. Because the locking tangs are hidden inside the toe riser, they don’t ice up themselves, and tend to push off any that might build up on the horizontal locking bar at the back of the toe plate. It’s not quite as simple as the push button toggle of BD’s O1, but it’s more reliable since it rarely ices. It tends to play hide-n-seek under snow, making it hard to put your pole in the right place to switch it. In tour mode the toe plate rotates over 50° by itself. Stick a duckbill in it though and the range of motion is max 50°+. I say plus because you always get a degree or three more due to the bellows flex of a tele boot, but the toe plate itself only delivers 50.
Compared to other telemark bindings, it is the least prone to icing. After 200 tours and more than twice as many mode changes I’ve only had ice prevent switching back to turn mode three times; always in super sticky snow due to snow glamming on to my ski crampon post first, then growing so large it impeded closing the back of the toe plate. The locking tangs always worked so it is debateable that the binding itself iced up. It does have a slight icing issue that affects range of motion but it’s only noticeable when doing a switchback in deep or steep slopes. Here on the wet coast, I find that I’m getting a bumper of ice under my duckbill about 25% of the time, which reduces the range of motion to about 45°+. This has zero effect when simply striding, but I notice it sometimes when making a jack-knife turn and the tip of my ski doesn’t flip up as high as I’d like. It’s easy enough to knock the ice off with a ski tip, but it’s faster to adjust my technique when I need to. It barely rates being a complaint, more like an observation of the true limits of man’s ingeniousness.
There’s only one thing I really don’t like on the Switchback — the climbing post. Specifically, they’re too dang hard to flip up. It’s not terrible, but compared to spring loaded heel risers like the original UTB heel, G3’s Ascent heel, or my fave, the HammerHeel, it takes a lot of effort.
Outside of the ease of engagement, there is much to like about Voile’s heel post. It is easily adjusted for position thanks to a mounting channel. What most of you will like is that it comes with two heights of climbing post — high and higher (45mm & 75mm).
These negatives are pretty minor. It’s my binding of choice. I’ve had the priviledge of being able to test all the telemark bindings on the market for the past twenty years and this is my fave, hands down. It isn’t the only binding I use, but the one I use most often.
If I skied more at a resort, with bigger boots and bigger skis, Switchback might not be my fave. For 80% backcountry and low- to mid-fat skis and boots, it’s the best there is.
For those who like the simplicity, reliability, and weight of the Switchback, but want more power, hold on ’til next season when the Switchback X2 will be available.